“Mother Nature held her breath, and the sea fell silent. As each arm rolls over again and again, a primal memory awakens in me that reinforces it is where I belong, in the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.”
In July 2019 I swam around the pristine Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, supported by a small dedicated team (my ocean family or ohana in Hawaiian) who kept me safe and sound. The full circumnavigation swim of the island was a world first and the entire journey took us 14 days, covered 110 miles (177km) of beautiful coastline, and we raised $34k for Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.
I even invited the Aquaman star along for the ride but he chose to stay silent..
The most common question I heard was, why do it? Well I honestly chose to swim around the island because, like all the wonders of the natural world, it’s there and it’s magnificent and it sounded like fun. For me the ocean is where the magic happens, where you can let your mind wander with no boundaries and be in awe of its beauty, power and wonder.
I also wanted to raise awareness for the positive earth-changing work that Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii are doing with local beach cleanups and education programs.
Completing a momentous challenge like this is very dependent on the physical and mental preparation before the main event, and I felt confident I was ready. I live a very active and balanced lifestyle with meditation and yoga part of my daily practice, and in 2019 I substantially increased my dedicated ocean swim time to average 4km daily swims – I logged 330mi (530km) and 155 hours of swimming time in beautiful and exotic locations in Australia (Bondi, Byron Bay), Hawaii (Oahu, Big Island, Kaua’i), Los Angeles, and Brazil (Rio, Itacarè).
Imagine waking up in the morning, wiping your eyes and grinning from ear to ear as you recall the details of the most amazing dream that you’ve ever had – that’s how it was for me every single day swimming around Kaua’i. Also known as the Garden Island, Kaua’i is one of our most beautiful and wild landscapes on this planet – lush and rugged green cliffs that reveal strength and endurance, majestic waterfalls that drip like mother’s milk from the heavens above, and wild cerulean blue seas that have the power and rage of a thousand armies, yet can also be gentle and welcoming.
The pristine Pacific Ocean of the Hawaiian islands are teeming with life, and I was fortunate to share many magical moments on this adventure with the underwater world – wild spinner dolphins launching into the air in torpedo twists, spotted eagle rays gliding gracefully beneath, humuhumu-nukunuku-apua’a fish searching for their next meal in the coral reefs, and gentle green sea turtles meandering along with no care in the world.
The adventure was full of surprises and challenges every single day, and our team (with Kaspar at the helm as organizer and spotter) navigated these and we came through smiling on the other side. Who said that the way life naturally unfolds is not alright? What started as a semi-luxury sailing adventure, swimming in tranquil calm seas and sipping chilled coconuts on the deck under a blanket of stars, evolved into a mainly self-supported wild swim adventure.
We swam both clockwise and counterclockwise around the island, trying to flow with the strong ocean currents as much as possible. Our goal was to hug the coastline but we also had to navigate the outer coral reefs, large breaking swells, the restricted military zone, frequent tourist boat traffic and at times just play with the wildlife.
Some memorable moments:
– As soon as we hit the water for the virgin swim near Kawai Point, I immediately felt vulnerable and anxious as the mere vastness and power of nature made us feel insignificant;
– At the end of day one on our way back to the boat, we received a radio call from the Captain telling us there was an engine fire and the trip was off, time to sail back to Nawiliwili Harbor. We were land locked for 3 days to figure out a new logistical plan which was no small feat after months of planning in advance;
– On day four, Kaspar and I got separated for the entire swim (2hrs) due to large swells breaking over the Kekaha reef, only to find eachother on land a few hours later via the lifeguards;
– On day seven, swimming along the Napali Coast I was stung by 3 separate Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish (bluebottles) and the intensity of the sting and venom spreading into my glands abruptly stopped us in our tracks. That evening was my lowest point as I felt vulnerable and uncertain about the rest of the swim (raw audio recording from that evening)
– On day eight as we swam near Polihale beach we shared the water with a large pod of playful Spinner dolphins for 30 mins, both of us wildly laughing with joy as we were mesmerized by their underwater antics and air-show they put on just for us;
– We had the constant challenge of finding suitable launch and landing points with the kayak as the coastline is very rugged and there were solid swells, winds and strong currents. On day nine, we attempted to land the kayak several times at Kokole Point in huge swells only to be told by the lifeguards “Do not land here”, and they then alerted the Coastguard who notified a passing tourist boat to pick us up as the beaches were closed;
– Every single day the ocean had a powerful and wild energy, more power than I have ever experienced before in any ocean swimming. It was only through pure acceptance that I felt comfortable in these challenging conditions.
During the swim the conditions were often rough, wild and turbulent on the surface, but there was absolute stillness and calm below – and this is a nice metaphor about how our perspectives can shift our view of the world. The experience taught me a few valuable life lessons, especially related to Fear and Acceptance.
Our fear comes from a place of wanting to always have control in a situation, the overwhelming desire to know the outcome before we have even had the experience. Fear is a vicious circle that breeds more fear and then it becomes impossible to see the forest for the trees. It forces us to make bad decisions and ignore our instincts which are screaming at us to stay calm and relaxed.
The antidote to fear is acceptance and this comes directly from the heart, and it’s all about surrendering and letting go. It is trusting the instinct that we all have inside us and maintaining a sense of calmness and equanimity in all situations, realizing it’s not about control but about going with the flow.
Spending so much dedicated time in the ocean reinvigorated my body and mind, with so many wondrous moments that have left an indelible mark on my soul. Staring into the beautiful blue hues into infinity, watching as the tiny bubbles perpetually formed at my fingers edge with each stroke, seeing the thin slithers of sunlight that pierced the shallow and deep, hearing the bursting sounds of the living coral reef, feeling the omnipotent strength and power of the rolling seas and the tranquil thought of sharing space with all the beings in the underwater animal kingdom.
The Hawaiian islands are close to my heart, I love the way of life, and the nature and spirit of aloha. During this adventure the Hawaiian word Mana definitely had the most significance for me – it is the spiritual energy of power and strength, and exists in objects and people. There is a chance to gain mana and lose mana in different things that you do, and it is both internal and external. I gained Mana through my connection with the ocean and am grateful to Mother Ocean for allowing me into her waters and keeping me safe. I felt physically strong the entire journey and when we splashed into Hanalei Bay on the final day after 110 miles, I felt like I could have swam around the island again.
When Mama Kaua’i wraps her arms around you, it can either be a warm embrace, or a suffocating squeeze. Fortunately I felt the warm nurturing love and aloha spirit from the island and her peoples.
Sustainable Coastlines were an amazing partner and I was proud to act as an ambassador for them. The funds raised will go directly towards their next two large-scale beach cleanups, as well as expanding their interactive learning program.
Thank you to those who supported me along the way, both online and on Island, and also to my amazing support crew who made this possible, especially my reliable spotter Kaspar, we created some memorable moments together. And finally, I appreciate those who nourished the seed that I planted almost a year ago, mahalo little finned one.
I live a very intentional and conscious life and as a result of this swim I hope to inspire others to follow their dreams and live their passions. As the aviator and pioneer Earhart said, “Adventure is worthwhile in itself”, and for me the simplicity and fun is what it was all about. #playmoreconsumeless
Wishing you all water.
Terence – July 2019.
Here is a link to a more substantial document – KAUA’I SWIM LOGS – which details each swim and provides accompanying notes about conditions and challenges.