Sydney Cavill (1881–1945) was the son of the Swimming professor Frederick Cavill.

Sydney was the 220 yards amateur champion of Australia at the age of 16. He is credited as the originator of the butterfly. He followed his famous brothers to America and coached notable swimmers at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. The Cavill Family (Frederick, Ernest, Charles, Percy, Arthur, Sydney and Dick) was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1967 as Honour Swimmers.

While the most famous practitioners of butterfly include Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps in the pool, butterfly has been dramatically practiced by numerous open water swimmers including Vicki Keith (Canada), Gail Rice (USA), Julie Bradshaw MBE (UK), Paolo Cerizzi (Italy), Dan Projansky (USA), Héctor Ramírez Ballesteros (Spain), Charles Chapman Jr. and Brenton Williams (South Africa).

These butterflyers take on the rough water and make it even harder. But these ocean flyers get into the rhythm of the open water, moving forward without swallowing water propelled their face-forward, double-arm strokes in synchronicity of the undulating swells.

Williams, who just swam butterfly through one of the world’s most famous surf zones this weekend, explains, “I feel the ocean more when swimming butterfly. I know it sounds weird, but it’s actually better than swimming freestyle, though slower and harder for sure. But sighting and becoming part of the ocean’s rhythm makes up for that.”

Under the leadership of Evan Morrison and Donal Buckley at the Marathon Swimmers Forum, members of the marathon swimming community are currently developing rules to certify non-freestyle strokes (butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke). The issues are quite numerous and include questions such as:

1. How will observers be trained to properly judge a channel swimmer utilizing butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke?

2. What is permissible during feeding stops? May the athlete roll over on his stomach if he is doing a backstroke channel swim? May the athlete take a non-butterfly stroke just before or after his feeding? Can any kick be used besides the breast kick if there is a breaststroke attempt?

3. Can there be any “break” in the intended stroke? If so, when can that occur (e.g., when a wave hits the swimmer)? If a “break” occurs, how many strokes may a swimmer take?

4. How to handle the starts and finishes?

5. Can an occasional left arm or right arm fly stroke be allowed or must every stroke be double-armed?

6. Is a breaststroke kick after feeding or communicating with crew members allowed – or is considered cheating in a butterfly swim?

7. If breaststroke kick is allowed in a pool masters swim, can breaststroke kick be allowed for channel swim?

We tend to agree with the mindset of swimmers like Projansky and Williams. Their attitude is refreshing and they enjoy the challenge of a self-appointed handicap. While breaststroke requires patience and backstroke requires confidence, butterfly requires a bit of madcap ego and machisimo. Compared to freestyle, any swim over a mile using these strokes is a bit extreme in our opinion.

Therein lays the allure,” explains Williams. “Not many swimmers have come down this path of swimming butterfly in open water. It is pretty extreme. It feels like a whole new frontier is being opened up. In open water swimming, there is how fast you can swim and how far you can swim and in how cold water you can swim. Now, butterfly is being added to the open water mix.”

In our opinion, it would be beneficial for the Marathon Swimmers Forum to seek the input from butterflyers such as Keith, Projansky, Williams and their fellow marathon butterflyers. Similarly, backstrokers like Tina Neill can provide valuable advice as she has swum both the English Channel and Catalina Channel using backstroke. With their input, the rules can help shape, define and promote the non-freestyle attempts that are increasingly happening about the world, from shorter local races to the longer marathon swims.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association