After a one week hiatus, we're back with Part Two of our global feature series, following international entries and aquatic tales from our favourite open water swimmers. We'll share updates every Thursday! Whisking you off to the world's most unique swim locations around the world, throwing in a healthy selection of rare wildlife encounters, gruelling feats and life-changing moments!
- Marie Corley (Prvic Luka, Croatia)
- Rosemary Lewis (Sardinia, Italy)
- Jack Hudson (Saltstraumen, Norway)
- Jessica Greenbaum (Tonto National Forest, Arizona)
- Kate Matwychuk (London Lido Crawl, England)
- Jessi Harewicz (Georgia Strait, Canada)
- Greg Hincks (Milos, Greece)
- Lewis Pugh (Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland)
21. Marie Corley (Prvic Luka, Croatia)
“'I will never swim in the ocean!' Those were the words I pretty much said as a kid as I watched my mermaid mom jump in the ocean and fretted over every scary story in my head, watching her. Not sure how I got from there to here, because I absolutely love swimming in the big blue, chasing sunbeams as they bounce from the ocean floor."
"Two of my life pleasures are traveling and being active; I would gladly live out of a backpack to circle the globe tasting my curiosity. Zipping through the Adriatic Sea on an itty bitty water taxi with our luggage piled high, our final destination, Prvic Luka didn’t disappoint my global taste buds. Breathtaking and beautiful aren’t strong enough words to describe the turquoise waters and crystal clear sea. The terra cotta and stone buildings added a beautiful medieval backdrop and the views were something out of a fairy tale."
"This very intimate island is a stopping point for many sailors and our home for the next 7 days with a group of wonderful swimmers from all around the globe – France, New Zealand, Isle of Man, England, Ireland, USA."
"Each morning we fuelled with a magnificent breakfast with figs the size of your palms, before boarding Lucce – our vessel for the day. Diving into the chilled sea took your breath away, but after a couple of strokes the warmth settled in. Our swims ranged from coastal to channel crossings, each with droplets of islands in your sight that thoughts would just get lost and you were just gloriously happy. The first swim of this trip always has me shocked because I can’t believe I so willingly jump into a big body of water without a big panic. I owe it a lot to SwimTrek for helping me fall in love with open water swimming and letting whatever fear dissolve."
"I’ve never considered myself the fastest of swimmers, and I am always looking for tips to help me be more efficient. Pick Apples. 'Pick apples and put them in your basket,' our friend from New Zealand gave us a 2 second tip that worked, and all of us were picking apples all week. After the mornings swim of apple picking, we explored Dragon Island, Zmajan, napped or learned about Parisian fashion – thanks to our friend from Paris."
"As the week started to come to an end, I look back at not only this trip but the other SwimTrek holidays I’ve been on – and I am so thankful to be able to travel, swim in beautiful waters, and thankful that I grew out of my fear as a kid because swimming has taken me to some amazing destinations. I walked away from this trip learning how to apple pick, new pants from France, and new friends around the globe."
''I will never swim in the ocean!' Those were the words I pretty much said as a kid...'
22. Rosemary Lewis (Sardinia, Italy)
"Holidays, swimming, the great outdoors and a sense of adventure. Too good to be true, I hear you say. Someone moans.. Insufficient time to organise it.. Someone quips... Can't afford it.. For someone like me, I think... The perfect assortment of words that combine to make a terrific break away with SwimTrek."
"I first laid eyes on SwimTrek in 2013 after completing my first UK open water swim in the bluest of blue waters of London's Rotherhithe Quay, an urban oasis abounding with tropical fish and palm trees.. Ok so just a slight exaggeration there but at the end the glimpse of this imagined paradise caught my eye on what was a poster for SwimTrek, with the now ubiquitous bright orange neon t-shirt clad swimmers selling the dream of an adventurous holiday swimming in the great outdoors."
"I spent the next summer wishing I too had booked one of their sell out trips and spending a week with friends sailing around Croatia whereby I just wished to be swimming during the day. With more research I decided upon my first trip, to a place I had already visited and found so beautiful that the chance to swim there seemed practically perfect: Sardinia."
'...a place I had already visited and found so beautiful that the chance to swim there seemed practically perfect: Sardinia.'
