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Waikiki Roughwater Swim (Secret Tips!)

Are you planning your trip to Hawaiʻi and looking for an opportunity to have bragging rights as a participant in a top-rated open-water swim? Check out this bucket list-worthy swim!

Do you live on Oahu but are looking for a reason to swim more? 

Sign-up for one of America’s Top 100 Open Water Swims, the Waikiki Roughwater Swim! This 2.348-mile ocean swim is perfect for those looking to see ocean life up close, get in a workout, or suit up for a race. 

It’s not uncommon to see fish, sea turtles, or even a pod of dolphins during the race! 

Read along for our secret nutrtion and race day tips. We also share our recommendations for the best places to eat in Waikiki to re-fuel after the race! 

Waikiki roughwater swim tips by eatswimwin.com. Pictured are swimmers swimming in the ocean at the start of the 2018 waikiki roughwater swim.

What is the Waikiki Roughwater Swim 

The Waikiki Roughwater Swim is an open-water swimming race held by The Waikiki Roughwater Swim Committee INC. every year on Labor Day.

This is a ~4100-yard open-water swimming race that takes place in Honolulu and attracts more than 600 swimmers each year. The race begins in front of the Kaimana Beach Hotel and ends in front of the Hilton Rainbow Tower

Swimmers are divided into heats based on entry times and are given different cap colors to match their assigned wave. Swimmers must wear the Waikiki Rough Water swim cap provided.

The race takes anywhere from 45 minutes – 3 ½ hours depending on the current and the swimmer’s skill!

Photo credit: Connor Trimble

Should I sign up for the Waikiki Roughwater Swim? 

The Waikiki Roughwater Swim is not for those who have never swum before or who did not train for this distance swim beforehand. Swimmers should be able to comfortably swim 4500 yards or 4100 meters in a pool before considering this race. 

This race can quickly turn more difficult if the currents are not in your favor. According to Hawaii News Now, around 350 swimmers had to be rescued from the swim in 2019 due to rougher-than-normal conditions! 

If you haven’t been training we recommend heading to US Masters Swimming to find a swim team near you to train with!  

The Waikiki Roughwater Swim Committee also offers free swim clinics several months prior to the race! Check out the race site to learn more about the swim clinics and race rules. Comment below if you sign-up for the race!

Photo credit: Connor Trimble

Our secret race day tips 

If you decide to sign up for the Waikiki Roughwater Swim here are 6 tips we recommend to prepare for race day from our personal experience! 

  1. Arrive 30 minutes to an hour early to have time to get your numbers written on your body, to chat with other swimmers, and give time to hop in and warm up for 5-10 minutes before your race! 
  2. Head into the race hydrated. Avoid alcohol and avoid laying out in the sun the day before the race. 
  3. Vaseline! Rub it everywhere- your armpits, along your suit line, and anywhere else that rubs on your suit! Chaffing can quickly become a thief of joy when mixed with salt water. 
  4. Check the tides before swimming and watch the water 15-20 minutes before starting the race! If this feels overwhelming, ask those around you what they know about the current conditions. Historically, race directors warn swimmers at the start if conditions appear too rough!
  5. Use the Hilton Hawaiian Village Towers to sight during the race, the straighter you swim the shorter the race! 
  6. Don’t fret if you feel little stings along the way, those are the no-see-ums. You may swim through a couple of patches during the race. 
Photo credit: Connor Trimble

How to fuel for the race 

Proper nutrition can make or break your open-water swimming race! Underfueled and dehydrated swimmers are at greater risk of not being able to complete the race, cramps, and injury. 

Always practice your nutrition before race day! 

Hydration For Open Water Racing 

Here are 3 effective hydration strategies for open-water swimmers!

  1. 2-3 hours before racing consume 16-24 oz (2-3 C) of fluids 
  2. 1 hour before the race drink 8oz (1C of fluids)
  3. If you are a less experienced swimmer and you believe this race will take you >75 minutes bring along water or electrolytes using a foldable bottle.

Unlike marathons and triathlons, distance swimming does not have aid stations! You must bring your own fuel. 

After completion of the race be sure to immediately hydrate! At a minimum, we recommend drinking 1 cup of water and 1 cup of electrolytes after the race. 

How much you need can vary depending on your sweat rate. Check out our blog post on How To Calculate Your Sweat Rate

Nutrition tips

Always stick with your tried and true foods before and during open-water swim races. 

Aim to consume a carbohydrate-rich breakfast 2-3 hours before racing. 

Here are 5 carbohydrate foods to add to your breakfast that may help to optimize your open-water swimming performance:

  1. White bread, bagels, or English muffins
  2. Fruit: papaya, bananas, or pineapple or a blended fruit smoothie 
  3. Oatmeal or cream of wheat 
  4. White rice! In Hawaiʻi, locals can enjoy rice at every meal, including breakfast!
  5. Potatoes: sweet or regular is great

If you believe the race will take you over 60 minutes we recommend bringing along gu’s, gummies, or dried dates tucked into your suit for fuel during the swim. 

For more in-depth nutrition and hydration strategies check out our blog post The Best Open Water Swimming Nutrtion Guide.

Where to eat after the race 

Here are 4 places to eat to recover after the Waikiki Roughwater Swim! 

1.  Duke’s Waikiki: This is less than a mile from the finish and an oceanfront dining opportunity! They have a delicious breakfast buffet. Make sure to celebrate your swim with Kimo’s Original Hula Pie! 

2. Hau Tree: Head back to where the race started and grab a bite to eat at Hau Tree in Kaimana Beach Hotel. This is another beachfront dining opportunity but one that comes with a higher price tag. Refuel with eggs benedict or a stack of lemon ricotta pancakes at Hau Tree!

3. Marugame Udon: If you are looking for a cheaper bite to eat, head a mile toward Diamond Head for some curry udon and shrimp tempura. This meal is sure to replenish your electrolytes and carbohydrate stores! 😉

4. Musubi Cafe Iyasume: Walk a half mile down the road from the race finish for a cheap, grab-and-go meal after your long ocean swim! Enjoy a delicious avocado, bacon, egg, spam musubi, and bento box while resting at Waikiki Beach. 

Have fun 

Good luck at the Waikiki Roughwater Swim if you decide to take on this fun challenge. Most importantly, have fun!

Open-water swimming is a great way to meet people, explore the ocean, and increase your mental and physical stamina. Make sure to fuel your fitness to optimize your open-water racing! 

Photo credit: Connor Trimble

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