Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 7

Finally, Ned has sent on a few photographs! Here is his report from Day 3 of the SCAR Swim Challenge, the Apache Lake 17 mile swim:

I woke in a hotel room with no phone, no web, no fridge, no cooking facilities and no open restaurant. It must not have been a pretty sight: sitting on the edge of the bed, covered in the first lot of zinc waiting to dry, eating three day old spaghetti and meatballs out of the largest zip lock bag in the world – with my right hand (the fingers alone just didn’t do it). It must have been pretty bad because I think the CNN weather girl changed the station from her side.

Photograph – Ned Denison

Headed up to the start of the Apache Lake swim (Day 3).

Down to the marina and Kent had arranged 50 breakfast burritos. It settled well on top of the spaghetti and I got to meet Darren Miller (completed six of the Oceans Seven swims) and a big hug for Jen Schumacher. Darren wasn’t really up on the cadence of the swims and deferred on the burrito thinking we were swimming in a matter of minutes. The wind was cold/howling and Kent decided to run the swim with the wind (thereby denying me my best chance of taking Gracie). The kayakers were transported first up river and I went to sleep (with jeans, wool socks/cap, three under-layers and a hoodie) in the back of an empty U-Haul trailer. I woke to 27 swimmers (in summer garb) who had figured out the wisdom of my trailer and we chatted a while longer.

Photograph – Ned Denison

The crew in the back of the U-Haul truck, Ned sleeping in the back…

It was then up the river by boat – another 40 minutes or so and onto the starting beach. Everybody brought a spare suit for Greg – just in case.  Again, it was up the river to yet another dam another set of buoys.

Kent billed this as 17 miles and I packed 8 litres of High5. I sprinted at the start out of fear. Something in the water was making a menacing growl and I was thinking 6+ feet of BIG HUNGRY catfish. Gracie and Sarah again took off and Jen passed me as well. She didn’t give me even a small smile or a wave – so I gave her a little bump, just for old time sake. A fourth lady passed and at about 3 miles I had a big gap behind me. The next 30 minutes must have been crap because as we passed half-way my “lead” had reduced by 80%. It was time to decide what this swim was going to be. Was I just going to try and slog it out? Or was I going to pick it up a bit and not let them pass me (it is NOT a race)?  I just imagined it was Gábor Molnár behind me and picked it up a bit. I pulled away from all but one, who was like the terminator!

I then made a very big mistake. Kent had said that the marina was the second or third point and I calculated the remaining number of right arm strokes. The sun was hot, the jet skis scary and the damn terminator just kept coming. At one point, my kayaker wasn’t sure if we went to the right where the three killer jets skis emanated or to the left where we could see a gap. She studied the map while the terminator kept coming and coming. She declared less than 2 miles through the invisible gap and off we went: I reset my counter to 1,400 right arm strokes. She handed me the last bottle maybe 100 m in front of the terminator (now probably just a skeleton swimming) and when I saw the finish it was “sod the drink” and sprint (ok, it was thrash wildly and gasp) the 500 m or so. It was 6½ hours or so… On to the boat and cheering for the terminator, who suddenly morphed into Liz Fry. We were fifth and sixth and Liz was the first with a cold beer. The sound of the beer opening was barely audible to me with ear plugs standing next to Liz – but it brought Greg O’Connor flying around the corner at an Olympic pace to claim the second and third beer.

We headed back and passed cheering all the remaining swimmers. Mo gave the biggest wave and the buzzards had by now come to the same decision as the rest of us – Mo had 20+ years of world class swimming left! My arms were seriously hurting but I still managed to find a massage table … and go back for seconds.

Photograph – Ned Denison

Mo Siegel – there are now “awards” but he isn’t doing too badly!

Dinner was festive and it was the absolute reminder of the swimming marathon class I had been enjoying. At least two of the kayakers are world class swimmers! And perhaps as special, I was swimming with some of the swimmers who contribute the MOST back to the sport: Greg – Boston Light organiser, Liz – Swim the Sound and Dave – 8 Bridges, and there were others: Gracie, Becky, BarbCatalina organisers … and others.

