Sure, long distance skiers may have made some epic journeys over the years, but no-one comes close to the ridiculous feats of waterborne endurance from some marathon swimmers. Long distance swimming is in fact usually undertaken through repeated laps of a pool – but what we’re interested in here is marathon open water swimming. Rough seas, storms, sharks, horrendously cold conditions and isolation are just a few of the extreme challenges marathon open water swimmers put their bodies’ and minds’ through in pursuit of their goals. These are just three of the most epic swims of all time.
Gertrude Ederle and the English Channel
Interestingly marathon swimming is one of the only sports in the world at which women categorically lead their male counterparts in a number of key metrics and races. In fact, one of the most historic destinations for this sport is the English Channel – and several times the record holder for swimming this 21-mile sea between the UK and Mainland Europe has been a woman. The first ever woman to do so was American-born Gertrude Ederle, who crossed it in just 14 hours in August 1926 at the age of 21. Her time was enough to beat the previous (male) record holder by a solid two hours, as she became one of only 15 people to have completed the feat at that time. When she returned to New York, nearly two million people came out to see her triumphant return in a spectacular parade along the city streets.
Steve Redmond & The Ocean Seven
The Seven Summits is a famous mountaineering challenge, and in 2008 the swimming world decided they’d like their own version too. Not long after, The Ocean’s Seven was created. It encompasses the following seven long distance swims:
- The Irish Channel – Ireland to Scotland, 21 miles
- The Cook Strait – between the two main islands of New Zealand, 16 miles
- The Kaiwi Channel – between the Hawaiian Islands of Molokai and Oahu, 27 miles
- The English Channel – France to UK, 21 miles
- The Catalina Channel – Catalina Island to Los Angeles, 21 miles
- The Tsugaru Strait – Honshu to Hokkaido in Japan, 12 miles
- Strait of Gibraltar – Spain to Morocco, or Europe to Africa, 8 miles
Back in 2012, Irishman Steve Redmond, who funnily enough is quite a large fellow and doesn’t look like your typical long-distance swimmer, became the first person to complete all seven of these marathon swims. Only six more people have completed the feat since, compared to the 200-or-so who have completed the Seven Summits.
Benoit Lecomte, Guy Delage & The Atlantic Ocean
These two Frenchmen both claim to be the first person to swim the Atlantic Ocean, a distance of a cool 3716 miles. Lecomte, swimming in 1999, was criticized for sleeping on a boat which, even though his team claim was moored every night, could still have carried him a good portion of the actual distance.
Guy Delage attempted his swim in 1994 – without any observers or backup and only attached to a four-metre raft for safety. Since he was unobserved for the vast majority of the 55-day trip, Delage’s record can’t be formally verified. However, it is still a remarkable achievement if true!