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Spalding enters Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame

Maui’s Michael Spalding, who was inducted into the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame last week, is the first and only male swimmer to swim all nine Hawaiian Island channels. Photo courtesy of Michael Spalding

Maui’s Michael Spalding was honored and shocked when he got word a little more than a month ago that he had been named to the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame.

Spalding, 74, was inducted at a ceremony on Thursday at the Outrigger Canoe Club in the class of 2021, along with Olympic gold medal surfer Carissa Moore, world champion paddler Kelley Fey and professional surfer Shane Dorian.

“The Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame is to honor four kama’aina who perpetuate the spirit of Duke Kahanamoku, Hawai’i’s most famous global ambassador of aloha and original waterman,” the organization said in a news release emailed to The Maui News.

“I got a call about a month ago from Bill Pratt and I was floored when he mentioned that I’m going to be in there because this is a group of legends and I don’t consider myself to be a legend,” Spalding said Tuesday. “I consider myself to be a normal human and the people that preceded me with this award are some of my all-time heroes and I know most of them.”

Spalding remembers receiving a hug from the Duke when he was a child in the 1960s at the OCC hale. He knows all of the members of his induction class well — Fey is a longtime friend of the Spalding family and a foe of Spalding’s daughter Lauren, who was a U.S. Olympian in kayaking in 2004.

Spalding (from left), Olympic gold medal surfer Carissa Moore, world champion paddler Kelley Fey and professional surfer Shane Dorian pose for photos during their induction ceremony Thursday at the Outrigger Canoe Club on Oahu. BUBBA MCLEAN photo

“That has special meaning to me,” Spalding said. “I’m going in with a pretty cool class as well, very cool.”

Spalding and wife Jill have two daughters and seven grandchildren. He still runs Mike Spalding Realty in Wailuku.

He was named to the Hall of Fame as a swimmer.

“Characterized by versatility, endurance, and perseverance, Michael Spalding is the first and only male swimmer to swim all nine Hawaiian Island channels,” the news release said. “In 2001, he was one of the first to swim the seven-mile ‘Alalakeiki Channel from Maui to Kaho’olawe. He is the oldest person to swim the 26-mile Kaiwi Channel from Moloka’i to O’ahu, completing it 2007.

“In 2008 during his first attempt to swim the 30-mile ‘Alenuihaha Channel from Hawai’i Island to Maui, he was bitten by a cookie cutter shark 10 miles into the crossing and had to abort the swim; he completed it successfully in 2011.”

The news release continued: “In 2010, he was part of a relay that swam the treacherous 72-mile Ka’ie’ie Waho Channel, which is still the only successful swim crossing from O’ahu to Kaua’i. He also completed a 40-mile double crossing relay of the English Channel.”

The release also praised Spalding as an overall waterman.

“In addition to his epic swimming pursuits, Spalding is an avid outrigger canoe paddler and sailor. He participated in more than 23 Moloka’i Hoe races, and various other Hawaiian paddling and sailing races,” the release said. “He won the gold medal in the first 70’s division of Hawai’i State Canoe Racing Championships in 2019. He has traveled by sailing canoe across all the channels in Hawai’i.

“He has also circumnavigated most of the major Hawaiian Islands in a kayak. He is a surfer, freediver, spearfisherman, and bodysurfer, as well as a former Junior Olympic Water Polo Champion.”

It is perhaps out of the water where Spalding means the most to the water sports community.

“Like Duke Kahanamoku, Spalding has brought his waterman spirit to support his community,” the release said. “He shares his love of the ocean by taking numerous kids and adults on sailing adventures throughout the Hawaiian Islands. He has traveled extensively in Fiji where he has helped revive an interest in canoes and traditional seafaring.

“He also promoted and taught swimming and surfing in Fiji and founded a scholarship fund for disadvantaged Fijian students. He is a past board member of Na Hale O Maui. He sits on the Board of Trustees for his alma mater, Hawai’i Preparatory Academy.”

Spalding was touched by the recent recognition.

“I’m completely humbled by it and amazed by the recognition that I received,” he said.

Fours months ago he swam from Maui to Lanai with some friends — his swimming career now spans more than 40 years.

“And I’m not done yet,” he said, adding that swimming all of the Hawaiian channels “wasn’t something that was planned, it just sort of happened.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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