Mo was clenching his fists ready to go back to battle the bed bugs when Liz, Bob and I confessed to 20+ river bites. Mo calmed and headed off before he found out that nobody else had a single one. The start mystery was also solved: Darren missed the breakfast burrito and his stomach was growling after the 2-ish hour start gap. I was close: 6+ feet of BIG HUNGRY DARREN … a sound which will give me nightmares and probably affect the wildlife birth rate in the canyon for years to come.

A very pleasant evening was drawing to a close when Dave casually remarked: “I am taking you tomorrow, Denison”. Shit, the 10k night swim might not just be star gazing.

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 6

Here’s Ned‘s report from Day 2 of the SCAR Swim Challenge in Canyon Lake:

All the swimmers and kayakers (and kayaks) were transported upriver to a start location a few hundred metres from the dam (for the next lake up).  I was in a sleek speed boat with some world class marathon swimmers!  Towering cliffs, cactus and soaring buzzards – very cool, and this place is now in the top 10 locations I have EVER visited: Yosemite, Okavango Delta, Ngorongoro Crater, etc. The trip took a long time and I did wonder – are we really going to swim all this?

The boat transport required two trips so we hung out on a small beach for an hour or so. Again, I tread carefully when going to pee as any hiss and rattle may not be trouble with my old plumbing. As we started getting into our suits and putting sun block on (in my case – again all over zinc) a ripple of fear and revulsion spread through the crowd of nearly fifty.  It was threatening to knock Canyon Lake out of my top 10 and well down to bottom 10.  Greg O’Connor had forgotten his swim suit and was threatening to swim naked. Liz Fry looked ready to scramble up the cliff. I produced a spare set and basically saved the day. This kind of evened it out my “swim cred”  – as earlier I was the only one to lay on the ground to take a nap before the swim, providing a kind of jungle gym experience for a few hundred ants.

Again, we swam upriver to the buoys below the dam and went on “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”.  I held the lead (it is NOT a race) for a good 112.5 m before Gracie went steaming by. Twenty minutes or so later, I think, Sarah passed me with Dave Barra hot on her heels. I picked it up and stayed with them.  The pulled away and I was 1% cheering Dave for taking on the ladies and 99% trying to remind him, by telepathy, that it is NOT a race.

I stopped the 1% cheering when they vanished from sight around not one but two corners. The day was hot (what else) and any boat traffic resulted in echo waves. Despite the frantic waving of Cimarron, my kayker, I was half thinking to insist on my right-of-way as the passenger tourist steamer (fake steamer) entered my narrow channel. I eventually moved to the canyon wall.

Things improved as I found Dave two miles into the swim. It was a great finish – earlier than I thought. Call it a sharp right then a 500 m sprint into another buoy line in front of another dam with a cheering group of earlier finishers and volunteers. I climbed on (about 4th and first male home), congratulated Gracie and the others and joined the cheering section. Soon so many came in that we needed to off-load onto a transport boat and headed back in.

Cimarron brought her massage table and YES, I was first home! We again snacked and chatted in the sun and could see Mo Siegel coming in strong. At 60+, Mo is an inspiration and took no offense to his personal flock of circling buzzards…

That evening we moved to the Apache Lake “resort” by long, twisty dirt road … and went off the grid. Kent arranged a sightseeing boat and we saw the desert stars – MAGICAL.

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 5

No email from Ned today, just a text:

Completed swim in just under 3 hours. Canyon Lake is one of the top ten pretty places I have ever seen. No internet coverage…

Today is the longest swim, 17 miles in Apache Lake.

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 4

Here is Part 4 of Ned‘s report from the SCAR Swim Challenge:

Up just before 4:00 am, which was frankly about my normal jet lag wake-up time. The house kitchen buzzed with toast slices, berries, porridge and anything else imaginable.  Gracie was downing coconut water (I have no idea)!

