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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 1, 2005

Staying in shape with ocean swimming

By (Ukjent person)
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ruth "Tootsie" Kobelansky giggles at her husband, John, clowning around after a workout.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Saturdays, 10 a.m.

Magic Island lagoon

Fee: $7 per class (private and semi-private lessons available for $10 per person)

Information: 373-3839 or jkobela@shaka.com

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Age: 56

Occupation: Engineering technician for the state Department of Transportation's Highway Planning Branch

Home: 'Aina Haina

Height: 6 feet

Weight: 195 pounds

Stays in shape by: Swimming, running, bicycling, push-ups, stretching

Sports fantasy: "It already came true. I did a North Shore swim from Ke Iki Beach to Waimea and halfway there, a pod of 50 or 60 dolphins showed up. We were in 60 feet of water, and the bottom looked like oil, and then suddenly they were all around us, even under us. It was pure magic."

Interesting fact: Kobelansky, who holds a bachelor's degree in fine arts (painting and drawing) from the University of Hawai'i, designed the 1988 Hawaiian Telephone Book. (Check out his current work at www.kobelansky.com.)

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John Kobelansky swims for exercise at Magic Island, where he conducts his weekly swim clinics.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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John Kobelansky

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Like many Hawai'i athletes, John Kobelansky learned to love the ocean well before he learned how to properly swim in it.

As a young child, he'd dive in and stroke underwater because it was easier than trying to keep his body at the surface. His first experience with proper technique came when he started copying his mother's backstroke. For much of his youth, he got by with a rudimentary freestyle stroke that was enough to bridge whatever gap separated him from his surfboard.

Still, for Kobelansky, the most enduring lesson was obvious from the first splash.

"We live in paradise. We might as well utilize the water around us," he said. "I just enjoy being in the water. Swimming is the key to youth."

It's that sort of simple appreciation for the ocean that Kobelansky tries to impart to students at his weekly swim clinic at Magic Island.

Kobelansky welcomes all comers, from nervous beginners with one eye on the shore to experienced ocean swimmers looking to hone their form. By helping his charges learn the proper mechanics for open-ocean swimming, Kobelansky said, he hopes to help them build a sense of confidence in the water based on solid swimming skills, a sensitivity to ocean conditions, and a desire to embrace the natural environment. His credentials come not just from the scores of short- and longdistance races in which he's competed, but from a lifetime spent learning the language of Hawai'i's waters.


Kobelansky was born in Hono-lulu and spent much of his adolescent and teen years in Makaha, graduating from Wai'anae High School. He credits his Hawaiian heritage he's one-fourth Hawaiian as well as Scot, Norwegian, Danish, English, Polish and Russian with what he calls an intuitive sense of the ocean.

"I think there are intuitive skills that God builds into you," he said. "I think it comes naturally for Hawaiians. You can throw (us) in from Day 1, and we'll swim."

Kobelansky said such intuition has seen him through several scary incidents as a surfer. He recalls once being knocked unconscious by his own board during a violent wipeout.

"The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by my friends, bleeding on the beach," he said. "I don't remember how I got back in, but I did somehow."

Thankfully, Kobelansky's weekly clinic calls for nothing so dramatic. The sessions usually start with a bit of stretching, some push-ups and maybe a short jog on the sand. The actual swimming depends largely on who shows up for a given session. Kobelansky likes to adapt the workouts to the skills and experience of the swimmers.

While the clinic is less than a year old, Kobelansky has nine years of experience as a swim instructor, much of it with Jeff Swafford's Team Ulua training group.

Done correctly, ocean swimming offers recreational athletes a powerfully effective means of enhancing strength, flexibility and endurance, Kobelansky said. As part of his emphasis on efficient movement, he teaches students to minimize drag by "twisting and torquing" through the water and using their upper body to power their movements.

"Keeping your kick light and easy makes you a better swimmer," Kobelansky said. "A lot of people think that if you kick like hell, it'll make you faster, but that's usually dead wrong unless you're an Olympic-level swimmer. You want to keep your feet straight and flat to reduce resistance and concentrate more on your upper body for movement."


Before his clinic meets each Saturday, Kobelansky joins a group of friends for an early-morning workout that is generally more about fun than fitness.

"We go out to socialize," he said. "The question when we start every week is: Are we going to BS to the right or BS to the left or BS straight out? We'll swim out for five or 10 minutes at a time, then stop and talk politics or sports or sex or swimming. Then we swim a little more. We end up covering most of Waikiki."

While Kobelansky's fitness regimen is based primarily on swimming (he also swims 1K to 2K twice during the week), he complements his water workouts with regular doses of running and cycling. For a cardio boost, he runs quad-quaking hill repeats up 18th and Kilauea avenues in Kaimuki. Kobelansky also enjoys a fine sense of balance in his relationship with wife Ruth "Tootsie" Kobelansky. The two are familiar faces to Honolulu's racing community: John's the swimmer, Tootsie is the marathoner, and both are impressive all-around athletes.

• • •


Workout habits: "I swim 1K or 2K about twice during the week. On Saturdays, some friends and I meet at 7:30 a.m. and swim on our own, covering most of Waikiki. After that, I go to teach my (swimming) class. Saturdays, I usually swim 2K or farther. When I'm training for the (Waikiki Roughwater Swim), I'll do 1 1/2 or 2 miles. My wife runs the marathon every year, but I don't go that far. I run 1 or 2 miles twice a week. I do hill repeats for the workout. I warm up by running up 18th Avenue (in Kaimuki) a few times, and then I run up Kilauea Avenue. I also do some triathlon training with Team Ulua."

When and why I started working out: "I've been doing it my whole life. I realized the value of physical fitness and keeping your body toned so that if you need to do something, whatever that may be, you can. If there is an emergency, you can react to it, and if someone needs your help, you can help."

My good foods/bad foods: "I eat a lot of chicken and fish, and a lot of vegetables. Stir-fry is the best. We don't even have a wok, but we do it anyway. My wife makes delicious stir-fries. I eat a lot of brown rice, and I like grains and nuts. I keep away from a lot of red meat because of the fats and acids. The things that make it taste good aren't always what's best for you. I believe in balanced nutrition. My weakness is 2 a.m. ice cream. When I'm training, I'll just get up and crave it. I don't eat cookies or chocolate. I don't eat candy. But I love Breyers French Vanilla or Vanilla Cream. The plainer, the better. Sometimes I'll add nuts or granola. I just love it."

My biggest motivator: "My wife (Tootsie) is great. She always motivates me. Also, I used to teach art to people with disabilities and I've tutored handicapped swimmers. These were wonderful experiences, and they continue to inspire me. In a lot of ways, (people with handicaps) are better able to handle hardship and keep their sense of humor because they've been dealt a bad hand. They're happy to do what they can do, and I feel that (since) I'm ablebodied, I should do whatever I can do, too. There's no excuse."

Advice for those in the same boat: "I don't give advice. The world has enough to teach people without me interfering with it."

Reach (Ukjent person) at (unknown address).