"So a holiday to sunny Sardinia awaited me in July 2015, a week promising cultural charm, great gelato, beautiful boats and astonishingly Aqua-coloured water - and Swimming! Never before had my samsonite accompanied me on a holiday containing so many goggles, and speedos! We were in for a treat, I could just tell. Our days were spent in the water swimming and onboard the boat and our evenings back on shore (goodbye sealegs!) unwinding over great food and wine, savouring the fine food for which Sardinia is so renowned. The sense of accomplishment at day end having swum around islands and over crossings, balanced by a gentle lunchtime siesta in the Sardinian sun was surreal. A true holiday which happened to feature around 4-6km of idyllic swimming per day. Guilt free gelato, day after day."
"Swimming and more swimming awaited me having so thoroughly enjoyed Sardinia, to be followed by later that summer completing my inaugural Dart 10k swim in Devon. The Sardinian SwimTrek proved excellent for my training and the encouragement and technical guidance from the so very charismatic guides Ricky and Francesco set me on good stead. Suddenly my eyes were wide open to the brightly coloured SwimTrek hats bobbing around the London lidos promoting the many other swimming holiday destinations. Before I knew it, I had booked Greece for July 2016!"
23. Jack Hudson (Saltstraumen, Norway)
The Saltstraumen maelstrom swirls in a narrow gulf south-east of Bodø. Its currents are often glimpsed by cars that tear over the highway, crossing the sloping cantilever bridge that overarches the water. If you were to look down from the peak of that bridge you’d see the criss-crossing currents forming odd, spiked waves. You’d also see scattered eddies swirling through the white-frothed water. By all accounts that is the heart of the maelstrom, packed into a narrow strait that creates a rugged, rock-strewn funnel beneath the surface...
"I felt great affection for Norway as we bombed it along the coastline and swerved into a strait flanked by farmland. There was something welcoming about the isolation and the relaxed, retiring locals who enjoyed it together. After four years living in Newcastle I’d seen my share of bile-spitting EDL demonstrations and derby day chant-offs. It was settling to be somewhere quieter with open untamed spaces and less people. I’d warmed quickly to this far-flung world, although sadly that warmth faded when we rounded an outcrop and bounded towards the scariest thing under a bridge since the Three Billy Goats Gruff..."
"Climbing into the Saltstraumen... I shimmied down the rocks and dove forward over the kelp forest. I wasn’t going to waste any time. I crawled like a lizard through the shallows and clambered over large rocks, until I was deep enough to kick forward and start swimming. No sooner had I formed my first strokes than I was enveloped by and in awe of the lucid water. I glimpsed shoals of fish darting beyond my extended fingers and patches of cold water coral, clothed in a greenish veil. I could also see Robbie and Calum as they came up on either side of me. Then the boat swerved and headed out towards the island and we all began to gather speed and tighten our formation. Bubbles coiled around my goggles as I pulled my leading hand through the water and slid over the sinking seabed, watching my shadow and noting the shape of each stroke. Whenever I came up for air I was met by the sight of Robbie on my left, digging hard into the water and kicking quickly. Over his shoulder, I could also see the boat easing forward and shepherding us across the channel."
'...sadly that warmth faded when we rounded an outcrop and bounded towards the scariest thing under a bridge since the Three Billy Goats Gruff.'
"As we’d predicted, the first currents gave us little resistance and we soon found our rhythm and began to enjoy ourselves. The cold faded and our bodies loosened. Then I pulled my head up to see where the island was and found the underside of the bridge towering over us. Coupled with the mountains behind it, the sight reminded me how small we were, and where we were. The tiered rocks of the island cradled us as we drew closer and threaded a happy course into the still water. We’d come further than I thought and so far the currents were weaker than we’d felt during our swims at Bodo harbour, near our hotel. More confidence drifted in and we held our formation, lulled into a relaxed state, briefly forgetting what was around the corner..."
"[When] we passed the island and a strong current ploughed into our strokes and at once we slowed to an agonising halt. The defensive wall of the rocks were behind us, but, as much as we willed them to, they just wouldn’t recede into the distance. Instead we seemed to be moving backwards, groping at ranks of waves as they span into a frenzy and began to encircle us. We’d hit the heart of the maelstrom. I could hear myself releasing pained sighs as I came up to breathe. I tried to keep a steady rhythm, for fear of losing my strength. At the same time I was becoming frustrated. I dug in again and again. I kicked hard beneath the water. Still I couldn’t put enough behind my strokes to beat the current. I went on and I pulled my gloved hands back and grasped bubbling handfuls of water and threw them behind me. I kicked harder still, but while the boat was inching forward, we were slipping backwards and rapidly losing energy in the process..."