I suspect that we packed 25 litres of fluid between us with no two the same. Roger packed Pepsi with Maxim? I stayed with High5 plus 500 ml of another carbo-drink, water and a horrible chocolate recovery drink (thanks for the powder, Carol!). Half of mine were frozen solid as a way to battle the heat.

We left at 4:30 am and met the gang in the dark near the swim: magic market numbers, briefing and met the kayak volunteer. My kayak is Cimarron, one of the massage therapists and I reserved the first slot for Thursday and Friday. She headed off with my mesh bag of drinks, drugs and spare goggles!

I was ahead of Gracie for the first 45 minutes – ok, I was sitting in the front of the van taking us to the start and she was in the back. The start was a patch of desert where you checked for rattlesnakes before you ventured too far to pee.  Communal sun screening and nervous chat in the hot sun. I got nervous about the “water resistant for 80 minutes” stuff so instead used face zinc on my entire body.

Then we climbed down a cliff for 20 minutes (wearing shoes, togs, caps, goggles). Last year, Dave Barra fell and cracked two ribs – so we took it very seriously.

Another long wait at the bottom until the kayakers arrived (downstream) and organized by number. The swimmers headed upstream, maybe 500 m, to the bottom of a dam and went off (downstream) on “Go”.   My right upper arm was in considerable pain – and the worry was worse.  It was not a race; NOT A RACE.  Gracie and two other gals sprinted off and I got in a battle with four or five until we met the kayakers.

I pulled ahead of the pack and my arm felt better (related?).  The gap increased steadily over the next few miles.  Sun was beating down in my eyes and even when I found shade in the high-walled narrow (maybe 75 m wide), I could see the sun lighting up the water a few meters away on one side.  My first feed was a 90% frozen bottle of fluid, which was fun.

Then it all went bad another few miles along – clearly, the others did not get the message: NOT A RACE. Four caught me and two passed me – the arm started to hurt again. I chased for a few miles and it seems that they always had a better line hugging reeds or cliffs. Finally, I reeled them in (all but the three speedy ladies) and slammed my left hand into one of their kayaks in the process.  I then started to pull ahead again.  The pain in my arm vanished … the left hand was feeling proud!

Into the wide lake we met a strong headwind. I got my head down and tried to muscle it … it seemed to help and the gap behind me widened. The fresh water pulls your legs down and the shoulders burn with extra effort.

A couple of miles from the end, a female swimmer passed me and would not be caught. I took to coast hugging (a Cork advantage) to get the shortest line and Cimarron was cringing as I went over rocks and through dead tree branches.

The finish took me by a pontoon boat with the four female finishers and to another dam. It seems that the swim was just under 9 miles and my time was 3 hours and 20 minutes or so (with some current helping). Gracie broke 3 hours and Dave was 30 minutes faster this year with unbroken ribs!

They laid on a spread of fruit and drinks on for the swimmers and crew. Everyone had finished and there were smiles all around. I noticed that poor Heather, the other massage lady, was standing all alone by her table. I decided to help – like throwing the first coins in the busker’s guitar case – I helped as her first customer. She then had them queuing up: my good deed for the day.

Back to the house for a massive feed and mixing feeds again. I think we are all positive about the second 10 mile lake swim on Thursday and, yes, another 4:00 am wake-up. We now leave the house behind and stay is “quaint” places in the mountains. The fun never ends!

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 3

Here is Ned’s account of his first day of the SCAR Swim Challenge in Arizona:

I headed off to the pool today with Gracie while the others went shopping for water, trackers, video camera mountings and other stuff… Small world – she grew up with Julie Galloway who swam the channel while living in Dublin.

There was sort of an invitation to train at the local school pool, so she did all the talking as she is a swim coach and recently broke the long standing Catalina speed record. In her words: “Your reputation probably hasn’t reached Mesa, Arizona, Ned.”

