Rubber Suits In Marathon Swimming History

Rubber Suits In Marathon Swimming History

Joe Grossman, an inductee in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, traveled the world promoting and helping organize professional marathon swims and the World Professional Marathon Swimming Association circuit.

Joe compiled a massive amount of information on the sport of open water swimming and on marathon swimming events and athletes in particular. His writings and information are literally hundreds of pages of carefully documented and colorfully drafted process.

His International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame colleague Dale Petranech reminds us of a particularly interesting section of Joe’s encyclopedia of information.

It is generally conceded that the impetus for the first crossing of the Dover Strait by a swimmer unaided by craft or artificial buoyancy was provided by an 1862 exploit of a British merchant seaman named William Hoskins who rode a bundle of hay and straw from Cap Gris Nez to South Foreland.

This indicated that currents existed which might assist a swimmer attempting a crossing using only his arms and legs – or at least it indicated that whatever currents existed were not impassable. That theory was given further credence in May 1875, when a Captain Paul Boynton (shown above) stroked across, over Hoskins’ route, attired in a buoyant lifesaving suit.

Boynton, oddly enough, was an Atlantic City, New Jersey, lifeguard captain who, in 1874, had tried out an inflated rubber suit invented by a Pittsburgh rubber manufacturer. It allowed the wearer to lie on his back and paddle himself along, and it was so successful when demonstrated in Atlantic City that Boynton took it to England the following spring to exhibit it there.

He crossed the Channel from Cap Gris Nez to Fan Bay, and the resultant hullabaloo was so widespread that Boynton was bidden to make a command appearance before Her Majesty Queen Victoria. All that attention given a rubber suit crossing set the would-be Channel swimmers to their tasks. If the Queen showed interest in a “floater,” she’d surely flip over a bona fide swimmer!


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