Ever since the comedian David Walliams swam to Dover in 2006, the sport of open water swimming has seen an upsurge. It has put aside its reputation of being full of “Eccentric elderly gentlemen” as Brian Thomas, Honorary Secretary of the Serpentine Swimming Club suggests, and is riding a wave of new-found popularity. Now, neoprene clad swimmers descend in droves to lakes and rivers around the country to take part in one of the hundreds of open water events that take place.
For Steven Munatones, world champion in the 25km swim in 1982 and former coach of the U.S National Open Water Team, this is a good thing. “In the 1980s, there were only a few hundred organised, sanctioned open water swimming competitions around the world. Now in 2017, there are well more than 12,500 in at least 184 nations, if not more. The growth has been nothing but spectacular and global. In particular, the growth of marathon swims (over 10 km in distance) has been phenomenal.” This increase in popularity has also occurred in channel swims, as can be see below.
Now, as advances in swimming wetsuit technology have made it easier than ever to brave the icy waters, there are still many swimmers for whom the thought of wearing neoprene is an unthinkable nightmare.
Who exactly are these pioneers, where did they come from and what on earth made them decide to take that first dip into the chilling world of open water swimming?