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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Tough Are You?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

When we observe open water swimmers around the world, certain nationalities always impress us.

The South Africans are freakily tough. The Irish are notoriously hard-core. The Australians are mind-boggling adventurous.

There are also certain areas where the tough are an especially hardened group: Melbourne and Murmansk. Beijing and Boston. Cork and Coney Island. Year-round swimming is a given for these swimmers, not an exception: in London, Prague, and San Francisco.

From their perspective, water is water and it is always accessible unless it is frozen.

What is it that creates these swimmers so incredibly tough and tenacious? Why do they perpetually have a wealth of grit and an abundance of optimism? Why do they always seem to accept the inherent risks of the open water and smile while doing so?

Is it their inherent DNA? Their upbringing? The ambiance of their local swimming community? The environment in which they live? Their mindset?

The answer is they have the Right Stuff, a combination of all of those.

One of those tough, hardened swimmers is Ram Barkai of South Africa, founder of the International Ice Swimming Association who has done a number of unprecedented swims. His workouts are tough and his mindset is even more so.

We asked him about the short swims that he does in South Africa, mostly done in 10-14ºC (50-57ºF) water. he explained three such swims:

"Swims under 5 km are considered difficult only because of of conditions. We do have some unofficial short swims that I consider tough for various reasons:"

1. Barker Rock 2-mile swim in Clifton where the water temperature is usually around 11-12ºC. The swim is 1-mile out straight into the big ocean, around a massive rock, and back to shore.

Barkai explains its difficulty, "You face the open Atlantic Ocean where it is cold and rough with no protection, and plenty of currents and swells. There are great white sharks in the area, especially if you leave the protection of the bay. The rock is massive and creates a huge suction. if you miscalculate the distance - you may spend few days under this rock."

2. Around Hout Bay through Seal Island, a stretch of 3-5 km.

Barkai describes the adventure, "The swim starts at Hout Bay and is fairly easy, But once out the bay, you turn north and swim through a patch that is extremely unpredictable. You swim past the Dungeon - one of the top 10 surfing places in the world. It has its name due to the massive swell that can erect itself from nowhere. There is a lot of reef there - which gives that freaky shore swell - and currents thats sways you in all directions. It also takes you next to few small islands covered with thousands of seals. Although we never seen a shark there on Seal Island, it is a scary territory because the other Seal Island in False Bay is known to be the deadliest seal island in the world."

3. Around Cape Point, part of the longer 9 km swim around Cape Point

Barkai talks about a shorter 3 km course where swimmers can start circumnavigating the Point. "It's a place with many submerged rocks that lead to fear waves that are very dangerous to the boats and swimmers. It can be very rough, while it can be very calm on both sides of the point. It also known to have the largest Great Whites seen in South African Waters."

The Right Stuff indeed.

Photo shows swimmers in the Swim for Hope event around Cape Point, South Africa.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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