America's Top 10 Most Competitive Open Water Swims

America’s Top 10 Most Competitive Open Water Swims

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

The Daily News of Open Water Swimming previously published the World’s Top 100 Open Water Swims after years of research and hundreds of thousands of airmiles, participating in and observing short swims, pier swims, river swims, marathon swims, charity swims and cold-water swims in lakes, rivers, bays, oceans, rowing basins and reservoirs.

The Daily News of Open Water Swimming now present America’s Top 10 Most Competitive Open Water Swims based on the overall speed and experience of the top 10 men and women in each event.

1. The RCP Tiburon Mile offers the most money (US$10,000) and draws the most accomplished field of any race in America. With a start on rugged Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, usually over 800 swimmers race to the shores of downtown Tiburon, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in northern California.

The course is a cold-water, point-to-point swim of just slightly longer than 1 mile in September or October (depending on the tides). Besides Olympians, NCAA champions and world open water swimming champions from all over the world, swimmers face strong currents and relatively cold water (around 60°F). In addition to being a charity swim for the Special Olympics of Northern California, over 800 age-group, collegiate and masters swimmers compete with pool Olympians, English Channel swimmers and world open water champion swimmers from over 20 countries, including Russia, Australia, South Africa, Italy, Brazil, Mexico and Canada. US$10,000 is awarded to overall male and female winners – a wonderfully exciting winner-take-all competition.

2. Arguably, the most competitive race in America, the USA Swimming National 5K or 10K Championships certainly have the most riding on the outcome. With spots on the USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Team available and international travel as the carrot stick, the fastest pool and open water swimmers lay it all out on the line. These Championships have been held in Ft. Myers, Florida over the past several years and have now relocated to Long Beach, California. The Championships are also open this year to athletes from any nation. In Long Beach, the top Canadian and Azerbaijan will swim shoulder-to-shoulder with the top Americans.

To represent one’s country allows brings out the best in America’s best and most competitive open water swimmers.

3. The Waikiki Roughwater Swim is a really tough race to win with an international field of experienced open water swimmers coming from all over the world. As the inspiration behind the Hawaiian Ironman’s 2.4-mile swim leg, the event starts at the foot of Diamond Head volcano and finishes at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

An annual Labor Day extravaganza in early September, over 1,000 swimmers swim over beautiful coral beds and colorful marine life in a stunningly picturesque course. There is high surf and strong currents on occasion, depending on the conditions. With four decades of race experience under its belt, the venerable Waikiki Roughwater Swim Committee hosts a safe and memorable event from swimmers of all ages and backgrounds from dozens of countries and every U.S. state. In 1970, the race saw 4 women and 32 men swim across Waikiki and its reputation over the years is well-deserved.

4. The 11.5-mile Trans Tahoe Relay runs across Lake Tahoe from Sand Harbor Beach in Nevada to Skylandia Beach, Lake Forest in California). The most popular masters swimming relay in the world, six-person relays fight it out at an altitude of more than 6,200 feet – and in cold-water (55-60°F).

The clear-water event requires a high level of physical fitness, but allows no wetsuits to be worn by the numerous accomplished pool and open water
swimmers including world open water swimming champions, FINA World Cup and FINA Grand
Prix pro swimmers, and NCAA and Olympic Trial qualifiers and top masters swimmers from dozens of states and countries.

5. The 9.6-mile Maui Channel Swim is in certainly the most beautiful location. Despite the spectacular setting, swimmers go all-out in racing across the Au’au (Maui) Channel between the island of Lanai and the island of Maui in Hawaii.

The race starts at the north side of Lanai on an uninhabited stretch of beach and finishes on the south side of Maui by a stretch of luxurious resort hotels in early September. Six swimmers alternate 30-minute legs as they cross one of the most beautiful channels in the world and gaze upon five islands: Lanai, Maui, Molokai, Oahu and Hawaii if the weather permits.

Conditions can range from calm to rough with colorful marine life and clear warm cobalt blue water always on tap. Strong winds and strong currents play a large part on the success of each relay and the duration of their swim.

The six-person relay race, started as a competition in 1972 between the Waikiki Swim Club and the Olympic Club of San Francisco, has now grown to over 60 teams of six and dozens of solo swimmers from numerous states, Australia, Japan and Taiwan. “The only masters inter-island relay race in the world.

6. The 3-mile feature race of the multi-event La Jolla Rough Water Swim is another prestigious event on the West Coast in La Jolla Cove in La Jolla, California, just north of San Diego, California.

Known as the Gatorman, the start and finish at the picturesque La Jolla Cove, a natural amphitheater for ocean swims in September. The other races for swimmers of all ages and abilities include a 250-yards, 1 mile and 3 mile-swim. Known as America’s Premier Rough Water Swim, the event began in 1916 when 7 men swam 1.7 miles in the beautiful La Jolla Cove. By 1925, 8 men and 11 women swam the race. By 1950, 105 swimmers entered. In 1984, over 1,000 swimmers entered. In 1998, 2,255 swimmers participated, but in 1999, a cap of 2,000 was placed on the number of swimmers in order to maintain the high standards of the organizing committee.

