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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Swimming Safely With Thoughts Of Sharks

Jellyfish, currents, cold water, sea snakes, lightning, large waves...nothing strikes more fear in the hearts of open water swimmers than sharks.

A fin in the water is a scene that open water swimmers dread. A dark body cruising stealthily under the water is even a worse nightmare come true. But a streamlined silhouette screaming up from the depths is the ultimate scare.

All three scenarios have been experienced by swimmers around the world, but the last of these shark encounters are so rare that they have become legendary in the annals of open water swimming. Linda Kaiser and Mike Spalding are two of the few contemporary swimmers who have been the target of sharks aiming at them from below. In the clear ocean waters off Hawaii, Kaiser and Spalding have faced - more than once - the utter terror of being human prey. And Spalding is the only swimmer in recent history to have been bitten by a shark during an open water swim. Yet both Kaiser and Spalding still swim with joy despite the inherent risks of their sport with a profound acceptance that they are the visitors in a world where sharks are the apex predators.

Others have also swum with sharks and understood that sharks aren't necessarily swimming by them because they are looking for a nibble. From tiger sharks surrounding Greta Andersen on her Molokai Channel attempt in the 1950's to Penny Palfrey calmly swimming over Great White Sharks off Santa Barbara, a relatively few number of solo swimmers have encountered sharks during their swims. In 2012, there were over 8,000 marathon swim attempts, including nearly 1,000 channel swims, but only one swimmer - Ned Denison in False Bay, South Africa - "experienced six moments of shark fear during his 11 hour crossing while there were dozens of known shark sightings in the area, but he was never really in danger", said one of his safety crew.

"One swimmer who advised me not to swim in False Bay rode to the beach to join me for a swim on a scooter," calmly explained Denison. "I asked him what were the chances of an accident happening while driving 11 hours on a scooter versus swimming 11 hours in False Bay. He agreed the relative risks were higher on the roads than in the sea."

Relativity of risks is what open water swimmers have rationalized with themselves: sharks are in the ocean and swimmers are the visitors to the marine environment, but the chances of a shark encounter remain extremely low. But that does not mean that precautions are not in high alert when circumstances demand it. Races in Australia that have been cut short and helicopters have come to the rescue of swimmers when a shark has been sighted in the vicinity of an open water race. Traditional races in False Bay have been taken off the schedule due to the visible presence of sharks. It is better to be safe than sorry is the general consensus of the community.

A palpable fear of sharks is quite real for many swimmers despite the low odds of ever encountering a shark. Rational or not, the fear of sharks is easy for many to comprehend and visualize every waking moment. And the odds go up exponentially whenever they venture past the surf line in the ocean.

Skip Storch who did a number of marathon and stage swims along the East Coast of America as well as a 25-hour attempt from Cuba to Florida in 1993 explains, "Before a swim I had more of a problem with the fear of shark attacks than [actual shark encounters] during a swim. I had visions of sharks attacking, killing and eating victims of destroyed vessels during World War II and other poor souls lost at sea. These thoughts plagued my conscience mind and entered my dreams months before any swim. Fueling my fears were the most commonly asked questions by reporters and the public alike. "Aren't you afraid of Sharks?"

But statistically speaking, the risk of death from sharks is way, way, way down the list of possibilities. According to the National Safety Council, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the International Shark Attack File, the comparative annual risk of death due to diseases and accidental causes of death are as follows:

Heart disease: 1 in 5
Cancer: 1 in 7
Stroke: 1 in 24
Hospital Infections: 1 in 38
Flu: 1 in 63
Car accidents: 1 in 84
Suicide: 1 in 119
Accidental poisoning: 1 in 193
MRSA (resistant bacteria): 1 in 197
Falls: 1 in 218
Drowning: 1 in 1,134
Bike accident: 1 in 4,919
Air/space accident: 1 in 5,051
Excessive cold: 1 in 6,045
Sun/heat exposure: 1 in 13,729
Lightning: 1 in 79,746
Train crash: 1 in 156,169
Fireworks: 1 in 340,733
Shark attack: 1 in 3,748,067

Mike Miller, a member of the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, who has spent arguably the most amount of time training in the Hawaiian Islands, looks at the odds with a marathon swimming mindset. "It would be noteworthy if we could estimate the number of people and the amount of time swimmers actually train in the oceans - and then relate the odds to the number of attacks over that time. The odds are likely way, way more remote if one could calculate the amount of time swimmers train in the ocean and compare it to the number of shark encounters swimmers have."

