Open Water Swimming Clubs, Teams And Organizations
Back in the 1970’s, a quiet, hard-working open water swimming team in Southern California, coached by Siga Rose, had a number of young ocean swimmers who trained constantly along the coast of California. Those swimmers – Lynne Cox, Penny Dean, John York – eventually became world-famous as they went on to set numerous records in channels around the world.
Dial forward forty years and there are now hundreds of open water swimming teams, groups, clubs, societies and associations flourishing around the world. Here are a brief list of a few of these teams scattered around the world:
The Brighton Swimming Club has been in existence since 1860 with over 150 years of annual and daily sea swims on the south coast of England.
With the weather and sea conditions permitting, members swim year-round at 7:30am every day, 11:30 am Monday – Saturday, and 10:15am on Sundays with other times during the evenings and summer.
La Jolla Cove Swim Club that trains in La Jolla Cove just north of San Diego. The club is an informal organization of friendly people who like to swim in the ocean with training sessions and sponsored activities once a month. The club organizes a Polar Bear Swim on New Year’s Day, the 1.5-mile CYA Across the Bay Swim in June, and the 1.5- and 5-mile Tour of Buoys Swim in early August.
Club members and non-members swim in the beautiful La Jolla Cove daily usually around 6:30 am, 8:00 am, 9:00 am, 11:00 am, 4:00 pm and other times throughout the day regardless of weather and water temperature throughout the year. Some swimmers swim less than 1K while others train for the English Channel, Catalina Channel, Cook Strait and other marathon swims.
Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association has a number of informal and formal training sessions and events, all held north of Los Angeles in the Santa Barbara area, including the 26-mile Big Swim channel crossing.
The members are extremely helpful and knowledgeable about swimming in the Santa Barbara Channel area and sanction a number of channel swims every year.
Headquartered appropriately at Tower 26 on Santa Monica Beach, the workouts are geared towards learning and practicing positioning, drafting, turns, starts and finishes. The practices are preceded by a warm-up period and end with presentations from a number of new product vendors and service providers, but the 60-minute in-the-water practices quickly morph into a high-intensity, high-energy friendly competition where a mix of world championship swimmers, professional triathletes and beginner endurance athletes are each placed in their appropriate groups.
Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA), first founded in 1907, is an umbrella organization that currently incorporates 305 local surf lifesaving clubs throughout Australia. These clubs are undoubtedly the epitome of open water swimming clubs where competitive swims are organized as part of the famously competitive, extremely popular, highly social and entertaining surf carnivals.
The clubs hold training sessions and teach nippers how to handle themselves – and others – in the ocean. The club tirelessly and passionately promotes all forms of open water athletic events in a social, enjoyable manner. Two examples – representative of what is available in Australia – include the Lorne Surf Life Saving Club and the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club.
Additionally, as Australian surf life saving clubs do, provide voluntary patrols of its coastline in summer so that swimmers and surfers can enjoy the ocean and surf safely.
The Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club is the oldest surf lifesaving club in the world.
The renowned club hosts the always popular and highly competitive Bondi To Bronte Ocean Swim.
The race video can be seen here.
The Cabrillo Beach Polar Bears was started in 1953 by John Olguin and Jack Cheaney with the goals of health, physical fitness and community service.
The club, based on the ocean-facing edge of Los Angeles, has held formal and informal ocean training sessions, starting at 6:00 am and ending at dusk, near the Catalina Channel finish (on the California mainland) and a New Year’s Day Swim for nearly 60 years.
The club annually selects a King and Queen of the Beach from its many daily ocean swimmers and has a convenient Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse as its official home only steps away from one of the coldest beaches in Southern California. The King and Queen represent the club at many community functions and are featured in the San Pedro Christmas Parade on the Polar Bear float.
The Shadowcliffs Orcas is an open water swimming club headquartered at the Shadow Cliffs Eastbay Regional Park near San Francisco. Members of the club must first pass an open water swimming test, but are then allowed to swim outside the designated swim area in the Shadow Cliffs Lake. As the club promotes, no lane lines, no chlorine, just sunshine and fresh air.
The members of the Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club have completed channel swims around the world.
Its members are of all ages and abilities and has affiliations with the Amateur Swimming Association Swim South East Region, British Long Distance Swimming Association, Jersey Amateur Swimming Association and the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation.
The Serpentine Swimming Club has own changing facilities and is allowed to swim in the Serpentine in Hyde Park in central London during certain morning hours.
Its members swim year-round and organize the annual Peter Pan Cup Christmas Morning Swim.