She made her pitch to blank faces at the pool until a swim coach came up to me and said:  “You look like you are here for the SCAR swim. Welcome and swim as you want.”  Gracie claimed that it was the lumpy middle aged man in a Speedo look that did it … but she looked unconvinced.

I put on the zinc and some sun block stuff that she laughed at. She had 15 varieties of Southern California surf stuff. It was 104ºF with a blistering sun.

The girl can swim! I did manage to blast past here at one point. Ok, so she was sculling feet first at the time… 3,500 m – just to get the arms moving again and off to  lunch.

Liz Fry‘s (English Channel 2-way swimmer) sister hosted us with ribs, corn, beans and potato salad and my last beer for a while. I met Dave Barra (organiser of the 7 day Hudson River swim) who helped answer my staged swim questions a few months ago and Tori Gorman from Sydney, who brought regards from Dougal Hunt, who also swam the channel while living in Dublin. The world gets smaller and Tori spent a month in Dover last summer and met the Cork gang!

We then moved over to a sports bar for the official gathering … and met three more swimmers I knew from before and a few friends from Facebook. Lots of different mental approaches in the room: a few there to win, a few to prepare for the Manhattan race, some to complete and a few to have a lash (with seemingly no regard to completing). In fairness, a lot of confidence in the gang but it is early in the season and a lot of early season nerves.

Back at the house, it was like a scene from the TV show “The Wire”: white powder everywhere as about 50 bottles of carbo-drink and recovery drink was measured, mixed and divided between the freezer and fridge. My preparations were on the simple side, Barb has several varieties and Gracie was a real chemist with loads of different powders. Roger muttered something about drinking a can of Pepsi and the ladies looked concerned. I went to bed – Roger is a very experienced marathoner and will be fine in the 10 mile swim on Wednesday.

I need to swim in the shade if I am going to last the sun.  Despite seven sun bed sessions in Cork, I can feel a big burn coming!

Off to sleep now muttering “poli, poli, poli” – Swahili for “slowly”. Just like climbing Kilimanjaro, it is a long way, so go slowly.  The Cork translation would be “take it handy”. I have confidence for the 10 mile lake swim on Wednesday and this will help me.

Related Articles:

Guest Series: Ned’s SCAR Swim Challenge – Part 2

Ned‘s report from yesterday morning:

Tuesday, 30 April 2013 – 6:00 am (local time)

The plane trip out has left me with big fat swollen ankles – not a pretty sight.  Let’s hope they return to normal because they are so big that they’ll be a drag.  On the bright side, maybe they will help float my legs?  The toughtest past of long freshwater swims for a 6 foot 6 incher is that my feet sink and the shoulders pull that extra drag, forever, for four days.

My skin is stil in bad shape after the Guildford event: chlorine/windchill combination. This will not help as the temperature here was 105ºF and there is a blazing sun. Ah, how much sun could you get swimming 37 miles?

I met Kent, the organiser, who did confirm that Day 3 is the 17 mile swim. And there I was for the last few months smiling every time I saw Alan Rodgers train at Source, thinking: “he has no idea how hard the 16 miles in Lake Zurich will be”…

On Monday, our gang chatted, ate, shopped and relaxed. Gracie and her husband arrived at 3:00 am last night from San Diego to complete the house! She set the all-time (male/female) speed record in Catalina at the end of last year and no training does things like 17 mile pool swims in 6 hours. She will be my competition for the fastest here and my plan is simple: start 3 hours ahead of her, which might give me a chance.

The 50-strong group of swimmers and kayakers and volunteers meet at the sports bar tonight to do the briefing at at 5:15 am local lime we start the walk down to the first lake. Scary stuff!

Somebody please remind me why I find the need to keep challenging myself? Please! You don’t have much time – anyone?

There’ll be another update later today on how the first swim (in Saguaro Lake) went and Ned might even send us a picture or two…

Related Articles:

A Tour of Lough Hyne

This another sort of lazy post made up almost entirely of photographs. They’re worth looking at though as they are of a place where I’ve had some of my best and most memorable swims: Lough Hyne, West Cork.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The hill of Dromadoon from Barloge Quay.