"'Just a little further. You’ll make ground soon…' I told myself and went on grappling with the greenish water and rocked my hips and rolled my shoulders enough to keep my breathes above the salty waves. At one point I span back underwater and sighted the silvery woollen thread of a vortex as it spiralled past me. My eyes instinctively followed it down into the deep and for a second I spotted a bloom of splayed jellyfish pulsing far below me..."
"...I looked back and sighted Robbie as he crawled towards us. He was making painstaking inches against the current. Behind him the island had finally retreated into the distance and, I daresay, it looked like we were going to make it. Uplifted, I watched as Robbie kept his pace and struggled through the chop. You could tell that he was starting to tire. He kept poking his head up to see how far away we were. But he didn’t stop."
"'Keep going Rob,' Luke called from the boat, 'That’s it – good man Robbie. There we go.'”
"The strokes kept coming, one after another, and Robbie slowly shortened the gap between us... Before long I was swimming at full speed and I pulled away from Calum, who was close behind me, and threw all my strength into the remaining distance and abandoned my form and wound up battling awkwardly with a barrage of waves. It was a mad scramble for escape, although eventually I did glide into the glassy shallows. Then the rippling weed and kelp rose from the murk below and I grinned as I saw the seabed. My momentum carried me to the shore and finally I gripped a rock with both hands and pushed my dripping body up through the water."
"That moment when I stood up, wobbling slightly, and looked over at Calum as he clambered onto the shore, is one I won’t forget."
24. Jessica Greenbaum (Tonto National Forest, Arizona)
The SwimTrek Arizona Canyons trip took Jessica on a jaw-dropping Wild West adventure into the lakeside canyons of Tonto National Park!
"I've had a long time hankering to see the desert, but, like 99.9% of you reading this I had one little problem: I have to swim when I'm warm or it's trouble all around. And voila! SwimTrek's canyons trip traversing three of the Salt River's dammed lakes in Tonto National Forest in Arizona was designed as if SwimTrek guys were reading my mail."
"It's hot, sunny, we are surrounded by spectacular cliff faces and desert landscapes, and we are swimming within the light-catching walls of these canyons, along changing configurations of rock, cacti and flora - often literally without any other swimmers, or boats! One day I thought: 'Is SwimTrek paying someone off so we are the only swimmers in this spectacular place???' (They're not: Arizonans think 90 degree weather too chilly for swimming.)"
"I'm in the slow poke group - aka 'Orange Blossoms' - so-named after our lovely orange caps. And even within this group I am challenged by the delighted fortitude of my comrades. Goodness! I am swimming between 2 and 3 hours a day for which I believe I deserve a medal, yet most of everyone swims longer than I do! So if I wasn't feeling humbled by the landscape, I am happily, and humbly stretching my own sense of endurance. One key to this trip has been to have my handy shortie wetsuit - you won't regret bringing it just in case!"
"A little shout out to trip leaders Marlys and Mark who have helped oblige me for special arrangements around three very disparate agendas: watching the second presidential debate; a meditation on the history of Native Americans in this place; and scheduling so I could be somewhere for the Jewish Holidays."
"Is there nothing these people can't do?"
'We are swimming within the light-catching walls of these canyons, along changing configurations of rock....'
25. Kate Matwychuk (London Lido Crawl, England)
"From my tropical perch, I used to shake my head in disbelief when scanning through the pictures and posts UK swimmers contributed to the popular (among swimmers) Facebook group 'Did You Swim Today?' How could people be smiling while swimming in "skins" in water that regularly dipped well below 16 C (about 60 F)? Posts would continue all throughout the winter, and I'd marvel at folks who replaced woolly hats and scarves with swim caps and bathing suits to wade into the icy waters all throughout the UK. Beyond the novelty of it, I wondered what kept these swimmers returning to the water when curling up in front of the fire with a pot of tea seemed much more appealing?"
"This past weekend, I dipped my toe into the joys of swimming in colder temperatures, giving me a better understanding of the appeal of winter swimming (Yes, I know it's not quite winter yet!). Having just finished another great season of guiding for Swim Trek (I spent some weeks in the Greek Sporades, then ended the season in Croatia, on the island of Prvic Luka), I was excited to be included in a 'London Lido crawl' organized by my friend Catherine Mack. I first met Catherine when she was a guest on a Swim Trek in Croatia in 2006. I was grateful to be able to end my season with her and a few of her friends and celebrate swimming throughout London. You don't need to live on a tropical island or in the Mediterranean to enjoy the water."
