Where the Locals Swim in Kona
If you are planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii and would like to enjoy some truly beautiful open water swimming, you have picked the right spot.
Hall of Fame swimmer and swim technique coach Karlyn Pipes moved from San Diego to Kona in 2004 for just that...the water. Below is a list of some of Karlyn's favorite open water swims in and around Kona, and the west side of the Big Island.
If you would like Karlyn to personally guide you any of these amazing swims, she offers week-long, small-group Faster Freestyle Swim Camps in Hawaii as well as in Mexico, Sicily and British Columbia.
Or, you can sign up for a Hawaiian Adventure Swim where Karlyn will swim side-by-side with you while offering swim technique tips and open water skills and drills to help you become a better open water swimmer.
For more info on swim camps or Adventure Swims please visit www.Karlynpipes.com
- Ask the lifeguards about current conditions or if there are any potential dangers.
- If no lifeguards are on duty (like at the Pier), ask a local.
- If in doubt, DON'T GO OUT!
- Never swim alone, especially in unfamiliar water. At the Pier there are always people in the water, so this is the one place you could swim alone. However, do try to join a group and you will have a lot more fun.
- Wear a brightly colored swim cap and use a safety tow-buoy. Hint: In the dry bag portion of an XTERRA swim buoy you can place a squeeze pack of applesauce (or gel) and a small bottle of water just in case you get thirsty or hungry.
- Please do not touch the turtles or chase the dolphins. If a pod dolphins happens to swim under or around you, please float and enjoy the beauty of this wonderful gift of an experience!
- Please wear REEF FRIENDLY sunscreen!
Open water swim suggestions near Kona:
Kailua Pier: Also called "Dig Me Beach" due to the posturing that goes on during Ironman, but no LOCAL will ever call it by this name. We simply call it "The Pier."
This beautiful swim starts from a small, sandy beach with no waves and offers clear water, coral reefs, tropical fish and sometimes a pod of wild dolphins or a manta ray. The Pier is located in the heart of Kailua Village and is also the official start/finish of the Ironman Triathlon World Championships.
1.2 mile swim: Swimmers of all ages and abilities love to swim to the King's Buoy, which is 1k each way, and 2k or 1.2 mile round trip. It's pretty straightforward. When you leave the bay you will notice a line of buoys that (somewhat) parallel the shore and are a few hundred meters apart. Use these buoys to direct you...one has a cat face, one that says "half way" then "1500" and lastly, the round King's Buoy. If you swim back to the Pier, you have just covered half of the Ironman swim course or approximately 1.2 miles/2k.
2.4 mile Ironman swim: This is a great swim to do with a buddy, kayak or SUP support. As a SUGGESTION...swim halfway to the King's Buoy and take a break. Hang out and see if you notice a current pushing you one way or another. If you have a noticeable current pushing south (away from the pier), you will be fighting the same current on your way back. Consider conserving your energy or return to the Pier. If you do decide to carry on, sight on the point in the distance and just keep swimming until you look down and there is no more reef. By that time, you should be only a couple of hundred yards away from the turnaround. FYI There are no additional makers or buoys past the King's Buoy until you reach the IM buoy...and it's not often easy to see!
Best time to swim: Any day of the week from 6 am to 9 am. However, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday there's usually a few informal groups that meets up 6:00, 7:00 and 8 am that head out to the King's buoy (1.2 miles round trip).
If you are alone, please know that you are always welcome to tag along. Don't be shy. Introduce yourself and make a new swim buddy. Of note, the afternoon is also a nice time to swim at the Pier, but hardly anyone goes out due to canoe paddlers training in the same water were we swim.
Safety: Swim with a group or a buddy, wear a safety buoy and always be mindful of boat traffic and stay to the Mauka (mountain side) of the markers.
Amenities: Bathrooms (sometimes open), showers and a place to stow your gear (no valuables) is available year round on the pier. Free public parking is nearby. No lifeguards.
More Kona locations: Here are three amazing open water swims south of Kona and are within 3-4 miles of each other on Ali'i Drive. They offer free parking, bathrooms (sometimes) and showers.
Magic Sands: A great pocket-sized beach mid-point on Ali'i Drive with white sand that disappears in the winter (hence the name). This beach has gorgeous, aquamarine water and sometimes a dangerous shore break if the surf is up. You can swim south to Kahalu'u, or north to Living Stones Church with both swims about a mile each way. Tip: Never, EVER turn your back on the water at Magic's. Walk out backwards, facing the waves. There are more spinal injuries at this beach than any other on the big island due to a (sometimes) crushing shore break.
Kahalu'u Beach Park: Also called "Turtle Beach" is near the south end of Ali'i drive and is one of Karlyn's all-time favorites! The calm bay inside the reef is like an aquarium and is teaming with tropical fish. Please do not stand on the bottom as you will trample the fragile coral.
