DNOWS Header

Image Map

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How Do You Define Open Water Swimming?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.








What do all these words mean in the open water swimming world?

There was a time when water at, near or below 10°C (50°F) was considered cold. Now those water temperatures are often described as balmy. In the post-Lynne Cox Bering Strait crossing of 1987, suddenly cold was redefined at 3.3°C (38°F). But three decades later, winter swimmers and ice swimmers started to formalize competitions and now cold was redefined at near 0°C (32°F). But then Cox and Lewis Pugh went a step further and sought out a mixture of fresh and salt water that was closer to -2.2°C (28°F).

So what does cold really mean?

There was a time when long meant swimming across a river or lake. Back in 1810, Lord Byron swam 6.4 km in 1 hour 10 minutes across the Hellespont, emulating the legendary Greek Leander. But then Captain Matthew Webb swam across the English Channel and 21 miles became the refined standard for long.

But if long was a one-way crossing of the English Channel, what was a two-way (by Antonio Abertondo in 1961 in 43 hours 10 minutes) or a three-way crossing (by Jon Erikson in 1981 38 hours 27 minutes)? Long used to mean around Manhattan Island once (by Robert Dowling in 1915 in 13 hours 45 minutes), but then it was redefined as twice (by Julie Ridge in 1983 in 21 hours) and three times (by Stacy Chanin in 1984 in 33 hours 39 minutes).

Rough water was defined early in 1916 by the La Jolla Rough Water Swim in California. Waves and turbulence in Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli and Canadian National Exhibition races in the 1950s, and Lake Michigan swims in the 1960s (by Greta Anderson and Abou-Heif) upped the ante. Then people started swimming across the Molokai Channel in Hawaii (by Keo Nakama in 1961 in 15 hours 30 minutes) and the Tsugaru Channel in Japan (by David Yudovin in 1990 in 13 hours 10 minutes) and rough forever became relatively defined.

What is a marathon swim? The answer depends who you talk to. But for many in the open water swimming community, the accepted distance of a marathon swim is 10 kilometers. Why?

10 km is the distance that is defined by the International Olympic Committee, FINA and the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as a marathon swim.

The roots of this determination derive from the fact that it takes world-class swimmers about 2 hours to swim a 10 km swim in almost all venues and conditions - which is nearly the same time it takes world-class marathon runners to run a 42 km marathon. The IOC and FINA wanted to make the duration of the marathon swim performed by world-class athletes roughly equivalent to the duration achieved by world-class runners. The world's top swimmers can complete a flat-water course in between 1 hour 50 minutes and 2 hours. Whereas, their running counterparts on land complete marathon runs between 2:02 - 2:10 for men and 2:20 - 2:30 for women.

But some swimmers believe marathon swimming does not begin until a minimum of 15 km or 25 km or even 20 miles is reached. If so, what is the distance of an ultra marathon swim? Is it 20.2 miles (Catalina Channel crossing) or 42 km (like the Marathon Swim Costa Brava)? Or something perhaps even longer like the S.C.A.R. Challenge or 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim?

But what if the open water swim is performed completely butterfly or backstroke or breaststroke? What if the open water swimmer is hit with jellyfish, Lion's Mane or box jellyfish? What if the swimmer sees, encounters or is hit by a cookie cutter shark or some other kinds of apex predators (polar bear, crocodile, hippopotamus, leopard seal, Great White Shark, orcas, sea snakes, needlefish or piranha)?

Are all these swims were characteristically epic and certainly extreme? Is every channel crossing, marathon swim, butterfly crossing, and ice kilometer by all swimmers epic? Or just extreme? Perhaps they are, especially to the individual swimmer and their crew members.

But if one swim is epic or extreme, how do you describe when swimmers accomplish even more (like the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, Oceans Seven, Still Water 8, Half Century Club, or Ice Sevens)?

Like beauty, these terms are all in the eyes of the beholders...and the swimmers themselves.

Copyright © 2016 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.

CLICK HERE to download your free copy now.

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