Lough Hyne is a marine lake between the town of Skibbereen and the village of Baltimore in West Cork. It’s connected to the sea by a very narrow set of rapids, known simply as the Rapids. The small size of the Rapids means that the lake has an asymmetrical tidal cycle: the tide flows in for about 4 hours 30 minutes and out for about 8 hours 30 minutes. The tidal range in the lake, at about 1 m, is also much narrower than the tidal range outside, which can be 4 m or more.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Calm waters in Barloge Creek…

The freshwater input into Lough Hyne is negligible and so it is completely marine, but the geography of the lake means that it is full of relatively warm, well-aerated saline water. This makes it ideal for many kinds of marine life, including many species found nowhere on Earth except in Lough Hyne. The lake and the area just outside it, Barloge Creek, was designated Europe’s first Marine Nature Reserve in 1981 and is now home to a research centre which is part of the school of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences (BEES) at University College Cork, where I am studying.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

There is easy access to the crystal clear water at Barloge Quay…

On Friday, 13 April 2012, Steven Black and I decided to take advantage of fine weather and go for an early season swim in the area. Steve is originally from Cape Town, South Africa but is now a resident of the island of Ringarogy near Baltimore, West Cork. He is a regular swimmer at Lough Hyne…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The view across Barloge Creek from the road.

On this day, we decided to try a 3.7 km swim starting at Barloge Creek, heading over the Rapids into Lough Hyne, swimming west of Castle Island to West Quay, across to North Quay and straight back to Barloge Creek, going east of Castle Island. This might be a bit if a stretch as the water was only 10ºC or 11ºC and neither of us would be in wetsuits.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The view towards Tranabo Cove from Barloge.

It was a fine day so I brought my new waterproof camera to see of I could get any nice shots. I was hoping to get a few underwater wildlife shots as the water is crystal clear but it wasn’t to be on this particular day.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve Black of Cape Town, South Africa via Ringarogy dons his ACNEG in anticipation of a slightly cooler swim than his Strait of Gibraltar crossing!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Swimming towards the Rapids which connect Lough Hyne to the sea via Barloge Creek…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Swimming away from Barloge Quay towards the Rapids.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve swims off ahead of my while I mess around taking photographs…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Just about to go over the Rapids, the quay on the left and the Bohane Laboratory on the right.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Almost in the Rapids, looking like a good flow!

Swimming over the Rapids is great fun but you must time it right. You need to be able to work out before you go, which way they will be flowing, how fast they will be flowing and what the depth will be. It’s well worth the 2 hour drive from Fermoy to Lough Hyne just to go playing on the Rapids!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Just exiting the Rapids at Renouf’s Bay…

If you are coming into the lake with the Rapids, as we were, you need to get to the left as quickly as possible at the end as straight ahead is a large whirlpool which you can easily get caught up in if you’re not careful…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

My Island in the Sun! Swimming towards Castle Island, lit up by the sunlight, in Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

One of the rocky reefs at the southwestern corner of Castle Island in Lough Hyne.

Lough Hyne is very deep, over 53 m in one place and there is also a 100 m-deep cave in the lake somewhere. Around Castle Island in the centre of the lake, however, there are shallow patches and some rocky reefs. Here you can see lots of soft corals, cockles, oysters, scallops, sponges, spiny starfish, beautifully-coloured anemones, sea urchins, the odd seal and much, much more.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve powers on towards West Quay, leaving a nice bubble trail.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

A patch of sunlight illuminates some of the woodland on the western shore of Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve from underwater again.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The lesser-used West Quay, Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

A typical scene on sheltered rocky shores on the South Coast of Ireland.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

A closer photograph showing the variety of plants, animals and algae on this small islet on the northern shore of Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The little islet again with Knockomagh Hill in the background.

photograph – Owen O'Keefe

West Quay, Lough Hyne as seen from the more frequently used North Quay.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The eastern shore of Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Some of the houses around Lough Hyne. The main house, Lough Hyne House, is hidden behind the trees.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Looking back towards the northern shore of Lough Hyne.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Straight ahead is the way back out to the sea, though it mightn’t look like it.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve gets ready to dive back into Southern’s Bay having had to walk past the Rapids on the quayside.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Back into Barloge Creek and almost finished the swim!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Steve finishing the swim back at Barloge Quay.