"We eased into the day at the London Oasis, a heated outdoor pool in the heart of the city (Holburn or Covent Gardens tube). Though I knew the water was heated (I saw the steam rising from the water as proof), the chilly air made me reluctant to get in. Feeling like a wimp before the day had even started, I curled my hands around my tea telling myself to buck up."
"It was remarkable being able to swim outside in October, and the water was a comfortable 25 C. There were a few other people sharing lanes in the pool, but the four of us were able to claim one lane for a 45 minute session. Keeping our eye on the time (we had two more places to visit), we reluctantly got out of the water to prepare for our next swim."
"We hopped aboard a city bus and, probably for my benefit, sat on the top floor and watched the busy streets of London whiz by as we headed to Hackney, the location of our second swim at London Fields Lido. Here, we were treated to a 50 m heated pool and a deck lined by colourful changing rooms reminiscent of a beachfront. The sky was beginning to clear, and the sun poked through the clouds. It was a lovely Saturday afternoon, and many families and single swimmers were enjoying the pool. We jumped in for another 45 min session, and I enjoyed the feel of the sun warming me as I swam."
Once dried and dressed, we headed back across the park and hopped on an Overground train to Hampstead Heath in search of the Ladies Pond, our final stop. We knew the pond closed at 4:30, so we aimed to get there just before 4pm. The Heath was glorious; the sun was now fully out and there were people scattered all over the rolling hills enjoying the good day. I felt lucky to be sharing the afternoon with some good friends and grateful there were so many outdoor swimming options scattered around the city."
"To my surprise, the chalkboard outside the pond indicated the water temperature was 13 C. Are people even allowed to enter the water in a public pond when it's that cold? There must be some mistake. The salty lifeguard assured me the temperature was correct. A few old-timers who had just climbed out of the water also confirmed the water was quite chilly. Still, I noted the smiles on their faces when delivering this news. After delaying as long as possible, all four of us peeled off our warm layers, put on the dry suits we had saved for this final swim, and stood looking at the water, wondering who would go first."
'To my surprise, the chalkboard outside the pond indicated the water temperature was 13 C...'
"My three companions eased themselves in, and after a few screeches and gulps, happily started breast stroking down to the far end of the pond. I remained stuck halfway down the ladder, the bottom half of my legs quickly losing all feeling. The lifeguard, eyeing my bikini and tanned skin, rightly pegged me for a cold-water softie and recommended I stay close to the ladder for an easier exit strategy. I finally managed to ease my entire body into the water and joined my friends breast-stroking close to the ladders. It was glorious!"
26. Jessi Harewicz (Georgia Strait, Canada)
"I never would've thought that I was tough enough to swim with stinging jellyfish for six hours and then get right back in the same ocean the next day and get stung again for two more hours. Especially when there’s no real reason for it. I do want to quit - all the time. But I don’t. That’s when I know I am doing the right thing - when I want to get out."
"I’m in my 30's and have just begun my career in adventure swimming. I swam across the Georgia Strait on June 25th, which is from mainland BC to Vancouver Island. It’s 30.5km across and I did it unassisted, according to International Marathon Swimming Rules. I had 1 swimsuit, 1 cap, 1 set of goggles and 2 lights. The water temperature averages 16° and one thing that’s not required, but always useful, is a boat with a crew of superheroes on-board."
"They say channel swimming is 80% mental 20% the rest. No matter how fast or slow you swim, it’s your ability to adapt to tough conditions. To pull out is always a touch away - your boat. There aren’t many sports like that where simply a fingertip is the difference between fighting on and being done."
'That’s when I know I am doing the right thing - when I want to get out...'
"This mindset has been a lifesaver for me while out in the ocean. I was lucky enough to be mentored by a few channel swimmers. They have given me the physical tools. They don't know me well, but they believed in me."
27. Greg Hincks (Milos, Greece)
"A week after our grand adventure up Loch Tay, it was time for some relaxing swimming in warm water. Four of us ventured out to Greece to swim on a SwimTrek trip around the island of Milos. The island is located in the Aegean Sea between Athens and Crete. After making it through the delights of a Scottish summer we were looking forward to a week of sun and warm water. The island is famous for the Venus de Milo statue which stands in the Louvre in Paris. This statue was found on the island in the early 1800s and the locals call it Aphrodite which is the Greek name of the Roman god Venus."
