"A" division swimmers charged into the water at Sans Souci Beach at the beginning of yesterday's Waikiki Roughwater Swim.

Executive speeds
to Waikiki victory

Kostich conquers the men's
roughwater swim and L.A.
friend Heckman takes
the women's title

By Cindy Luis

First things first.

No, Alex Kostich did not see any sea life during yesterday's 33rd Waikiki Roughwater Swim. The 32-year-old also didn't see any competition after the first buoy, finishing the 2.4-mile course from Sans Souci Beach to Duke Kahanamoku Beach in 43 minutes and 46 seconds.

Kostich, who won this event nine years ago, was nearly three minutes ahead of two-time Olympian Ryk Neethling of South Africa (46:32) and Punahou School junior Noa Sakamoto (46:35). Kostich's time was 93 seconds off the course record set by Daniel McLellan in 1995.

"I was hoping to see turtles because everyone always asks what I saw," said Kostich, a creative advertising executive for Warner Brothers Studio in Los Angeles. "They don't care about my time. They care about the sea life.

"I'm happy to report I didn't see any jellyfish. My mother was concerned. She had heard about them all the way back in Boston."

News, like yesterday's current and Kostich, travels fast. Neethling said he knew it was a race for second after the first buoy midway through.

"I had a good start, but Alex took off," said Neethling, a distance swimmer in both the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. "It was like a cycling race. You know if you can stay with the guy and hang on. I knew I wasn't in shape to hang with him."

Sakamoto, who also placed third last year, said he wasn't in shape to chase Kostich, a former Stanford swimmer.

Mati Sapolu and Tom Palmer waited for the start of yesterday's Roughwater Swim.

"I wanted to stay in the pack, then come out," said Sakamoto, completing his seventh Roughwater race. "Alex took off and I knew I couldn't keep up."

Conditions were ideal for the field of 845 yesterday. There was some surf off the Kapua Channel starting line, but "the waves aren't problems except for people who don't like waves," said race director/competitor Jim Anderson. "If there are waves in the (Kalia Channel) at the finish then there's trouble, because people are tired then.

"(The current) was favorable, Mother Nature was cooperative, and it turned out to be a good day."

It was an easy day for the first-aid volunteers who treated a few swimmers for jellyfish stings and cramps.

While Kostich said experience with this race was the key to winning, Dawn Heckman won the women's division in her Roughwater debut. The former University of Florida swimmer finished in 47:06, seventh place overall, and three seconds ahead of runner-up Suzanne Heim-Bowen of California.

"It must be the lucky (swim) suit," joked Heckman, a publicist in Los Angeles who just started "Splish," a swimsuit company. She also made the suit worn by Kostich and several other swimmers from Los Angeles.

"Today was definitely a learning experience," Heckman said. "I didn't swim as fast as I wanted to because I was sort of squished into the pack. I actually didn't know I was the first woman until I heard the announcer (at the finish).

"Alex (Kostich) and I sometimes swim together. We discussed the course, but you don't know what to expect until you're in it. I'll be more prepared next year, although there were times today when I asked myself why I was doing this."

There were different reasons for swimming yesterday. Walter Guild, a paddler for Outrigger Canoe Club, said it was part of his cross-training for distance canoe season.

Dr. Andy Nichols, a team physician with the University of Hawaii athletic department, said he competes in this event about every four years.

"It's out of my system until 2006," he said.

Jeff "J.D." Devins of Hawi on the Big Island may never do the race again ... at least not doing the butterfly stroke. Race officials believe it was the first time in the history of the event that the stroke was used.

"I don't know why, maybe because I'm turning 50 in December," Devins said. "It's a different challenge. I'm from the Big Island and I did two ocean swims over there like this.

"Conditions were good. I didn't swallow too much water. It's hard, though. I may never do this again."

Many used the race as a warm-up for this Saturday's 72nd La Jolla Roughwater Swim, a 3-mile race off San Diego.

"I'll do La Jolla next," Kostich said. "But this is the big one for me. I got the haircut and body shave for this. There's something very gratifying and humbling about winning in my 10th year of doing this."

Note: The late Jack Wyatt, a freelance recreation writer for the Star-Bulletin, and Honolulu Advertiser recreation writer Mike Tymm were honored during yesterday's awards ceremony for their past coverage of the Roughwater. Tymm, a freelancer with the Advertiser for 24 years, is moving to Oregon later this month.

Waikiki Roughwater Swim

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