There were easier ways to get to France. On a Sunday in August 1875, a British naval captain named Matthew Webb covered himself in porpoise oil, strode into the frigid off Dover, England, and started swimming. He faced ice-cold temperatures, swift underwater currents and even the occasional stingray, but 22 hours later, Webb strode ashore in France as the first person to swim the English Channel. Upon his return (by boat), an ecstatic British public showered the 27-year-old with accolades, publicity and even his own brand of matches.
Webb, it turns out, was an early practitioner of what we now call open water swimming. Once the sole domain of daredevils, open water swimming’s worldwide popularity has been in a recent upswing. Open water swimming is the first leg of any triathlon. In 2008, marathon swimming made its Olympic debut in Beijing. Even English Channel swims have surged in popularity. Ever since Webb’s 1875 feat, the channel has been swum by everyone from a 15-year-old girl to a man without arms or legs.
Open water swimming offers participants a huge range of scenic options. You can take to the Hudson River, swimming alongside the New York skyline. You can dive into pristine lakes in Western Canada. Or, at Kona, Hawaii, site of the Ironman World Championships, you can swim among brightly-coloured tropical fish and coral reefs. In South Africa, the Robben Island Freedom Swim is one of the toughest open water swimming event of its kind in the world due to the icy ocean (around 13°C), strong currents and various other conditions. The event also celebrates South Africa’s Freedom Day and has put South Africa on the open water swimming map.
Now, there’s a new South African open water option for those tough enough to take on the challenge.
Last week, Mike Oberholzer, Josie de Charmoy and Andrew Stevens swam from Tinley Manor to Ballito to put the KZN North Coast on the open water swimming map and to peg a claim in the annals of the sport.
It’s an extremely challenging 13km swim, marked by treacherous currents, strong surf, big sharks and jagged reefs and there were many in the community who thought that they were crazy to attempt it.
But the guys had fantastic support in the ocean, from the air, and on the shore to cover any eventuality and, four and a half hours after entering the sea at Tinley Manor, they reached their destination on the beach at Salmon Bay, Ballito.
There are easier ways to get to Ballito from Tinley Manor, but for those who hanker after the thrill and the challenge of wild open water swimming, this will be the route they attempt, pioneered by Mike, Josie and Andrew. They were the first, and will forever hold the distinction of having done what many considered impossible.
Pics Credit – Dolphin Coast Photography