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    Tuesday, August 21, 2018-9:40:44A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Our Oceania: How to swim from Paupau Beach to Managaha

ON Saturday, nine ambitious swimmers and their kayaking pilots embarked on the Eagle Ray Swim, a 7.25K (about 4.5-mile) marathon swim from Paupau Beach to Managaha. They began at 6:20am and arrived onshore at Managaha well after 10.

The event was organized by 500 Sails. Founders Pete and Emma Perez were up at 4:30 a.m. that morning packing water bottles and life preservers, loading kayaks into truck beds, and dropping cars off at convenient locations before registration at 5:30.

“The Eagle Ray swim is Dolphin Club Saipan’s longest swim of the year,” said Pete Perez. “For every athlete today, this is the longest swim of their lives…. It takes a swimmer between three and five hours to finish.”

The Eagle Ray swimmers and pilots prepare to set off.  Photo by Marizel HiponiaThe Eagle Ray swimmers and pilots prepare to set off. Photo by Marizel Hiponia

500 Sails is dedicated to revitalizing the Chamorro seafaring tradition through building and sailing traditional Chamorro proas or sailing canoes. Dolphin Club Saipan or DCS is the swimming portion of the program, which focuses on teaching and practicing long-distance swimming in case of a sailing emergency. The Dolphin Club meets at the Guma Sakman in Susupe on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at 6 a.m.

Organizers and swimmers prepared for the Eagle Ray for months in advance; participants needed to complete a qualifying swim beforehand, kayaks needed to be borrowed, and pilots needed to be recruited. Well-accustomed to Murphy’s Law, the Perezes even brought an extra kayak that morning — they were prepared when one participant cracked his kayak backing up too close to a cement wall.

During long-distance swims, swimmers pair with pilots who paddle alongside them, keeping watch over the swimmer, pointing their kayaks in the direction of the target destination, and supplying water and life preservers from shore to shore.

I piloted for DCS member Yulia Aleksenko, whose son inspired her to start swimming; she felt she couldn’t keep pushing him to go to swim practice when she didn’t know how to swim herself. She started attending DCS practices three years prior.

Yulia Aleksenko takes a water break.  Photo by Sophia PerezYulia Aleksenko takes a water break. Photo by Sophia Perez

“Many of these swimmers learned how to swim in the adult Learn-to-Swim program,” explained Pete Perez, “and now swimming is part of their active, healthy lifestyle.”

It seems fitting that Yulia saw an eagle ray on her way to Managaha. She also saw two sharks.

“Stay close to me!” she warned when she saw the second grey reef shark. Luckily for Yulia, both were only four feet long and paid little attention to her.

Despite the wildlife and the opposing current, all of the swimmers made it to Managaha. Many had picked up burns, stings, and rashes along the way, but all were in good spirits.

Emma Perez and Boboy Aguilar relax after finally reaching Managaha.  Photo by Marizel HiponiaEmma Perez and Boboy Aguilar relax after finally reaching Managaha. Photo by Marizel Hiponia

“Even during the race day, I still thought I couldn’t make it,” said Eric Abragan, senior pastor at the Life in the Son Christian Fellowship in Gualo Rai. “In the first thirty minutes, I felt my legs cramping. But then as I continued to swim, I saw some fish and I thought, ‘Fish are relaxed and they don’t have cramps, I better relax and swim.’”

“I just continued on and sung worships songs in my mind to keep me going. With the help of my kayakers giving me water and support, I was able to reach Managaha in four hours,” he said. “Thank you to Coach Emma and Pete Perez, our DCS community, my LITS church family, my wife, Sharon and my son, Josh, for believing in and supporting me.”

 “Everyone finished and that’s a testament to their fantastic dedication and ability to persevere,” said Pete Perez. “Even when they’re sore and tired, they just kept going. We’re very proud of them.”