He then asks without irony, "Wouldn't it be striking to find out the more time one spends training in the ocean, the less chance of an encounter? Many weekend warrior surfers spend less time in the ocean than a [marathon] swimmer who trains in the ocean. And the surfers are generally in shallower water, surfing closer to shore in many circumstances, but the number of shark encounters with surfers is higher than with swimmers. What are the odds their odds are considerably higher than swimmers?"

While getting hit by lightning or being in an airplane accident may seem far-fetched in a storm or an infinitesimal possibility when you make airline reservations, every open water swimmer can easily and immediately visualize the wide jaws of a shark opened wide, barreling towards them with a row of razor-sharp teeth. As low as the real odds of this happening are, even the most minute chance remains at the forefront of many swimmers.

Out of sight in the open water, however, does not necessarily mean out of mind.

Storch had his own perspective and strategies to battle demonic thoughts, "To put myself at peace during swims, I would stay away from fisherman using bait and blood and I would mask any noise I made with a strategically placed small escort boat powered by a 5 horse powered outboard engine. During the [Cuba] swim attempt the high-pitched winding frequency of the propeller was my emotional safety net. Most of the noise I made was undetected by sharks. I also used a white suit to camouflage myself with the sky, eliminating the effects of a dark suit. I never saw a shark, only jellyfish though."

While the thought of getting bitten by a shark remains a very real and threatening possibility to many open water swimmers, the thought appears to be an even greater dread to non-open water swimmers. "Aren't you afraid of sharks?" is often the first question received by an open water swimmer when talking with their non-swimming friends. Non-swimmers somehow easily imagine the worse-case scenarios when discussions center around swimming in the ocean. Sharks are seemingly always a part of their equation.

However, the equation internalized by most open water swimming has minimized the shark threat. So much so that most open water swimmers could not imagine what would happen during or after a shark attack. While they can imagine having the flu or falling in an airplane, the imagery of what happens in an actual shark attack is usually something that does not register with swimmers or non-swimmers. That is, the thought of a shark approaching with its jaws open is easy to imagine, but the next moment when the shark's jaws clamp onto a limb and tear into their flesh is something that most humans have effectively - and fortunately - eliminated from their thoughts.

And for good reason: it is highly unlikely ever to happen.

Photo shows shark swimming in the proximity of Canadian professional marathon swimmer George Park in a race off Rhode Island in 1968.

Sources: All accidental death information from National Safety Council. Disease death information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shark fatality data provided by the International Shark Attack File Lifetime risk is calculated by dividing 2003 population (290,850,005) by the number of deaths, divided by 77.6, the life expectancy of a person born in 2003.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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The Staff of the World Open Water Swimming Association

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference

Learn more...
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference Agenda

Friday, 19 September



Welcome Reception at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, Scotland

Documentary films shown throughout the reception:

Blue Journey-Amerika Samoa – Stronger Together: The Waterman’s Way
(film by Bruckner Chase)

Dancing With The Water, Crossing of Lake Pontchartrain
(film by Wayne Ewing about Matthew Moseley's Lake Pontchartrain crossing)

Bering Strait Swim Chukotka - Alaska
(film by Admiral Konstantin Sidenko about the relay between Russia and Alaska)

The Clean Swim – Hong Kong to Macau
(film about Simon Holiday's Pearl River Delta crossing)

Saturday, 20 September



Registration and Coffee at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, Scotland



Keynote Speech:
Colleen Blair (Scotland) on The History of Scottish Swimming



Christopher Guesdon (Australia) on Multidimensional Roles In The Sport



Colin Hill (England) on Recent Explosion in UK Open Water



Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia) on The Feminine Code of Achievement - How a Lady from Down Under Revolutionized Professional Marathon Swimming



Simon Murie (England) on Open Water Swimming Holidays: How A New Sector Was Created Within The Travel Industry



Swimming The Oceans Seven
A round table discussion moderated by:
Kevin Murphy (England), with Stephen Redmond (Ireland), Anna-Carin Nordin (Sweden),
Darren Miller (USA), Adam Walker (England), Kimberley Chambers (New Zealand)



Coffee and Break



World Open Water Swimming Awards Luncheon:
with co-hosts Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia) and Steven Munatones (USA)

Pádraig Mallon (Ireland), 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year

Olga Kozydub (Russia), 2013 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year

Bering Strait Swim, 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year

Honoring: Vladimir Chegorin, Maria Chizhova, Elena Guseva, Ram Barkai, Jack Bright, Oksana Veklich, Aleksandr Jakovlevs, Matías Ola, Henri Kaarma, Toomas Haggi, Nuala Moore, Anne Marie Ward, Toks Viviers, Melissa O’Reilly, Ryan Stramrood, Cristian Vergara, Craig Lenning, Rafal Ziobro, Andrew Chin, Jackie Cobell, James Pittar, Paolo Chiarino, Mariia Yrjö-Koskinen, Ivan Papulshenko, Zdenek Tlamicha, Zhou Hanming, Oleg Adamov, Andrei Agarkov, Alekseev Semen, Tatiana Alexandrova, Roman Belan, Elena Semenova, Alexander Brylin, Afanasii Diackovskii, Vladimir Nefatov, Evgenii Dokuchaev, Oleg Docuckaev, Roman Efimov, Dmitrii Filitovich, Olga Filitovich, Victor Godlevskiy, Olga Golubeva, Alexei Golubkin, Alexander Golubkin, Alexandr Iurkov, Oleg Ivanov, Pavel Kabakov, Eduard Khodakovskiy, Aleksandr Komarov, Aleksandr Kuliapin, Andrey Kuzmin, Irina Lamkina, Vladimir Litvinov, Andrey Mikhalev, Victor Moskvin, Nikolay Petshak, Sergey Popov, Vladimir Poshivailov, Grigorii Prokopchuk, Dmitrii Zalka, Natalia Seraya, Viacheslav Shaposhnikov, Olga Sokolova, Andrei Sychev, Alexei Tabakov, and Nataliia Usachaeva [represented by Admiral Konstantin Sidenko and Nuala Moore]



Alexey Salmin Pavlovich (Russia) and Dmitry Dragozhilov (Russia)
on the 2016 Winter Swimming World Championships [film]



Sally Minty-Gravett (Jersey) on Motivating Swimmers



Dmitry Blokhin (Russia) and Aleksei Veller (Russia)
on the First World Ice Swimming Championships [film]



Matthew Moseley (USA)’s Dancing With The Water, Crossing of Lake Pontchartrain [film]



Simon Holliday (England) and Doug Woodring (Hong Kong)’s The Clean Swim – Hong Kong to Macau 2014 [film]



International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF)
and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMSHOF)

IMSHOF Induction Ceremonies and Dinner
with co-hosts Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia) and Steven Munatones (USA).

Recognition of International Swimming Hall of Fame honorees:

  • Elizabeth Fry (USA), IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • Vojislav Mijić (Serbia), IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • James Anderson (USA), IMSHOF Honour Administrator

  • Dr. Jane Katz (USA), IMSHOF Honour Administrator

  • Indonesian Swimming Federation Open Water Committee (Indonesia), IMSHOF Honour Organisation

  • Melissa Cunningham (Australia), Irving Davids – Captain Roger Wheeler Award by the International Swimming Hall of Fame and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • Sandra Bucha (USA), ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

  • Jon Erikson (USA), ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer [represented by Sandra Bucha]



International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) Introduction Video.
Welcome speech by host Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia)






International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF)
Induction Ceremonies and Dinner with host Shelley Taylor-Smith (Australia)

Recognition of International Swimming Hall of Fame honorees:

  • Mercedes Gleitze (England)
    ISHOF Honor Pioneer Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by daughter Doloranda Pember]

  • Dale Petranech (USA)
    ISHOF Honor Contributer and IMSHOF Honour Administrator

  • Claudio Plit (Argentina)
    ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by Shelley Taylor-Smith]

  • Judith van Berkel-de Nijs (Netherlands)
    ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by Niek Kloots]

  • George Young (Canada)
    ISHOF Honor Pioneer Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer
    [represented by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation]

  • David Yudovin (USA)
    ISHOF Honor Open Water Swimmer and IMSHOF Honour Swimmer

Sunday, 21 September



Registration and coffee at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, Scotland



Nuala Moore (Ireland) on The Mindset of 1000m at 0ºC



Admiral Konstantin Sidenko (Russia)’s Bering Strait Swim Chukotka - Alaska in 2013 [film]



Ned Denison (Ireland) on Swimming The World



Bruckner Chase (USA)’s Blue Journey-Amerika Samoa
Stronger Together: The Waterman’s Way



Rok Kerin (Slovenia) on Lifestyle Benefits From Open Water Swimming



Survey distribution and group photo-taking



Swim at Stravvana Bay, Isle of Bute


The Global Open Water Swimming Conference is a conference on the sport of open water swimming, marathon swimming and swimming during triathlons and multi-sport endurance events.

The conference which has been attended by enthusiasts and luminaries from 6 continents, is devoted to providing information about the latest trends, race tactics, training techniques, equipment, psychological preparation, race organization and safety practices used in the sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons.

The conference's mission is to provide opportunities to listen and meet many of the world's most foremost experts in open water swimming, and to meet and discuss the sport among swimmers, coaches, administrators, event organizers, sponsors, vendors, officials, escort pilots, and volunteers from kayakers to safety personnel.

Dozens of presentations at the 2014 Conference at the Mount Stuart House cover numerous aspects of the vast and growing world of open water swimming where attendees can learn and share the latest trends, race tactics, training modalities, swimming techniques, equipment, race organization, logistics, operations, and safety practices for open water swimming as a solo swimmer, competitive athlete, fitness swimmer, masters swimmer, triathlete, multi-sport athlete, administrator, race promoter, sponsor or referee.

The conference was first held in Long Beach, California as part of the 2010 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships. It has since been held on the Queen Mary in California, at Columbia University and the United Nations in New York City, and in Cork, Ireland. This year in September, it comes to another iconic location, the Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

"The Global Open Water Swimming Conference was started due to the desire and need for athletes, coaches, referees, administrators, race directors, promoters and sponsors from around the world to share, collect and learn information about the growing sports of open water swimming, marathon swimming and triathlons," said founder Steven Munatones. "Other swimming conferences usually offering nothing on open water swimming or perhaps a speech or two, but we thought open water swimming deserves its own global conference. It is great that the community shares its information via the online social network, but there is nothing like meeting other open water swimming enthusiasts face-to-face and talking about the sport from morning to night."

Speakers at the conference include English Channel swimmers, ice swimmers, record holders, renowned coaches, world champions, professional marathon swimmers, renowned race directors, officials and administrators from the Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

"Because the audience is passionate and educated about the sport and its finest practitioners, the Global Open Water Swimming Conference is also the location of the induction ceremonies for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and the annual WOWSA Awards that recognize the World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year, and the World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year. Special Lifetime Achievement Awards are also occasionally presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the sport over their career."

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

A Thank You Gift from WOWSA

WOWSA is celebrating the
1-Year Anniversary of the monthly Open Water Swimming Magazine
by giving you a free copy of the anniversary issue.

Open Water Swimming Magazine Anniversary Issue
File Size: 13MB


Download the file to your computer, and then right-click to extract the magazine which is inside the zip folder. The magazine is in PDF format.

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Swim Across the English Channel...


Who else is looking for a qualified open water swimming coach to help them swim across the English Channel?

Chloë McCardel is a 6-time English Channel Swimmer who inspires and instructs. Access featured content by Chloë in this month's issue of the Open Water Swimming Magazine. Published monthly by WOWSA, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a digital, interactive publication made available exclusively to WOWSA members. See what you've been missing! Become a WOWSA member today!

Open Water Swimming Magazine

Open Water Swimming Magazine

The Open Water Swimming Magazine is the monthly magazine entirely focused on open water swimming heroes and heroines of every age, ability, and background. Published by the World Open Water Swimming Association, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a free benefit to WOWSA members.

WOWSA Member Benefits include 12 issues of the Open Water Swimming Magazine, the annual 276-page Open Water Swimming Almanac, a free listing in Sponsor My Swim, outstanding product discounts from FINIS, an entry in Openwaterpedia and more...

The Other Shore

The Other Shore follows world record holder and legendary swimmer Diana Nyad as she comes out of a thirty-year retirement to re-attempt an elusive dream: swimming 103 miles non-stop from Cuba to Florida without the use of a shark cage. Her past and present collide in her obsession with a feat that nobody has ever accomplished. At the edge of The Devil’s Triangle, tropical storms, sharks, venomous jellyfish, and one of the strongest ocean currents in the world, all prove to be life-threatening realities. Timothy Wheeler’s documentary brings Diana Nyad’s extraordinary adventure to life as Diana sets out to prove that will and determination are all you need to make the unimaginable possible.

2014 Open Water Swimming Almanac

An Almanac for Open Water Swimming

An almanac is essentially a body of knowledge which is so complete that it enables people in different fields to make predictions about the future of their respective industries.

This, for example, was the purpose of the traditional farmers almanacs. It enabled farmers to determine as accurately as possible which crops to plant for the greatest harvests in a given year.

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There are, of course, many different kinds of almanacs.

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Preview the Open Water Swimming Almanac:

The trends are very clear.
The tide is rising for open water swimming.


Open Water Swimming Event Sanctioning

World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation

Open Water Race Calendar

Coaches Education Program