Members of CIBBOWS (Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers) in New York include swimmers of all levels. They have group swims at Brighton Beach and Coney Island from April to November and host the Grimaldo’s Mile, Aquarium 5K & 1 Mile, and Veteran’s Day 5K, 1 Mile & 2 Mile Swims.
The Dolphin Swimming and Boating Club, established 1877, has rightly developed a proud tradition of safety, camaraderie and accomplishment over its long history. The iconic clubhouse is located near Fisherman’s Wharf in full view of the majestic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay.
Like the other clubs on this list, it has many members who have conquered most of the most difficult channels around the world.
Members swim year-round in the waters of Aquatic Park where the water temperatures ranges between 10°C (50°F) to 15°C (61°F) year-round. A line of buoys parallel to the shore marks a quarter-mile course. After six months’ membership in good standing, members may participate in the Club’s organized swim program: approximately 20 swims inside and outside the cove throughout the year. Highlights of the Dolphin Club program include the Golden Gate and Alcatraz swims, twilight swims followed by potluck barbecues, and the Fort Point to Aquatic Park swim. If members swim at least 40 miles between December 21st and March 21st, they are honored as an official Dolphin Club Polar Bear.
Its members, photographed above by Susanne Friedrich, are welcoming and warm to everyone who takes a cool dip in San Francisco Bay.
The Ocean City Swim Club is an independent open water swim club based in Ocean City, New Jersey that holds a number of ocean training sessions, including popular weekend swims.
Members of the New England Marathon Swimming Association have been swimming in the waters of New England for 30 years from Booth Bay to Narragansett Bay and host a swim in Gloucester Harbor. The Association was formed to ensure open water swimming opportunities in New England’s rivers, ponds, lakes, harbors, bays, sounds or ocean are available now and in the future.
The South End Rowing Club, founded in 1873, is adjacent to the Dolphin Club near the Fisherman’s Wharf in view of the majestic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay. The club hosts the 1.25-mile Alcatraz Invitational Swim and a series of club swims, but many members train year-round in all conditions with only a swimsuit and a thermal cap.
The camaraderie of the club is enticing and engaging. Like most clubs on this list, getting started is easy: just come down to the club and introduce yourself or help out at a club event.
The Cape Town association in South Africa has a number of cold-water training swims on Sunday mornings at Camps Bay beach as well as long-distance training sessions (5K or more) as well as a number of events and solo swims in and around the Cape Town area.
The L Street Brownies, officially organized as a club in 1902 with a history that has been traced to 1865, enjoys the L-Street Bathhouse as its headquarters. Members have been enjoying the cold waters of Boston Harbor for over 100 years and annually host the L Street New Year’s Day Swim – a Boston tradition since 1904.
Their club name comes from the beach where the club members meet and for the nut-brown skin color members develop from exposure to the sun.
Membership in the club costs US$1 and averages between 35-50 swimmers throughout the year.
The Cork Masters Swimming Club in Ireland hosts training sessions, the Lee River Swim and the The Edge Sports Sandycove Island Challenge jointly with the Cork Lions Club. Sandycove Island has become a popular training area for endurance athletes, channel swimmers and triathletes with an interest in open water swimming.
The Half Moon Swimming Club in Dublin, Ireland was founded in 1898 and has a history of success and enjoyment in the open water.
The Colorado Masters Swimming Association hosts open water swimming sessions at the Chatfield State Park in the Gravel Pond. There are also regular series swims in the middle of the Rocky Mountain at the Grant Ranch Swim Series and the Aquaman Series.
In central Florida’s Lake Cane, the tireless promoter of open water swimming Dr. Lucky Meisenheimer is the lightening rod behind the global band of merry open water swimmers who regularly gather at his famously hospitable residence – home to the world’s largest yo-yo collection – to enjoy open water training sessions, events, get-togethers and relays.
Besides promoting wellness and the enjoyment of open water swimming, Lucky has organized world record distance lake swims (solos), relays (up to 100K), 1K races and hosted thousands of swimmers and hundreds of lake swims at his daily swims in a well-marked 1K course.
The Waikiki Swim Club has held weekly swims throughout Oahu including Saturday morning swims at Ala Moana Beach Park and Sunday morning swims at Kaimana Beach (on the Diamond Head side of Waikiki Beach) since 1971 as Hawaii’s oldest organized club devoted to promoting safe and fun ocean swimming.
It hosts a number of ocean swims every year and sent teams to the Maui Channel Swim every year since its inception. The club sponsors the North Shore Swim Series, the Christmas Biathlon, and the Valentine’s Day Biathlon. Members include swimmers of a wide range of age and ability.
