Imonen fastest at Kukio Blue Water Swim

  • Sarah True is the first female out of the water and the fourth swimmer overall at the Kukio Blue Water Swim on Saturday. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today)
  • Brock Imonen is the first out of the water at the 13th annual Kukio Blue Water Swim on Saturday. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Brock Imonen knows what the conditions are like at the front of the pack.

His resume at open ocean swims on the Big Island can stack up with the best of them. Saturday he added another line to that ever-expanding list of accomplishments.


Imonen — an Academy Swim Club and Hawaii Preparatory Academy standout — cut through tough conditions during the 1.2-mile trek from Kua Bay to Uluweuweu Bay at Kukio, placing first in a time of 24 minutes and 54 seconds.

“There was a swell today and you would go side to side every once in a while,” Imonen said. “Coming in was even harder because the water was being sucked out due to low tide. And with the hill at the end, and the mat being slippery, it is a good thing I had a bit of of lead exiting the water.”

Imonen was followed by Kanoa Birdsall (25:38) and former pro triathlete Tim Marr (26:05). Marr placed second in dramatic fashion last year after a dive at the finish line. Birdsall placed third last year in the Triple Crown and only seems to be getting faster.

“We all started pretty close together,” Imonen said. “After the first buoy we had formed a triangle and I could feel them slowly go away and they they would catch up again. It was like a game of tag.”

Both Birdsall and Imonen compete for Academy Swim Club, giving the club a nice 1-2 finish at the 13th edition of the Kukio Swim.

“We did it a few times last year and it means a lot to get my first win here, and for us to go first and second,” Imonen said. “I wasn’t here over the summer and I knew that Kanoa was catching up to me. He is younger than I am and he pushes me. It is a friendly competition.”

In the race for first female, Sarah True ran up the sandy hill and crossed the line first in a time of 26:34. She was followed by Sandie Easton (26:52) and Ku’uleionalani Patterson (27:05).

True has quite an amazing triathlon background, having competed in the 2012 Olympic Games, fishing fourth overall. It was the highest finish by an American in triathlon that year. True also competed in the 2016 Olympic Games.

Karlyn Pipes, a regular at Kukio, finished first in her age group with a time of 28:55 and 14th overall. Pipes competed in the very first Blue Water swim and is a multi-time winner of the event.

“In that first race, I think my time was between 32 and 34 minutes because there was a massive swell,” she said. “A couple years later I won the event and I picked up a few wins along the way.

“Eventually I slipped to first woman overall and now, well…,” Pipes said with a smile. “I am getting older and these kids are getting faster, but I guess that is how you want it to be, right?”

Pipes, who was recently inducted into the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame, was also not alone in the swim from Kua to Uluweuweu. Joining her during the race was her mother, Adrienne Pipes.

“She is 84 and trains five times a week,” Pipes said. “That is the beautiful thing about the water, it doesn’t know your age. It just says, ‘come on in and enjoy me.’”


The younger Pipes finished ahead of her mother, who crossed the line with a time of 54:50. While waiting on the beach for her mom to finish, Karlyn Pipes started to show a few signs of concern, but she was able to talk herself out of the moment.

“She will make it back in,” Karlyn Pipes said. “She probably stopped to rescue someone along the way.”