KAILUA-KONA — Swimming became a contact sport for the lead pack at the King’s Swim on Thursday morning.
After making the turn at the halfway buoy at the 1.2-mile swim in Kailua Bay, Duke Becker, Kanoa Birdsall and Aiden Ankrum battled the entire way in to Kamakahonu Beach, jostling for every valuable inch.
Becker reached the beach first, finishing in 23 minutes and 58 seconds to take home the title at the 25th edition of the event, just two seconds ahead of Birdsall and five seconds ahead of Ankrum.
Those valuable seconds also helped Becker hold off Ankrum and Birdsall in the race for the Triple Crown, which goes to the swimmer with the lowest cumulative combined time in the Cinco de Mayo Splash (1-mile), Hapuna Rough Water (1-mile) and the King’s Swim.
In one of the closest Triple Crown chases ever, Becker finished with a time of 1:07:58, edging Ankrum (1:08:05) by seven seconds and Birdsall (1:08:18) by 20 ticks.
“We were really rough, bumping into each other pretty much the whole way. But by the orange buoys, I just sprinted. It was so painful, but it was worth it,” said Becker, an incoming Kealakehe sophomore. “Those guys really pushed me.”
It was a spirited competition, especially between Becker and Ankrum, good friends who train together regularly and can usually be found at the front of the pack during the open water swims.
“We knew it came down to this race,” said Becker, who entered the day with just a two-second advantage over Ankrum. “I’m proud of him too. He’s a good friend and fun to train with. We push each other and it’s always fun.”
On the women’s side, Noe Vargas cruised to the title, clocking a time of 24:33. She also locked up her first Triple Crown, with a cumulative time of 1:11:06 on the three-race circuit.
The former Hawaii Preparatory Academy and Loyola Marymount standout didn’t need a lot of words to describe her King’s Swim experience.
“Hard,” Vargas said with a laugh. “I think I was closer to the front pack this time around, so it made it a lot harder because they go really fast. Luckily I was able to stick on their heels a little.”
Vargas swims with a small masters group at the Mauna Lani Sports &Fitness Club, which keeps her in shape to keep up with the young guns who routinely crowd the lead pack at the trio of races. She finished second last year in the Triple Crown chase, notching fourth-place results in all three events.
She’s ramped up her training this year and said occasional swims from Hapuna to Mauna Kea Beach — about 2 miles in what can be really rough water — gave her the extra edge. Vargas did not compete in the Triple Crown series during her prep career, but now gets to add her name to the prestigious group of winners.
“It’s exciting to do it now,” she said, “but you have to train a lot. I’m glad I was able to pull it off.”
Taylor Doherty was the second female finisher at the King’s Swim with a time of 25:31. Susan Groff was third at 25:48.
Brenda Avery finished as the women’s Triple Crown runner-up, with a cumulative time of 1:14:04. Groff finished third (1:15:03).