"Now, I have swum in some amazing places around the world, including the golden beaches of Australia, coral reefs in Vanuatu, the pristine waters of Croatia, the stunning lochs of Scotland, and in and around New York City. However, I have never swum in a place like this. We swam over sunken cities, into sea caves, around sea stacks, through sea tunnels, down and through underwater arches, over sulphur vents and volcanic rock piles that heated the water. Each day there were objects to explore and amazing things to see. I even set a new personal worst for the slowest 400m swim with fins of 25 minutes as I drifted in and around the incredible formations around the volcanic island. To swim with a warm sun on my back in warm water, having left the wetsuit behind was fantastic. Sure there were times we had some swell to deal with as the wind blew from the north, but I really loved the challenge of bouncing around in the sea once more, which is something I do not get to do often enough. However, we mostly were able to find places out of the wind due to the local knowledge of the crew."
'The island is famous for the Venus de Milo statue which stands in the Louvre in Paris...'
"Over the week I swam 25 km with the longest swim just under 3.5 km. But this trip was not about getting the distance up - more about exploring and finishing the summer swim season with a bang! The guides were fantastic, the local boat crew were incredible, and all the swimmers were great company."
"If you want a swimming holiday with lots to explore, on an island with so much history that you can reach out and touch it, with great weather and good food, then I would suggest this one. But shhh do not tell anyone else…"
28. Lewis Pugh (Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland)
All photos © Olle Nordell
The Human Polar Bear has been at it again! This time, UN Patron of the Oceans/ice swimming ocean advocate, Lewis Pugh, made what he called his ‘Last Stand’ – a stage swim in Greenland divided into 14 sessions across 12 gruelling days. During these Arctic Circle swims, Lewis faced constant iceberg traffic, flowing down the icefjord, while swimming a total 7.8km in mind-numbing waters that dropped between 0-3C. He swam every day, dodging the detritus of the 1km tall Ilulissat Glacier – the world’s fastest moving glacier (in fact, it moves an average 40 metres each day). Supposedly, in 1912, an iceberg was shed from this very same glacier, which sailed off southward and sank the Titanic.
Lewis (now 51) is no stranger to challenges in extremis though. He is the only person in history who has swum across the North Pole. He also swam an Ice Km at a 5,200 metre altitude on Mount Everest and was the first to swim the 528km length of the English Channel, starting at Land’s End and ending with a firm hand-slap against Dover harbour wall. Yet this latest endeavour was arguably his toughest so far. To complete his swim across the 7.8km mouth of Ilulissat Icefjord, Lewis climbed into these freezing waters on 14 separate occasions. He also braved the gauntlet of floating icebergs – like an aquatic Frogger – and battled through 12 consecutive days, faced with an ever-growing risk of hypothermia.
"This was an extremely challenging swim,” said Lewis, “Not only because of the cold, and not just because I had to swim in freezing water day after day, without a chance to let my body recover. But because the conditions were also very treacherous… The water was colder, air temperatures plummeted, and I had to deal with the sharp edges of brash ice.”
The purpose of these swims was to highlight the Climate Crisis in time for any significant decisions made at the UN Climate Conference, in Glasgow. Using his trademark method of Speedo Diplomacy, Lewis now hopes to urge world leaders to make braver decisions, sometimes going against the current of popular methodology, in order to begin urgent action and protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. The UK already became the first major economy to commit to this target. Now, 86 other nations have joined and answered Lewis’ clarion call – it is therefore the largest single conservation drive in human history.
Looking back on his recent undertaking, Lewis offered this poignant reflection in his recent blog, 'A World of Difference':
“When it comes to our heating planet, we don’t have a three-degree margin. Scientists tell us that a 2°C increase above pre-industrial temperatures will push us past a point of no return. The latest IPCC report suggests that we have already exceeded 1.5°C.”
“Our Earth evolved as a complex living system in delicate balance. In the same way that I need to make adjustments to my body to deal with the extreme cold, we need to make serious changes to stop our planet from heating up any further.”
“I’m freezing here, to remind world leaders that if we push our planet too far, all our lives are at risk...”
New entries every Thursday!
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