Besides the usual bevy of strong age-group and masters swimmers, there are always former Olympic and NCAA champions in the mix, often swimming among marine life and between kelp. With a water clarity is among the best along the West Coast, the water temperature is in the 60°’s F.

7. The always fast and competitive Great Chesapeake Bay Swim is the staple in the Mid-Atlantic. Held in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, it is a 4.4-mile point-to-point race in June.

In 1982, a 21-year-old local swimmer was the first to cross the Chesapeake Bay in memory of his father. In 1983, two swimmers entered the first official race and 60 swimmers participated in the second year. The swim grew to 870 entrants by 1990, with finishers ranging from 12 to 76 years old. In order to maintain high safety standards, the organizing committee now limits the race to 600 swimmers. It takes less than 18 minutes for the entire field of 600 swimmers to be filled up using the current online entry system.

Strong currents can meet a slew of very competitive age-group, collegiate and masters swimmers.

8. The Nike Swim Miami is an increasingly popular and very competitive multi-sport competition in the sheltered waters of Miami’s Marine Stadium in Florida.

Held in April, the rectangular course offers races at distances of 1 mile, 5 km and 10 km. While swimmers enjoy the beautiful Miami downtown skyline in warm waters, they also have to compete against several Olympians, Olympic medalists and professional marathon swimmers who take part in an enjoyable event for swimmers of all ages and abilities.

9. The Big Shoulders 5K Swim in Lake Michigan along the shores of Chicago, Illinois is becoming increasingly competitive among age-group, collegiate and masters swimmers. The triangular course starts and finishes at the Ohio Street Beach and offers both a 2.5 km and 5 km distance in September.

Each loop is 2.5 km where the swimmers can face chilly and windy conditions with a water temperature that can vary between 65°F and 75°F as they view the impressive Chicago skyline.

A separate wetsuit division is held. The race was founded by Olympic gold medalist, Bill Mulliken.

10. The Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, run by NYC Swim is a 28.5-mile circumnavigation in the waters around Manhattan Island in New York City.

The course is a complete counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the island of Manhattan Island, starting and finishing near Wall Street in June or July. It is a competitive race because it is difficult to be accepted with a well-defined application process and it is limited to 25 solo swimmers and 18 relay teams. In recent years, the field sells out in less than 45 minutes from the time the online application is open online.

The first race first held in 1927, but it has really picked up in prestige and competitiveness under the management of the NYC Swim. There is substantial surface chop and a strong tidal pull throughout much of the race with the water temperature between 62-67°F (16-19°C). The salt water around Manhattan Island may also present jetsam and flotsam. It is the premier event on the NYC Swim calendar that conducts other open water swims like the 1.3-mile Lady Liberty SwimLady Liberty Swim, the 1-mile Park to Park Swim, the 2-mile Governors Island Swim, the 1K Brooklyn Bridge Swim, the 5.85-mile Little Red Lighthouse Swim and 17.5-mile Ederle Swim in addition to the new 10K NYC Pro Swim.

But competition is heating up wherever you go from shore-to-shore. Events like the 24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim in Tampa Bay, Florida, the 2.4-mile Alcatraz Challenge in San Francisco Bay, the events of the American Swimmming Association in Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, including the American Swimmming Association Open Water Collegiate National Championships, the four-part North Shore Surf ‘n Sea Swim Series along the famous north shore of Oahu, Hawaii, the Swim Around Key West in Florida, the Bridge-to-Bridge 10K Swim in San Francisco, the Open Water Festival in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, the Lake Berryessa Open Water Swim in Lake Berryessa, California, Location: East Beach in Hartwell Lake on the Clemson University campus in Clemson, the Glen S. Hummer Huntington Mile in Lake Clare, Huntington, Indiana, the Jack King 1-mile Ocean Swim in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the Chris Greene Lake 2-mile Cable Swim in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier Swim in Manhattan Beach, California, the 8.2-mile Pennock Island Challenge in Ketchikan, Alaska, the Boston Light 8-mile Swim in Boston, Massachusetts, the 25K St. Vincent’s Medical Center’s SWIM Across the Sound, the 7K Hawaiian Christmas Looong Distance Swim on the south shore of Oahu in Honolulu, Hawaii, the Columbus Swims in Ohio and the Fort Lauderdale Rough Water Swim in Florida offer all kinds of competition and fun.

In the words of Fran Schnarr who was a major inspiration and supporter of open water swimming, especially with the Flushing YMCA, the Flushing Flyers Aquatic Club and Metropolitan Swimming, “Just get in and have a good time.”


Copyright © 2010 by World Open Water Swimming Association