The goal of most open water swimmers is to finish their race or swim. They are not in a race against the clock or their fellow swimmers. Their competitor is, frankly, the elements and the course itself. They enjoy the challenge and the beauty of swimming from Point A to Point B, followed by relishing the camaraderie of their fellow swimmers. Once home, their interaction continues by sharing photos, videos and stories online of their common adventure.

But a small niche of open water swimmers are highly competitive and race for money, medals, ego, sponsorship and recognition.

In the famous 2004 World Open Water Swimming Championships in Dubai, two world champions came barreling down towards the finish, shoulder-to-shoulder, stroke-for-stroke. For nearly six hours, the women went at each other pushing the pace and not giving an inch. They went beyond what was thought possible. Edith van Dijk of the Netherlands and Britta Kamrau of Germany were fierce competitors. In the final lap of ten, they were in total synchronization towards the end of the 25K race. Down the final backstretch, into the final chute, the women were indistinguishable as they reached up to touch the finish board.

While cheers normally greet the winner, there was a strange silence among the crowd as they both simultaneously hit the finish. Was it Edith or was it Britta? Who won? Did the reigning 10K champion Britta win her second race of the 2004 world championships or was it 15-time world championship medalist Edith?

Ultimately, Britta was given the title in an official 5:43:09.6 over Edith‘s 5:42:09.7, but it took hours for the officials to pour over the video from the finish cameras. Frame by frame, the officials had to dissect the last moments of the race and make the final decision.

Pool swimmers shave their body hair for major competitions. Every millisecond counts in the pool as it does on the track, in the velodrome and with triathletes who also shave their legs (for other reasons).

But Open Water Source posed a question to dozens of channel swimmers and elite professional athletes: Do open water swimmers shave down? Do they purposefully remove hair from their legs, arms and body for a major open water swimming competition or solo swim (channel swim or marathon swim)?

Next week, Open Water Source will summarize the answers to the following questions:

1. Do you think shaving down is good for competitive open water swimmers? If so, why?

2. Does shaving for a pool competition and shaving for an open water swim feel different? If so, why?
3. Do you think shaving down is necessary for masters open water swimmers?
4. Did you shave for your English Channel swim or for your marathon swim? Why or why not?
5. If you shaved, what part of your body did you shave down: legs, arms, body, everything?
6. Did you shave for any open water swims during your career?
7. In the open water, what do you think are the advantages of shaving?
8. Do you shave when the water is cold?
9. Is shaving necessary for open water swimmers?

If you wish to contribute to the article, please send your answers here.

Part 1 of this 3-part series on shaving down is here. Part 2 of this 3-part series on shaving down is here. Part 3 of this 3-part series is here.

Copyright © 2011 by Open Water Source