Like many, I spent over a decade following the black line, swimming in AAU age group programs, through high school and into college. When I finished schools, I left pools and the black line behind and moved to the Cayman Brac, where as a dive instructor and marine biologist it was all about open water. After a few years there, I got the urge to swim the 6 miles from Cayman Brac to neighboring Little Cayman. The Cayman Islands are famous for their “walls”; underwater sheer vertical cliffs, that start anywhere from 30-100 feet depth, and plummet to abyssal depths. Logging about 50 dives/month, I was very comfortable in the open water and on these walls, but I was intimidated by the many thousands feet of depth I’d be crossing for about 5 miles of the swim.
About a month before committing myself to the swim, I’d taught a visiting couple to scuba dive. As part of the dive training, we’d discussed if they ever surfaced behind the dive boat, to just inflate their buoyancy devices and get the attention of the boat, then just float and relax; no worries, the boat would come pick them up. Sure enough, this happened to them on a dive where the boat was tailing off the wall (thus in 1000’s of feet of water). They followed their training and eventually the boat picked them up, happily floating on the surface.
I asked, “Weren’t you nervous or scared about floating over such deep water while awaiting the pickup?” They both looked shocked and replied something like, “Why would we be nervous?! You said to just float and relax and everything would be fine! What should we have been nervous or scared about? We did what you taught us! You said we’d be OK!”
In the book, Illusions, Richard Bach wrote: “We teach best what we most need to learn.” In May 1987, I finally learned to trust the teacher and became the first person to swim that channel.
My first long swim was a local 2.6 km race back in 2010, but it was not timed and I floated thru the distance using frog style. I didn't do it afterwards.
I started freestyle swimming in late 2014 when I discovered there is a open water swimming group in my city, but I was too slow to join them. Afterwards I participated in aquathons, with typical swim distance about 500 m to 1 km and run distance about 4 - 5 km. However I was only targeting 1.5 km and didn't do any races longer than 2 km
It was not until in 2018 my speed became enough to join the open water group, who normally swim about 2 - 3 km on Saturday afternoons, with stops between. One day, they organised an unofficial 2.4 km race, which I thought, although a bit long, doable for me giving I previously swam for 2.6 km the longest.
However, when I swam that course, I felt the finish was so damn far. Turned out they set a 3 km course, only announcing it after we finished! It suddenly became my longest continuous race.
Also, a 3.7 km race, originally held earlier, postponed due to typhoon and reopened for registration. I then immediately signed up for it given I did 3 km already in training, and judged I could make the cut off with my expected time. I finally really made it, with only 1 minute difference from my expected time.
Starting from that point I was no longer satisfied and wanted to do longer and longer, and currently finding 5 to 10 km races, targeting 15 km in 2020, and probably channel distance afterwards.
My first open water long swim was in Greece, on Thassos Island, Paradise beach when I was curious to check what is on the island opposite to the beach, as it appeared uninhabited.
I admit using a wetsuit for this first one, being affraid of currents and water temp changes (although water temp in Greece is high). It turned out to be an approximate 3km back and forth.
My first long open water swim was across Lake Geneva, in Wisconsin (8-ish miles). I did this because I just wanted to see if I could do it. It called to me once I got serious about wanting to do long, open water distances. My sister piloted, and we took off at around 5:00 in the morning on Labor Day weekend.....BAD idea! The first half of the swim went well, and I was keeping up about a 1.8 mph pace. BUT, as we came through the strait that takes you to the second half of the lake...the wind from the west picked up, and the vacation weekend boaters came out. The chop and wake got so bad, my sister was almost thrown out of the kayak several times. It was hard to do my feedings because we were being tossed around so bad we could barely make the connection to one another and it was very hard to just tread water. I was swimming through wake where I was coming out the other side half in the air. The wind was making a one mile stretch of the swim feel like a never ending reverse current pool. I watched the same water tower on land make no progress for almost an hour. I honestly thought I wasn't going to make it. But I did. What should have been a 4 hour swim took well over six hours but I finished. It was thrilling to have finished. It gave me the confidence I needed to stick with the sport. The next year, I finished the same swim (in fog, and drizzle, and just around 16c water temp) in just over four hours. That catapulted me to a very respectable finish in Key West, and I can't get enough of the water now. All the best!
So somehow I never commented on what my first long OW swim was.
My first long OW swim, I guess, was at summer camp in 1978 when I signed up for the mile swim. It was several laps around row boats manned by Boy Scout lifeguards. As we had to swim with a buddy, I got paired with one of my troop mates who, let's just say, was sugar-challenged. Meaning he never stopped eating sugar. Kid was huge and slow. But we had to stay within 10 feet of each other. I have no idea how long it took us to finish the mile (he kept telling me "Slow and steady wins the race" but I didn't know how that was true since everyone else was done seemingly hours before us), but we did finally finish and get the coveted seahorse patch to sew on our trunks. Did that every summer from 1978 till 1984.
My first long OW swim competition after that wasn't till 2010 when I did a 5k in Cyprus. That was long for me at the time. I was so excited I finished it and I was certainly hooked then to go farther.
Just here troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries...
I grew up in San Diego and was always in the water - whether it's the ocean or a pool, just not competitively. Fast forward, I was on a business trip to Las Vegas about 6 years ago and I don't remember how it caught my eye, but there was an OW race in Lake Mead. I had done some triathlons and done well in the swims without training, while the bike/run portions I'd drop to the bottom 1/3 by the end of the race. So when I signed up for the 1.2 mile at Lake Mead on a whim, it turned out to be the catalyst to drop tris and just do swimming where my heart was. I found a team and then the next summer, went to St John for my first 3 miler there. Totally hooked!
My first swim that felt really long was when I was a kid - maybe 10 or 11? We lived on a slow moving river, and our house was across the street from a public boat ramp on the one side of a big cove. The town beach was on the other point. Along the shore, it was about 400 yards. Well, one day I decided it was too much work to walk to the beach (where I spent pretty much every summer of my childhood, parent free. It was the 80s.) So I swam. Sidestroke. Holding my towel out of the water with my top arm. It felt like forever and it was the longest I'd ever swum until I took lifeguard training classes when I turned 15.
My first actual long swim was the Clubhaus/Province Island loop the Thursday of Swim the Kingdom week in 2017. It was a "10K" that my gps had at 6.6 miles.