A group of Waiheke swimmers are searching for Free Willy
Four Waiheke residents say they have no qualms about diving into a 20km swimming marathon - with only three weeks of training - for a good cause.
They call themselves the Waiheke Whale Huggers and comprise Janine Edge, Graham Crookes, Sue Watson and Barnett Bond - all over 50 years of age.
The marathon, on March 21, from Matiatia Beach on Waiheke to Mechanics Bay in Auckland, will raise funds for the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter Trust.
The Waiheke Whale Huggers will swim alongside an expected 100 semi-professional/ professional swimmers who have undergone at least six months of training.
"It will definitely be a challenge, but you do not have to be supremely fit, you do not need to be a professional swimmer and you do not need to be a spring chicken.
"And, you can also do it as a relay team, which is what we have decided to do.
"We hope to inspire other lovers of sea swimming to take part in the Chopper Swim Challenge next year," Edge said.
Edge is a social entrepreneur and works with volunteers at the New Zealand Peace Foundation, Bond owns Casita Miro Vineyard and is the winemaker there, Crookes works in the mental health sector and Watson works with CORT Community Housing.
None of the Waiheke Whale Huggers members have participated in a swim of this length before.
When asked whether they had any worries Crookes said "my biggest fear is that no whales will show up".
The Waiheke Whale Huggers will be supported by an all-Waiheke team with Kayak Waiheke and Potiki Adventures and boats provided by Lance Crossland.
Crossland was inspired to be involved as his daughter was rescued off the island in a medical emergency only three weeks ago.
Event organiser Olaf Adam said the swim represented the barrier of the Hauraki Gulf that Waiheke residents To had to overcome to receive help.
"The helicopter is a crucial life-line for the people of Waiheke. Each helicopter rescue from here costs an average of $5000 and in 2016 there were 291 emergency airlifts from Waiheke," Adam said.
Edge said: "It is fair to say we are the tortoise team. None of us have done something this far or fast.
"But in the Waiheke spirit, we will trust the taniwhas are on our side and embrace the whales on the way."
The Waiheke Whale Huggers are hoping to raise $10,000 towards the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter Trust.
To support the Waiheke Whale Huggers visit chopperswimchallenge17.everydayhero.com/nz/waiheke-whale- huggers or search for the Chopper Swim Challenge 2017 website and enter Waiheke Whale Huggers in the search field.
Donations are open until May 2017.