Molokai Channel Archives: Walk In, Swim Across, Walk Out

Molokai Channel Archives: Walk In, Swim Across, Walk Out

Back in 1979, Michael Miller and Ian Emberson waited months to swim across the Molokai Channel. The duo waited patiently in those pre-GPS days for optimal conditions.

This is their story:

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Why did you want to cross this channel?

Michael: There were several reasons. Since I moved to Hawaii in 1976, and had not ever done any open water swimming, my initial swim out at Makaha Beach on Oahu in 1976 was awe-inspiring. At that moment, I decided this was a passion of mine and I began a daily swim in the Pacific Ocean as a routine. Fast forward to 1978. After having hung around Ian Emberson over the past year, he asked me to participate in this new event: a roughwater swim, a bike around the island of Oahu, and a marathon run (i.e., the Hawaiian Ironman in 1978). I was not a runner, so I questioned my participation. I actually attempted to train for this Ironman, then I shrugged it off, absolutely convince then that it was a one-time thing and never going to go anywhere. I could not have been more wrong, of course.

Anyway, he had attempted Kaiwi Channel twice, coming up short both times. When he asked me to do something again, to have a go at this Molokai Channel, I was not going to make a second mistake. He is a ‘winner’, a true competitor. I like people like this. So, training out of the Outrigger Canoe Club, we began a 4-5 month training regimen. He must have bought me hundreds of meals at the Outrigger Canoe Club. I then began to realize how much I enjoyed this type of training

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Can you describe your crossing (e.g., time of day/night, currents, water conditions and marine life)?

Michael: We left at night close to La’au Point on Molokai. It was totally glassy conditions: it was complete calm, nary even a ripple. We hit a current off the get-go and swam 4 hours.

At daylight, we could see our starting point at La’au Point, probably swimming a mile or two in 4 hours. But we knew to keep our heads down in the water: walk in, swim across, walk out. Nothing else matters. Halfway across, we hit a nasty current, and swam another 2 hours with little forward movement. After we got through that patch, it was then off like an express towards Alan Davis Rock, off Sandy Beach.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was the most difficult part of your crossing?

Michael: Sunburn the next day. We were peeling layers of skin off my back within the week. Mentally we were ready. Ian was so determined this time. Even off the start, despite knowing we had made little progress, it simply didn’t matter. Our strategy was to walk in, swim across and walk out.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Who was on your boat and who was your pilot?

Michael: Rick Davis and his sailing vessel, Kanaloa. I am sorry to say, I do not remember the other gentleman. We had four paddlers, each taking turns on two paddle boards.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was the most memorable part of your crossing?

Michael: Sunrise, over Molokai.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How much did you train for this channel crossing?

Michael: 4-5 months, then nearly a one month taper, and two weeks of a DRY taper with no swimming. Ian and I agreed, “We want the water to feel good, when we get in.”

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Can you provide photographs of your swim?

Michael: Back then, it was Kodachrome, or Fuji Film, no digital stuff, but seeing our pictures of Molokai Channel, you’d think it was a pond, it was so still.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones