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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Toughness Wrapped In Humble Sweetness

When people say women who do open water swimming are tough as nails, they are not exaggerating.

Yet these women often possess a humble softness about them, a genuine sweetness. They know their unique talents and innate toughness are no match for Mother Nature.

Katie Rowe is one such woman.

The waterwomen from Long Beach, California cuts an eye-catching figure whether she is at the beach, in a Hollywood studio, in the surf, or on a pool deck. The all-around athlete turned to Hollywood after her university studies were over.

Anxious to enter the school of hard knocks, the powerfully lithe swimmer became a stuntwoman.

Her education included everything from shooting guns and jumping out high places to driving cars and pillow-fighting (see Rowe playing Helga in video below). "Bouncing on a bed whacking away with a pillow was way more tiring than any swim workout that I have ever done," recalled the former national champion.

As the president of the Stuntwomen’s Association of Motion Pictures, she is like a Michael Phelps in the pool – totally versatile with a skill set that spans the sport. "I do a little bit of everything, but I specialize in fights, ground pounding, and water stuff obviously. When I hung up my swimsuit, I got my black belt in Kenpo-based mixed martial arts. I am usually the one on call when a big bad girl has to fight a guy, but I’m still waiting to win a fight," she smiled mischievously.

"I always lose! Ground pounding means taking big hits and falling hall or getting tackled or being knocked down or into stuff. The kind of things the audience watches…and winces at. There are a few really tall girls I have doubled, but generally I play my own character: the bully, the biker, the prison matron, the mean gym girl..."

Despite her fighting and ground pounding, the swimmer still is forever toweling off at work. "Water is my main thing. I am also a scuba instructor and I have trained a lot of actors and stunt people how to dive and swim."

However, swimming in Hollywood studios and set is definitely much more than butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. "It can be swimming out of a sinking car, or through extremely rough water, under a lake that is on fire, or tied to a chair in a room that’s flooding." She no longer entertains thoughts of streamlining or foggy goggles. "You are often trying to get non-swimmers to do things a lot of swimmers would be uncomfortable doing. I am always amazed how many adults can’t swim at all, or very little! And they generally can’t wear a mask or goggles, and they are entirely dependent on their stunt safety to help them when the scene is cut so it’s especially unnerving for them."

Danger is always possible and risk is ever present. "We do everything possible to minimize any problems. I normally test the stunt first and then advise the director on what the actor will and will not be able to do. If the stunt is too hard for me, then it is probably not going to happen with the actor, and possibly not with the stunt double either." Like a stern coach pacing the pool deck or a gruff pilot on a escort boat, her experience and demeanor commands attention and respect. "I am strict with the people I train because I want them to be safe and do a good job. A lot of big actors don’t like to listen to people telling them what to do. But I often remind them they could die – that gets their attention."

The self-discipline and mental strength that Rowe developed going back and forth as a competitive swimmer has served her well. "Swimming with [Olympian] Tim Shaw certainly got me used to spending a lot of time in the water. Generally a day on set means 12 hours - which often means 12 hours in the water for me. And, unfortunately, not warm tropical water. We work in swimming pools, giant tanks, the Pacific Ocean, duck ponds, and even a dirt hole they dug and filled with water. I took a long time off from training when I retired. I was just too burned out from training 20,000 meters day in and day out. With my job I need to be in shape because I often have to drag the actors around in the water so they can stay fresh and not use up all their energy.

Currently I swim 3 days a week indoors with a masters team in Long Beach run by some of my old age-group teammates, and a day or two in the ocean in Seal Beach with another group. I’m considering competing in a few ocean swims again this summer. So far everything I’ve tried to do I’ve ended up working that day."

Hollywood being Hollywood, illusion, drama and entertainment are the end goals. But not everything can be computer graphically engineered. And while Rowe can used wigs to impersonate other actresses, she has had to endure the nitty-gritty world of risk-taking stunt work. "I am really not a big fan of heights, so high falls are not my favorite. I can fall or jump from 50 feet (15 meters), but that’s it, which is not much in my world. I once got dragged out to sea trapped in the mouth of a life-size foam shark with my arms pinned over my head. I was in a streamline position with a tiny scuba regulator hooked up to a tiny scuba bottle. The actress and the stunt double chickened out as it was pretty terrifying. I felt completely claustrophobic and I have never had a problem with claustrophobia. There was no way to free yourself if the air setup failed. And the director wanted me to pretend to be getting eaten by the shark so I had to be thrashing and kicking. There was no way to signal the safety team if I got in trouble. The best part is it ended up on the editing room floor."

Fortunately, through a combination of athleticism, preparation and a pinch of good luck, Rowe has never been badly hurt. But she has ruptured 3 disks in her back and 2 in her neck wrestling. Sometimes, the injuries are self-inflicted. "I’ve knocked myself out a few times, once falling on my head doing a butterfly kick – the martial arts kind, not the swimming kind – with an actress holding one of my legs. I also got a yeast infection in my ear on the movie Poseidon from being in the water 12 – 15 hours a day for 3 months. Plus the usual bumps and bruises and cuts all stunt people get."

And those bumps and bruises happen all over the world. "Movies and TV are filmed worldwide now, not just in Hollywood. People now have video cameras on their phones better than what used to require a giant camera and carrying the VCR on your side to record the footage. So it’s much more competitive in every sense. We all worried that CGI would put us out of business, but people tend to like to see actual people in movies. It’s turned out CGI has just enhanced what we do – a high fall can be a mile high now and that car can jump the Grand Canyon, Spiderman can swing across town – and it looks good."

It is not only her physical talents that are showcased, but also her verbal skills. "We grunt and yell when we are punched, kicked, shot, cut and run – but sometimes the audio is done separately. Sound is usually recorded, but the action of the sequence often makes it impossible to get what they need, especially in big scenes involving a lot of people or cars and noise. So occasionally they will call you in to do it in Post-Production where you stand in a booth with headphones on and watch the edit of the scene without any sound. They give you timed cues to make the appropriate shouts and grunts and groans. It’s actually quite amusing - ugh! ahh! Ooof!...

I’ve gotten to do so many things. On my birthday this year I was working in the water with 2 really well-known actors, swimming in Corona del Mar, and a giant pod of whales swam by us a 100 yards away. I dove with thousands of seals at Santa Barbara Island on a free-diving commercial. I’ve driven 100 mph in a cigarette boat. I’ve swam through the upside down ship they used on Poseidon, and submerged crashed airplanes, and dove out of sunken cars and buses. Nothing too insane and it is all great to me: basically I get to dress up and play for a living – I get paid to swim."

And the pay is part of the allure. Stunt people are members of SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and paid according to union contracts. "We are considered principals, just like the actors. We can (but not always) receive stunt adjustments, kind of a “degree of difficulty” extra payment. There’s no set formula to that, but it tends to involve how dangerous the stunt is, how many times you have to do it (how many takes), and the skill involved to do it. For instance, you may get no adjustment to trip and fall in a big crowd scene, but you will probably get quite a bit for a big fire burn or car hit or 100-foot high fall. It also depends on the show if it is a low-budget student film or a huge $200 million dollar feature. Sometimes it’s not the stunt that’s hard, it’s having to do it four, five, six times, and knowing it’s going to really hurt every time."

And like a channel swim or training for a 400 individual medley, planning and preparation are key elements of success. "Stunt people HATE to be called daredevils. We try and calculate every detail of what we need to do and what could go wrong with every stunt. We usually plan and rehearse every stunt, which can get pretty complex in big fight sequences or car chases. We also plan where we can bail out. If we are diving out of the way of a car for instance in what we call a near miss, what if the car slides 10 feet too soon? You need to know your escape and the escape of those around you.

The Stunt Coordinator is responsible for setting up the stunt and helping execute the director’s vision of the action. He or she will find the stunt person who looks like the actor, both in height and weight and body type. Hair and face shape are a plus, depending on the stunt. Then they need to have the right skill. This can be tough: you might need someone 4’ – 9” who weighs 220 lbs. and can do a backflip while riding a unicycle. That’s one reason most stunt people train to be jack of all stunt trades, at least a little bit. Hopefully as the stunt person you have a few days at least to practice or refresh your skills on what you need to do, although there are a lot of things that are hard to practice, like car hits. There are also lot of departments involved in every stunt: they have to build a set, furnish it, light it, set cameras, wardrobe the stunt people. Everything must be considered. If you are crashing into a table, it might need to be breakaway. Glass is replaced with candy glass. Lights have to be set so we don’t run into them. Cameras have to be where we won’t hit them or injure the camera operators.

Wardrobe is often the biggest issue, especially for women. Guys fight wearing plenty of pads under their wardrobe like knee and elbow pads, back pads. Women often fight in bikinis, mini-skirts, tiny shorts. There is not a lot of room for pads. The next time you see a woman falling down stairs or getting hit by a car in a tiny dress, she’s pretty much really getting thrown down the stairs or hit by a car. You also have to watch out for stuff like bobby pins in your hair holding your wig on; they tend to poke into your scalp on high falls. And nylons will melt onto your skin in a fire burn

It’s a tall order, but the statuesque Rowe fits the bill...and loves it. "I have the best job in the world."

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming

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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.


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."

The 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference Programme

Wednesday, September 17th
Leave Glasgow to commence 2-day tour of Scotland [closest international airport is Glasgow]

Thursday, September 18th
Stay Mainland, North of Scotland

Friday, September 19th
14:00 - Swim Loch Lomond
17:00 - Head to Isle of Bute
19:30 - Scottish Banquet
21:30 - Dinner Dance

Saturday, September 20th
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
12:20 - Lunch and WOWSA Awards
13:40 – Speeches
15:40 - Round Table
19:00 - International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony

Sunday, September 21st
09:00 - Registration & Coffee
10:00 - Speeches
14:30 - Swim in St Ninian's Bay on the Isle of Bute

The luminaries of the open water swimming world who will be honored in Scotland will include:

* Sandra Bucha (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Jon Erikson (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Claudio Plit (Argentina), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Judith van Berkel-de Njis (Netherlands), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* David Yudovin (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Mercedes Gleitze (Great Britain), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* George Young (Canada), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer
* Dale Petranech (U.S.A.), International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Contributor
* Melissa Cunningham (Australia), 2013 Irving Davids-Captain Roger Wheeler Memorial Award winner
* Vojislav Mijić (Serbia), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* James Anderson (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Dr. Jane Katz (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Administrator
* Indonesian Swimming Federation, , International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Organisation
* Elizabeth Fry (U.S.A.), International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honour Swimmer
* Pádraig Mallon (Ireland), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year
* Olga Kozydub (Russia), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year
* Bering Strait Swim (international team), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year
* International Ice Swimming Association (Ram Barkai, founder, South Africa), the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year

For additional articles on the 2014 Global Open Water Swimming Conference, visit:

* Olga Kozydub To Be Honored In Scotland
* Pádraig Mallon To Be Honored In Mount Stuart Castle
* Mount Stuart House, Splendid Setting For Swimming
* Colleen Blair To Kick-off Global Open Water Swimming Conference
* The Man Who Swims Better Than He Walks
* Joining In The Sea Goddess At The Hall Of Fame
* Mercedes Gleitze To Be Honored In Scotland
* The Incredible Career Of Merceded Gleitze
* Jon Erikson To Be Honoured In Florida
* The Incredible Career Of Mercedes Gleitze
* St Ninian's Bay To Host International Swim Conference

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

Swim Across the English Channel...


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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.

But the farmers almanac was just one example among many.
There are, of course, many different kinds of almanacs.

In fact, there is even one for open water swimming...

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