The private Olympic Club, America’s oldest athletic club, was established in 1860 in San Francisco. Its 5,000+ active members are dedicated to the pursuit of amateur athletic excellence and include many Olympic heroes, accomplished athletes and world open water swimming champions. The Olympic Club hosts the popular Trans Tahoe Relay that is a high-altitude masters swimming relay from the state of Nevada to the state of California across Lake Tahoe.
Open Water Chicago exists to deliver adventures in fitness to both the local and global communities of open water swimming enthusiasts that centers its training swims in Lake Michigan on the shores of Chicago.
The Coney Island Polar Bear Club, established in 1903, is the oldest American winter bathing organization whose members swim in the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island every Sunday from November to April.
They have organized one of the most publicized Polar Bear Swims in the US for decades.
The Avila Dolphins Swim Tea practices every Sunday year-round in Avila Beach, centrally located between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the Californian coast. In the water by 11 am, the team sometimes splits into 2-3 groups to accommodate the varying levels of skill, expertise, enthusiasm and level of tolerance for the ocean conditions over the 1-2 mile course. The team members also travel to numerous races from Maui to San Francisco.
The Triathlon Club of San Diego has an ocean swim every Sunday at 8:00 am in Powerhouse Park in Del Mar, California. The Club is one of the oldest and largest triathlon clubs in the country with members primarily from San Diego and Southern Orange Counties, but also from Canada, Japan, and Australia. Members’ experience level ranges from first timer to professional.
The Sea Monkeys of Seal Beach, California have a long and informal history in their friendly seaside community within easy view of Catalina Island and the Queen Mary harbored in neighboring Long Beach.
Since the 1970’s when famed Lynne Cox and Penny Dean trained from pier and jetty, swimmers from all over Southern California have flocked to the gentle shoreline of Seal Beach.
The Sea Monkeys regularly swim at 6:00 am on Thursdays from April to November. Wetsuits are optional, although most of the swimmers tend to be traditionalists.
Mission Viejo Nadadores regularly swim in south Orange County beaches in Southern California on the weekends.
Under the leadership of Siga Rose who has been teaching children and teenagers how to swim in the ocean since the 1970s, young swimmers learn how to feel comfortable in the ocean and rough water and various subtle techniques and tactics to become successful competitive or solo open water swimmers.
The Black-ice Open Water Swimming Club is based in Black Rock, Australia (outside of Melbourne) and are one tough, dedicated group of open water swimmers. To become an official member of the Black Rock Icebergers (Black-Ice), a swimmers is required to complete a 3K circuit of the long course at Brighton Baths during winter when the water temperature must be at or below 10°C (50°F) under the following rules: 1. Definitely no wetsuits, and 2. No neoprene swim caps.
The Black Rock Icebergers include English Channel swimmers, Cook Strait swimmers, Rottnest Channel swimmers, and others who simply are looking for a challenge.
The Black Rock Icebergers train every Saturday morning throughout the year at the Brighton Sea Baths, including winter when the air temperature ranges from 6°C to 15°C (42°F to 59°F).
Anyone can join in the Saturday practices, but as founder (and 2003 English Channel swimmer) Albert (Alby) Bardoel asks, “Remember our club rules – NO WETSUITS – because would you climb Mt Everest in a helicopter? Would you ride the Tour de France on a motorbike? Would you sail the world in a motorboat? Or would you run a marathon in your car?“
Orange County Open Water Swims is a grassroots Orange County, California Google Group that gathers from training swims throughout the coastline south of Los Angeles.
“We love hosting visiting swimmers who are visiting Orange County from around the world,” said moderator Lynn Kubasek.
“We welcome everyone: wetsuits, fins, and skins. Whatever it takes to get people into the ocean. Baby steps. It is gratifying to see people get over initial fear of getting through the surf and graduating from wetsuits to skins. We have a few channel aspirants in our midst.”
Sandycove Island Swim Club is a team consisting of newcomers and successful English Channel swimmers and is rapidly becoming a well-established proving ground of marathon swimmers.
It also offers a 10-day training camp that is the ultimate in tough training – all necessary to get swimmers from point A to point B successfully.
1.PKO is an extreme cold-water swimming team in the Czech Republic (film shown below).
“It isn’t just a few crazy people, but an organized sport with frequent races through the winter season,” explained Jack Bright.
“In the Czech Republic some of the world’s most extreme winter swimming is held due to an excellent organization with rules that have developed over 50 years.”
The City of Liverpool Open Water Swimming Club was formed by master swimmers in the 1980’s from the Westminster Road swimming baths with swimmers from newcomers to English Channel veterans.
Its swimmers also hold the world record for the fastest relay swim across the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland.
These are just a few examples of hundreds of open water swim clubs around the world. Enjoy their fellowship and camaraderie wherever you travel.
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