Unique, Completely Out-of-the-Box Open Swims

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

The Japan to Taiwan Ocean Challenge, the Kaieiewaho Channel Relay between Oahu and Kauai or the Round Ireland Swim were all unusual open water swimming relays.

But what open water swims were the most unusual solo efforts that required a unique out-of-the-box vision? These efforts opened the eyes of other swimmers and the sport was enhanced with the new mindset of what can be done.

Here is a short list of creative swims over the last 200 years:

1810 – Crossing The Hellespont by Lord George Gordon Byron (Great Britain)
In May 1810, Lord Byron swam 6.4 km across the Hellespont, emulating the legendary Greek Leander in 1 hour 10 minutes.

1875 – The Greatest Feat of Human Endurance by Captain Matthew Webb (Great Britain)
In August 1875, Webb completed the first successful crossing of the English Channel on his second attempt swimming breaststroke covered in porpoise oil and escorted by three boats, finished in 21 hours 45 minutes.

1916 – Brotherly Circumnavigation around Manhattan Island by Ida and Henry Elionsky (USA)
In September 1916, 14-year-old Ida Elionsky swam 45.8 km around Manhattan Island in 11 hours 35 minutes to become the first woman and second person overall to complete a circumnavigation swim while she started the tandem swim with her brother Henry Elionsky who swam partly with his hands and feet shackled in a promotion of the benefits of swimming.

1963 – Racing In The Dark by Ted Erikson (USA)
In August 1963, Egypt’s Abdul Latif Abou Heif was leading Erikson in the 96.5 km Jim Moran Lake Michigan Swim race from Chicago to Michigan across Lake Michigan. While Abou Heif eventually won in 34 hours 38 minutes, followed by Erikson in 37 hours 31 minutes, Erikson had turned the lights off on his escort boat during the night and swam stealth as he gradually caught up with his unsuspecting rival.

1977 – Dueling Duo with Des Renford (Australia) and Kevin Murphy (Great Britain)
Between January and July 1977, Renford and Murphy competed to a draw in their 1977 trilogy of marathon races. Murphy won the first race in January, 10 miles in shark cage in Sydney. On July 21st Renford crossed the English Channel in 13 hours 35 minutes with Murphy behind in 14 hours 5 minutes. Four days later in Scotland’s Loch Ness, Renford was pulled from the water after 6 hours 30 minutes while Murphy continued on for another 2+ hours, but he also failed to complete the course [shown above].

1987 – Intercontinental Speedo Diplomacy by Lynne Cox (USA)
In August 1987, Cox broke through diplomatic barriers and opened the door to dramatic ice swimming with a 4.3 km 2 hour 6 minute crossing in the Bering Strait from Alaska’s Little Diomede to the Soviet Union’s Big Diomede where the water temperature was 4°C and the door to the U.S.-Soviet border was open for the first time in 48 years [shown above]

1988 – Great Swims Across the Great Lakes by Vicki Keith (Canada)
During July and August in 1988, Keith from Canada swam 32 km across Lake Erie in 20 hours; 18 days later swam 75 km across Lake Huron in 46 hours 55 minutes; 9 days later swam 72 km across Lake Michigan in 52 hours 45 minutes; 18 days later swam 32 km across Lake Superior in 17 hours; 15 days later swam 45.3 km of butterfly across Lake Ontario in 23 hours 33 minutes.

2000 – Inner Fire with Wim Hof (Netherlands)
In March 2000, Hof swam 57.5 meters under ice in a lake near Kolari, Finland [shown above].

2007 – Staging A Marathon by Martin Strel (Slovenia)
Beginning in February 2007 and finishing 66 days later, Strel completed a 5,268 km stage swim in the Amazon River, a distance longer than the width of the Atlantic Ocean, where he faced unusual obstacles from bandits to piranha.

2008 – Swimming To Olympian Heights by Maarten van der Weijden (Netherlands)
In August 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, Van der Weijden, a leukemia survivor from the Netherlands, outwitted and out-sprinted swimmers significantly faster than him in a pool (over 1 minute in the 1500m freestyle) and won a gold medal in the first 10 km marathon swim held in the Summer Olympics.