1 hour 20 minutes later, we arrived back at Barloge Quay perished with the cold but in good condition and well able to drive home afterwards. It was 4 hours of driving for that relatively short swim but well worth the journey. Lough Hyne, Barloge Creek and all of the surrounding area is beautiful, quiet and great swimming territory. Hopefully there will be more stories to come from here…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Dromadoon as seen in a very different light to just 2 hours earlier…

Serpentine Swimming

One of my favourite swims from last year was an early morning dip in the Serpentine Lake in London’s Hyde Park, also the venue for the marathon swimming event at the London 2012 Olympic Games.  Thanks to my friend, Nick Adams, I was able to swim in the lake with the Serpentine Swimming Club at 8:00 am on Tuesday, 29 May.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The Lido Café is situated right next to the Serpentine SC clubhouse and is a great place to grab tea/coffee and some breakfast after an early morning swim…

During the summer, the Serpentine Lido is open to the public. This means that, during the day, you must pay an entry fee to swim in the lake and you are also restricted to a very small and crowded area. If you want to do a proper swim, you must swim with the club early in the morning. Thankfully, Nick and the others were kind enough to let me swim with them on this particular morning.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

An early morning view of the Serpentine Bridge from the lake.

One of the great things about swimming in the Serpentine is that, although you are in the centre of one of the world’s great cities, you feel as though you are in the middle of the countryside. I’m generally not a fan of cities, so big parks like Hyde Park make them seem much more tolerable places!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Again, you’d never guess that this was a seen from central London. The Serpentine is a great place to escape the sights and sounds of the city.

What these photographs don’t give you a sense of is the sound at the lake that morning. As I was on my way there, there were numerous military bands and mounted brigades rehearsing for a very big occasion that weekend – the Diamond Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II. This was one of the great events of the summer and marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Queen’s coronation. Queen Elizabeth II is now the second longest reigning British monarch and I had the great honour of meeting her and her husband, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in Cork on the momentous occasion of the first state visit by a UK head of state to the Republic of Ireland.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

The line of buoys that you can see in front of the large tree encloses the Serpentine Lido.

It was great to have the freedom to wonder outside of the buoys demarcating the Lido and have the feeling of proper open water swimming rather being constrained to a very small stretch of shaded, shallow water.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

One building on the London skyline serves as a reminder that you’re not actually in the middle of the countryside.

Another advantage to swimming early in the morning, of course, is that there aren’t too many people about the place and you swim without worrying too much about having a collision. I always feel a great sense of satisfaction when swimming early in the morning, especially in the open water…

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Just another view…

One more thing that made my Serpentine swim extra enjoyable was the water temperature, a very toasty 18ºC. This was far warmer than anything that I had experienced at home that summer. The lake was warm as London had just had a spell of very warm and dry weather, but still some of the swimmers at the Olympics complained of the cold!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Flowery hats still seem to be popular amongst recreational swimmers. I don’t think that we’ll be seeing them in the Olympics anytime soon, though.

There are lots of different kinds of swimmers at the Serpentine: some just go for their daily dip while other are training for marathon swim, some wear wetsuits and some prefer to swim in their skin. Everyone still seems to get on though, which is very encouraging.

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

A family of mute swans at the edge of the lake. They seemed quite time compared to our swans on the Blackwater, who can be quite vicious if you get too close!

One nice thing about ornamental lakes such as the Serpentine is that many birds like ducks, swans and divers are encouraged to stay around the lake and make it look less sterile and urban. The Lough, in Cork City, is a good example of this!

Photograph – Owen O'Keefe

Exiting the lake in good spirits and set up for the day in the city…

All of the above photographs were taken by myself with my Pentax Optio WG-1 waterproof camera. I’ve used this camera on many swims now and it has been holding up pretty well and producing some good shots, though it must be said that the video quality isn’t the best. I’m more interested in the stills anyway so am very happy with this camera.

Defining “Open Water Swimming”

Photograph – Ian Thurston

Swimmers at the start of the RCP Tiburon Mile in California, one of the world’s most popular open water events.

Over the last few years, there has been a huge increase in the number of people taking part in open water swimming – there are now more events than ever before and a much broader spectrum of people taking part. With so many different types of events on offer, from triathlon swim to channel crossings, it can be difficult to pin down just what is “open water swimming” and what is not. There is much debate as to what constitutes open water swimming and, amongst some people, whether or not it is even a sport! These are all very interesting questions, though sometimes divisive ones. In any case, I’ll do my best to get across my understanding of open water swimming, hopefully without offending too many people…

Graphic – Owen O'Keefe

A simplified cladogram of the aquatic sports as I understand them…

Above is a quick sketch of my understanding of the relationships between the aquatic sports. La Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA) has responsibility for the administration of international competition in the five* aquatic sports listed above. FINA delegates to continental governing bodies like La Ligue Européenne de Natation (LEN), which is responsible for the administration of international competition in Europe, and to national governing bodies such as Swim Ireland, which has responsibility for the aquatic sports throughout the island of Ireland.

*Masters is not included here as there are separate masters rules events for each of the five sports above, i.e. there are both swimming and open water swimming events at big masters events such as the FINA World Masters Championships.

It may come as a surprise to some people that different open water swimming events organised by the bodies listed above have different sets of rules. A rule that might be in force at one event might not be in force at the next. It may sound odd, but it must be remembered FINA defines open water swimming as “any competition that takes place in rivers, lakes, oceans or water channels”. These environments are controlled like a pool environment, so the rules need to be flexible to accommodate changing conditions. The organisation of open water swimming events at club level is still at a premature stage and many events are organised from a point-of-view of increasing overall participation in the sport than providing a high level of competition, i.e. there are, to an extent, no rules!

Photograph – George O'Keefe

Swimmers at the start of the “Edge Sports” Sandycove Island Challenge near Kinsale, Ireland. An example of one of the very well organised open water events that operate outside the aquatic sphere.

There are also many very popular events which are organised outside of the aquatic sphere. These include solo/relay/tandem swims (which are becoming more regularly recognised by clubs/organisations affiliated to governing bodies) and iconic races like the “Vibes & Scribes” Lee Swim and the “Edge Sports” Sandycove Island Challenge, as well as charity swims and events run for profit. As with open water swimming in the aquatic sphere, the rules for these events are far from set in stone.

Triathlon has become hugely popular in many countries in recent years, particularly in Ireland. The majority of people who have swum in open water environments in Ireland in the last few years have probably done so as part of a triathlon. This has, in turn, led to greater numbers taking part in events such as those mentioned above.

Another, relatively new sport that has been gaining momentum in the last few years is that of surf lifesaving. It encompasses all of the skills of lifeguarding and takes them to a competitive level. Naturally, open water swimming is one of the many disciplines comprising this sport, which has become very popular in countries like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and on the west and north west coasts of Ireland. Surf lifesaving competition throughout the island of Ireland is administered by Irish Water Safety.

Photograph – IWS

Podium finishes for my good friend and lane buddy, Rory Sexton, and his teammate, Bernard Cahill, at the Junior European Lifesaving Championships in Sweden last year.

Of course, there are other terms such as “long distance swimming” and “sea swimming” which have been used as synonyms for “open water swimming”, but I think that, as the sport grows, we will see the standard terminology prevail. So, I have failed completely to come anywhere near defining “open water swimming”, but I didn’t really think that I would anyway! I think I feel a rant coming on about “wild swimming” versus “open water swimming”, but that will have to wait for another day…