If you would like an escort to take you outside the reef, Karlyn is available to guide you on an Adventure Swim. Swimming side-by-side, we will see even more fish, stunning lava benches and a interesting underwater archway. If you are a solid swimmer capable of a two-mile (round trip) swim, Karlyn can take you to a hidden sea cave. Please NOT attempt this swim by yourself.
Keauhou Bay: If you are planning to swim at night with the manta rays (highly recommended) this is the bay where you will most likely depart. Keauhou is also a great place to swim during the day because the bay is calm and the manta rays like Keauhou and might just swim right underneath you. Please make sure to be seen by wearing a safety buoy and pay attention to BOAT traffic.
Here's a list of some additional open water swimming located north and south of Kona.
North of Kona
Kua Bay (~12 miles north of Kona): Gorgeous aquamarine water and white sand, but during the winter can have high surf advisories.
Waikoloa Anaeho'omalu Bay (~25 miles): Also called A Bay. Offers calm, water, great for kids, nice snorkeling with frequent turtle sightings.
Beach 69 (~30 miles): Out of the way "secret" beach with beautiful water and nice shade trees.
Hapuna Beach (~31 miles): This award winning beach offers a long stretch of white sand and stunning water. Avoid during high winter surf.
Spencer Beach Park (~35 miles): A safe bay, Great for kids, easy water entry and a nice park Great for a picnic. Camping also available with permit.
All of the beaches listed above offer free parking (except Hapuna where non-residents pay $10), bathrooms and showers. County lifeguards are on duty at Kua, Hapuna and Spencer at 9 am.
South of Kona:
Kealakekua Bay/Manini Beach (~12 miles south): This historic bay is where Captain Cook lost his life and across the bay is an obelisk monument in honor of him. You can swim across and back, but keep in mind it's over a mile each way. This is also a great place to snorkel, has limited parking, porta-potties, and no lifeguards.
Two-Step (~16 miles south): Some of the best snorkeling on the island. Gorgeous, clear water, often a pod of dolphins, and you are right next to Place of Refuge, which is a national park. Limited parking, porta-potties, and no lifeguards.
Ho'okena (~20 miles south): A unique beach with clear water, free parking, bathrooms and showers.
Local pools...entry is free!
Kona Community Aquatic Center
Address: 75-5530 Kuakini Highway
Kona, Hawaii 96740
Phone: (808) 327-3500
The Kona Community Aquatic Center (KCAC) is located near the Old Airport and next to a large recreation area with ball fields and a gym. This state-of-the-art 25-yard by 50-meter pool is open to the public and totally FREE. The pool is set up with two 25-yard courses...never long course :(
Current hours of operation: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 6:15 am to 11:45 and 1:00-3:00 PM. Tuesday the pool is open from 6:15 to 11:45. As of this time, KCAC is not open on the weekends. For updated hours or closings, call first (808) 327-3500
Konawaena High School Pool
Address: 81-1080 Konawaena School Rd
Kealakekua Hawaii 96750
Phone: (808) 323-3252
Konawaena High School pool is a ~20 minute of drive south of Kona to the small town of Kealakekua. The pool is tucked behind a high school gym making it somewhat hard to find (look for backstroke flags), however, once you DO find it, you will be glad you did!
This eight lane, 25-yard pool is uncrowded, there are hot showers and the staff is awesome. Due to 1,700 feet elevation it's a much cooler pool than Kona, especially in the summer. As of 7/01/22 adult lap swim pool hours are: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 9-12 and 1-4 pm.
Masters and Youth Swim Practices at KCAC:
Kona Aquatics Masters: https://www.teamunify.com/team/hikona/page/masters
This adult program currently trains four times a week at KCAC. Practice times are M/T/W/F morning from 6:15 am -7:15 am. If you would like to swim with the team, please contact Dave directly by email firstname.lastname@example.org or just show up.
First workout is FREE with Aloha, additional training is $20 per week. This group also meets at "The Pier" on Sundays at 8:30 for a group ocean swim...ok to wear fins!
Kona Aquatics USA Swimming Club: https://www.teamunify.com/team/hikona/page/home
This is a competitive USA swimming club coached by Dave Gibson. Current practice schedule is ever changing, but most often M/W/TH/F 3:00-6:00 PM. Older kids swim from 4:00-6:00. If your child would like to swim with the team, please contact Dave directly by email email@example.com Cost is $20 per week.
Kona Dolphins USA Swimming Club: https://www.teamunify.com/Home.jsp?team=hskdsc
The Kona Dolphins is a youth team that also trains at KCAC. Coach Joyce Follis offer practices M/W/TH/F from 3-6:00 pm. Older kids swim from 4:00-6:00. If your child is on a swim team and would like to train with the Dolphins during your visit, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost is $20 per week.