Age limits for channel crossings

NormNorm Member
edited February 2013 in General Discussion
In the Swim Videos thread @Theo posted a video of a 13-year old completing a crossing of the Santa Barbara Channel from Anacapa Island. It took her 10+ hours, which for 12.4 statute miles indicates it was quite a struggle; not to mention this was her second attempt.

There are age limits for other major channel crossings. CCSF doesn't sanction swimmers younger than 14. CS&PF doesn't sanction swimmers younger than 16.

What do people think about 13-year olds doing open-ocean channel swims?


  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    I think its great when a young person has the drive and support to pursue such a goal.
    My understanding (for what its worth) is that some cultures revere such accomplishments to the degree that great pressure had been placed on the shoulders of some young swimmers..... which lead directly or indirectly to more conservative age restrictions by certain sanctioning bodies.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    Frankly I am not in favor of age limits. However, if it involves cold water the risk of something going bad very fast is a concern. If a sanctioning body has an observer on board, they should have additional training in hypothermia risks in children and be given full latitude if at any time they feel there is a concern for the swimmer. Additionally, only the most experienced should act as an observer on swims involving children.
  • ScottZornigScottZornig Charter Member
    edited September 2012
    The SBCSA is not in favor of age restrictions either young or old. We scrutinize each applicant to make sure they are qualified to do the swim of their choosing. I have turned down applicants between the ages of 10 and 60. In the case of the 13 year old, I personally went out and swam several training swims with her. I was there when she swam 4,6,8 and 10 mile training swims. I was also there when she swam in 55 degree water and did not as much as shiver after the swim. The girl and her parents were made aware of all the risks on several occassions.

    Her Anacapa time was slow, but it was an unusally slow day. She should have come in at 7.5 hours, but the currents were against her the entire way. There were two other 6 hour swimmers which were 1.5 hours off their time on the same day. She did not struggle...instead she prevailed. I was there as I was her observer. I was also the same person who pulled her out of the water on her first attempt.

    If we will allow a 13 year old in the Olympics, then why would we not allow a 13 year old in a marathon swim? It all depends on the individual. We should evaluate each swimmer by qualifications and experience...not by some arbitrary age.
  • NormNorm Member
    edited September 2012
    Scott, is there an age at which you would categorically not sanction a swim attempt? 12 years? 11? 10? 9?

    It sounds like the 13-year old girl was well qualified. If a 9 year old approached you and could do 10 mile training swims and swim in 55 degree water, would you accept an application from this child?
  • TheoTheo Oxnard, CAMember
    I was part of Fiona's support crew on both her swims. I had not met her until the night before the first attempt. I found that she was truly self motivated and her parents were supportive of her goal not the "swim parents" we all know and love from our age group years. She also had a support crew of people that had swam with her on long ocean swims for whom I had great respect. Without the knowledge that this was something she wanted, had trained for, and had a great support group that wouldn't allow her to push too far I would never have agreed to help her on the first swim.

    As for the second, and successful attempt, as soon as I was asked to help again I was in immediately. I knew at that time that she had the desire, capability and intestinal fortitude to suceed given better conditions than she had on her first attempt. She had a group of seasoned marathon swimmers as part of her crew and Scott as her observer so she had the A team to support her and keep her safe.

    I think you have to look at each individual application on its own merits, training, support system, past experience, etc. A hard cut off age may not be the best way to make the call on acceptance / non-acceptance of an application. Of course other factors may exist in the decision e.g. insurance coverages.

    Norm in taking your question a step farther about a 9 year old in the case of the SBCSA they govern a number of swims amongst the Channel Islands. Should there be a rule for age requirement for say Anacapa Island to Mainland but a different one if it is the much shorter inter-island swims? Relays? Santa Cruz to mainland? Which is why I think it would be better to focus on what qualifications, support crew, experience, training, etc. the applicant has for the swim they are requesting to attempt than a hard age cut off.
  • It is natural for parents/coaches to think their child/swimmer is the exception. Perhaps this girl, Fiona, truly is an exception.

    But my question wasn't about whether this was or wasn't a good idea for Fiona. It was about whether the policy itself is a good idea.

    The CSA, CSPF, and CCSF all decided, at some point, that sanctioning swimmers under a certain age was not a good idea. It would be interesting to hear the stories behind these decisions. The SBCSA is a much younger organization than those three, and perhaps has not yet encountered the situations that led the others to institute a hard cap on swimmer age.