2008 – Missing Nothing by Natalie du Toit (South Africa)
In August 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, Du Toit, an accident victim from South Africa, was the first amputee to qualify for an Olympic swimming final, finished 16th in the 10 km marathon swim. She later won 5 gold medals in the 2008 Summer Paralympics in the pool.

2010 – The Mount Everest of Swimming by Lewis Pugh (Great Britain)
In May 2010, Pugh completed a high-altitude swim in Lake Pumori, a glacial lake on the Khumbu Glacier on Mount Everest, to highlight the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas. The 1 km swim at 5,200-meter altitude in 2°C water took 22 minutes 51 seconds to complete as part of the Clinton Global Initiative.

2010 – Limbless Channel Swimming by Philippe Croizon (France)
In September 2010, Croizon became the first person without arms and legs to swim across the English Channel. After losing his limbs in a freak accident at the age of 26, he later crossed from England to France with specially designed prosthetic flippers.

2013 – Boxed-in Swim by Diana Nyad (USA)
In September 2013 after four well-publicized attempts, Nyad wore a customized face mask, booties, gloves and porous stinger suit from sunset to sunrise to protect from box jellyfish as she swam across the Straits of Florida from Cuba to Florida in 52 hours 54 minutes.

2014 – Swimming in Siberia by Henri Kaarma (Estonia)
In March 2014, Kaarma set a record in swimming 2,400 meters in 0.8ºC water and -33ºC air temperature in 41 minutes 57 seconds at the Tyumen Open Winter Swimming Cup in Russia. Kaarma had purposefully stopped his previous attempt to break the record in Murmansk, Russia at 2,150 meters in 2013. He waited until Tyumen so he could break the record in the same pool where Andrei Stoyev swam 2,250 meters in 1 hour 6 minutes in 0.3°C water temperature and -30°C air temperature [shown above].

2016 – Protecting The Environment with the Dead Sea Swim
In November 2016, a multi-national team did a mass 16 km tandem swim across the Dead Sea between Jordan and Israel, each armed with specialized protective face masks to protect themselves and raise awareness about the degeneration and depletion of the saltiest open body of water on Earth.

2017 – Out-and-Back Swim by Sarah Thomas (USA)
In August 2017, Thomas went up and back 168.3 km across Lake Champlain taking in 67 hours 16 minutes to swim the longest distance in a body of water without currents or tides.

Thomas was nominated for the 2017 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year along with the following individuals:

1. Katherine Batts (Great Britain)
2. Dr. Caroline Block (USA)
3. Arianna Bridi (Italy)
4. Chloë McCardel (Australia)
5. Ana Marcela Cunha (Brazil)
6. Pat Gallant-Charette (USA)
7. Ludmila Maller (Russia)
8. Jaimie Monahan (USA)
9. Aurélie Muller (France)
10. Barbara Pozzobón (Italy)
11. Sarah Thomas (USA)
12. Julia Wittig(Germany)

Thomas’ exploits this year included a 40 km double circumnavigation around Mercer Island in Washington, victory in the women’s division at the 17 km Portland Bridge Swim in Oregon, completion of an unprecedented 31.7 km crossing of Grand Lake in Oklahoma, 6th place overall at the 16 km Swim The Suck in Tennessee, and the longest swim in history without currents: 168.3 km (104.6 miles) in 67 hours 16 minutes in Lake Champlain in New York and Vermont.

While fatigue was increasing as sleep became necessary after nearly 3 days of non-stop swimming, Thomas finished with a steady stride, wide smile, and fully conversant with her crew and media. Her swim was carefully documented and virtually observed by thousands, inspiring many and ensuring her effort set the standard for ratification. Like the other individuals on this list, she has continued to set the bar in the sport of open water swimming,” summarized Steven Munatones.

To register and vote on the WOWSA Awards and the 2017 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year here.

Copyright © 2008-2017 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones