America's Very Difficult Open Water Swims

America’s Very Difficult Open Water Swims

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

The world has innumerable difficult open water swimming competitions which is part of the challenge and allure of the sport.

Rough conditions, cold water, sharks, jellyfish, tides, currents, long distances, high altitudes and logistical considerations are the primary obstacles. Everyone has a weakness when it comes to open water swimming. Weakness may come in the form of swimming through rough water and waves. Or it might present itself in cold water and hypothermia. Or it might be the fast pace and physicality of one’s competitors.

Besides the really long marathon swims in cold water, what are some of the toughest short open water swims in America?

While many people can agree on the marathon swims are the epitome on the difficulty scale, it is more subjective and more difficult to identify the relative difficulty of shorter swims. Below are 10 events in America worthy of consideration based on the following criteria:

1. Competitiveness (speed and navigational IQ) of swimmers of all ages
2. Turbulence and unpredictability of water conditions
3. Size of the field
4. Course layout
5. Uniqueness and intangibles

1. Fear No Pier (California): Fear No Pier requires getting in and out and in and out along the California coast around dozens of piers. The distances are no far, but the water is cold and the conditions are usually rough around most of the piers.

2. Trans Tahoe Relay (Nevada): The high altitude in the Sierra Nevada Mountains makes the cool water feel even colder in the 10-mile relay. While enjoyment and camaraderie are the names of the game, the competitive zeal of the dozens of teams lead to swimmers swimming fast.

3. RCP Tiburon Mile (California): RCP Tiburon Mile is a coolish, highly competitive 1 nautical mile race across the tidal flows of San Francisco Bay. The mad-dash at the start is comprised on flailing arms and legs and splashes. The 300m sprint is followed by a dog leg left towards the unseen finish, unmarked by buoys. The correct line across the Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, is completely unknown by all.

4. Waikiki Roughwater Swim (Hawaii): Waikiki Roughwater Swim fights across 3 tangents along the 3.8 km course offshore from Oahu in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The winds and currents can create havoc on the first 2 legs, but it is the final 800m leg that requires local surf knowledge or extensive experience to minimize the oncoming currents.

5. Aumakua Swim and Sprint Mile (Hawaii): The Aumakua Swim and Sprint Mile has the most unusual and physically taxing turn-arounds in the open water swimming world: The Arch. If a swimmer submerges and goes under the 13-foot (4+ meter) deep and 8-foot wide coral arch located in the middle of the 2.4-mile swim, they can subtract 1 minute off their time for diving through the Arch [see above].

6. Willoughby Swim (Vermont): The 5-mile Willoughby Swim is held within the huge aquatic amphitheater of Willoughby. The conditions can range from flat to furious with the winds as one is swallowed up by the majesty of the venue.

7. Great Chesapeake Bay Swim (Maryland): The 4.4-mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim crosses currents and tides among a traditionally competitive field.

8. Swim Miami (Florida): The Swim Miami races on Watson Island are all competitive: 800m, Miami Mile, 5 km and 10 km. A flat course is offset by a fast start, straight-line tangents are offset by the competitive field. .

9. Peaks to Portland (Maine): The P2P or the 2.4-mile Peaks to Portland ocean swim is cold – especially for those who can complete the swim in bioprene – and can get rough.

10. Statue of Liberty Swim (New York): The 1.2 km counterclockwise circumnavigation, extraordinarily scenic swim in New York City goes around Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty is located. It is a constant left-hand navigation, making it especially challenging for those who breathe only to the right.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association