    In evaluating Fiona, the SBCSA was fortunate that she is a Southern California resident, that there was an existing OWS support group, and that SBCSA president Scott Zornig was available to personally coach her and develop a relationship with the parents.

    It would be interesting to hear how the SBCSA would approach the "vetting" of a child-swimmer who lived in a different part of the country or world. It is one thing to vet a person's background of achievement in marathon swimming; quite another to vet a child's maturity, motivations, relationship with their parents, and other psychological variables.
  • TheoTheo Oxnard, CAMember
    I would be very interested in understanding why the CSA, CSPF, and CCSF decided to set the age restriction as well. While Fiona is the youngest female it is my understanding that a ten year old boy swam Catalina. Either it was a grandfathered swim or they changed the criteria (would be interested to know). It would be good to know if it was from past bad experiences (swimmer related or parent), liability issues, etc.

    In considering any application, for swimmers of all ages, I would think that there are always going to be some bias in the evaluation. Sometimes whether we like it or not a person with connections (living in the area, who is vouching for them, the events they have completed, who they train with, etc.) may get the benefit of the doubt.

    I hope that as the SBCSA prepares for the 2013 season that the Directors discuss the "vetting" approach. It is something that is critical no matter what the age of the applicant as Scott pointed out above.

    At the risk of treading on another thread on this blog these are the kind of things that could be universally addressed/consistent if they were to follow Scott's previous call for developing a common set of rules amongst the various associations......or continue to allow each Association to develop their own as in this case of the SBCSA with no hard set age restrictions.
  • ScottZornigScottZornig Charter Member
    Norm, I would deny any 9, 10, 11, 12 ....year old's application unless they could prove to me and our board that 1) they are more than capable of going the distance in cold water 2) the parents and child completely understand and accept the risks and 3) the parents are willing to sign a release.

    If an 11 year old "marathon version" of Michael Phelps came along and met the above criteria, I might be willing to give him a shot. If the same person was 7 years of age, I don't think I would allow it to happen.

    I guess it comes down to this: 1) at what age can a child comprehend the risks assuming the parents are willing to allow their child to do the swim? 2) What exactly are the real risks (ie, hypothermia, shark attack, prop from boat etc)? 3) Has any of these "risks" actually happened during a marathon swim and if so, what are the percentages? and finally, how good is the observer who is watching over the youngster?

    The bottom line is that I feel every applicant must be vigorously screened regardless of age and I don't beleive in setting arbitrary age limits. There is always an exceptional kid out there who can raise or rather "lower" the bar.
  • Interesting...

    One thing I am curious about is longevity in the sport for young kids who do long swims at an early age. One of the great truisms in Track & Field is that kids who excel at marathons at an early age NEVER excel as adults. In fact, few stay with the sport as adults.

    Does anyone have any idea how true that is/isn't for marathon swimming?


    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • SuirThingSuirThing Carrick-on-Suir, IrelandMember
    edited September 2012
    The reference back to local open water swims by @Munatones raises an important issue. The accomplishments of prodigys can place organisers of smaller swims in a difficult position in relation lower age limits. At one short open water (river) swim where I swam this year an eight year old swam with his Dad, but was under quite a bit of pressure to complete the (1k) swim.

    At our local river swim here in Carrick, under 16s are confined to 500m where they must be accompanied by an adult swimmer. This swim takes place seperately to the adult 500m race. Generally there would be only 5-6 swimmers in the underage swim which gives a safety boat to each indidual young swimmer. This year a 14 year old club swimmer capable of breaking a minute for 100m was required to be accompanied, and was confined to the underage race. It's a hard-and-fast rule. The issue hasn't arisen yet, but presumably a 16 y-o olympic champion would face the same restrictions!!!

    At one of the biggest swims that I took part in (entry wise), an 11 year old swam it in the same time as myself, acompanied by (some guess work and supposition here) his Dad, a very accomplished swimmer. (This was a tough sea swim.)

    The eight year old in the first swim found it tough, that does not mean eight is too young, another eight year old might have managed easily. The 11 y-o in the last swim obviously had no problems, that's not to say every 11 y-o should be allowed enter. The 14 y-o in the local swim probably felt the safety precautions were a bit over-the-top, and in his individual case they probably were (finding an adult that could keep pace with him was probably the toughest part).

    In all cases, it is ultimately the swim organisers who must make the call, and swimmers, and particularly parents and coaches of young swimmers, must respect their decision. Parents (and coaches) need to objectively gauge their childs abilities and limitations. Swim organisers have more than enough on their plate as it is.

    I tried to convince myself, but, orange flavour electrolyte, mixed with hot chocolate,
    tastes nothing like Terry's Chocolate Orange ....

  • heartheart San Francisco, CACharter Member
    When I lived in Honolulu, the Waikiki Swim Club hosted a 2k race in March at Ala Moana Beach. The race organizers had an agreement with Kamehameha Schools, by which they allowed all students to do the race. The reason for this was that every graduating kid from the high school had to complete a 2k in less than an hour. Which is an entirely reasonable requirement in a nation of water dwellers surrounded by ocean. They were very strict at enforcing the requirement, too; kids who arrived in shore minutes late failed the exam.
  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    I think that contrary to marathon swims, mass open water races should have age limits, or in the very least separate waves for junior swimmers and one for tadpoles. I also think that young swimmers should have to prove themselves at the same event one year before they can move up in distance the next year. This should be required each year they want to move up in distance.
  • WaterGirlWaterGirl Scottsdale, AZCharter Member
    I think that contrary to marathon swims, mass open water races should have age limits, or in the very least separate waves for junior swimmers and one for tadpoles.
    I agree. I'm tired of those little buggers lapping me.
  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    edited October 2012
    Niek wrote:
    It should be forbidden. 7 and 9 years old 27 km?!?
    How many 7 or 9 year olds could you get to walk 27K in 8 hours?
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited October 2012
    I was able to obtain the following background from a knowledgeable official of one of the English Channel sanctioning bodies. Names and countries are redacted, but you get the drift.

    Until 1994, the age limit on EC swims was 12. After the 1994 season, the CSA raised the limit to 16. When the CS&PF was founded a few years later, they adopted the same age limit (16).

    The policy change in 1994 was motivated by the stories of three 12-year olds from [country redacted] who had recently swum the Channel. One came from a well-off family, was properly trained and had a fair amount of body fat. He got across without incident.

    As for the other two:

    "The kids didn’t want to swim the Channel, their not-well off parents and coaches wanted them to. If they made it they’d get massive accolades and big rewards when they returned to [country]; cars, house, education etc. They’d all be made for life. The kids were so so thin, and not good swimmers. They shouldn’t have been allowed out of the harbour. Their parents and coaches threw stones at them during training to keep them in the water; it was heart breaking. They were so scared of the water that they wouldn’t go into the harbour alone, so we had to always accompany them, on a 1-1 basis. When one swam with them, they were so scared they’d keep bumping into you, as they didn’t want to get too far away or left alone.

    They both went out for their EC Swims on [date redacted]. What happened on the boats that day badly scarred those that saw it.

    The whole thing was WRONG WRONG WRONG!!!! That is what made the CSA change the age to 16."
  • Personally - I have seen too many young children achieve long swims under the age of puberty when muscles, bodies and joints are still developing.
    This has caused many many growing problems and leads to much medical treatment
    We in Jersey have a history of 14 year old English Channel swimmers way back in 70's and 80's - and NONE of them are still swimming now - I believe 'too much too young'.
    We organise 'Round Jersey swims' (40 miles, safe & tidally assisted - like MIMS) and have set a minimum age of '15 in the year of the swim' as we feel it is a great pre-requisite training swim for an English Channel swim or other swims
    We also feel that at 15 they have a better idea if they REALLY want to do the swim as well.
    We also do not advise parents go on board on their swims - generally.
    Feel free to check out our Rolls of honour on
    We have a GREAT club and our swims are wonderful!
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    FYI to anyone interested in this issue/discussion:

    The SBCSA Board of Directors voted at its recent meeting to institute a minimum age of 14 for swims under our sanction.
  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    Mini marathoners: How far is too far for tween runners?
    10 & 12 year old girls competing in endurance trail running races.
  • troubletrouble San FranciscoMember
    There are some interesting resources on this topic at National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute's resource page:

    In the first article on that page, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, they recommend adolescents take 2 - 3 months off from their main sport each year! I wonder if tweens/teens training for marathon swims could follow those guidelines and still meet their goals?
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