Our open water swim community searches the unlimited supply of water on our planet. We look for digestible vectors to define routes that we might swim along. The water may be fresh, salty, temperate, frigid, over-warm. We may travel down a river, across a lake, from a dam to a dam, across a strait or a channel. From an island to an island, around an island, from a mainland to an island. At altitude or at sea level. An out—and around—and back. A relay, a solo. A single crossing, a double, a triple.
We coalesce for an attempt: swimmer, escort boat and captain, crew chief, support crew, paddler, observer, feeder. Together we will move across the water. At the seam of the heavens and the waters, suspended above vast water-filled chasms, sometimes thousands of feet deep, swimmers inch their way along. They give themselves over to winds, swell, chop, waves, surges, currents, sunburn, seasickness. They whistle past the graveyard. They are brave, terrified, humbled; they are focused, exasperated, tenacious, competent, outraged, joy-filled, and proud. Perhaps, among the vast ocean, they are irrelevant.
We often train in temperate pools, demarcated by lane lines, black tiles beneath us pointing the way. We train and train, in pools and in open water, and eventually we settle on our line, our route. And then for a time, we are untethered, feral (yet controlled), awash in open water, surrendered to what comes, for six hours, or fifteen, or forty hours.
There are (formidable!) milk runs, overseen by local federations and associations: The English Channel, the Catalina Channel, The Strait of Gibraltar, the Cook Strait, others.
There are distant lines, too, far beyond any jurisdiction. Rugged, ragged, undreamt-of, or imagined but unswum. There are fresh lines that, once conceived, are obsessed over, planned out, attempted, and perhaps successfully performed. (See David Yudovin)
Our sport relishes integrity, humility, evidence-rich claims, and solid performances.
Here’s what the Marathon Swimmers Federation says about the Spirit of Marathon Swimming:
Marathon swimmers embrace the challenge of crossing wild, open bodies of water with minimal assistance beyond their own physical strength and mental fortitude. There are ways to make the sport easier, but marathon swimmers consciously eschew them.
Marathon swimmers take pride that their achievements can be meaningfully compared to the achievements of previous generations, because the standard equipment of the sport has not changed significantly since 1875.