Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.
The world has innumerable locations for incredibly hard open water swims. Rough conditions, cold water, sharks, jellyfish, tides, currents, long distances, high altitudes and logistical considerations are the primary obstacles. What are some of the swims in the Northern Hemisphere that would be on the ultimate open water swimmer’s bucket list? The potential list could be extremely long, but the World Open Water Swimming Association selected 15 tough challenges, excluding stage swims, adventure swims and relays that are categorized separately.
1. 72-mile (115K) Kaieiewaho Channel: 72 miles (115 km) of huge ocean swells, aggressive sharks (Tiger and Great White Sharks), warm water, box jellyfish, Portuguese man o war and strong currents between Oahu and Kauai in Hawaii.
2. Farallon Islands: 30 miles of huge ocean swells, extremely rough conditions, cold water (10-15°C or 50-59°F), aggressive Great White Sharks, strong tides, the Potato Patch.
3. North Channel: 21 miles (33.7 km) of cold water (10.5-14°C or 50-54ºF), jellyfish and unpredictable tides, currents and harsh winds between Scotland and Ireland under foreboding skies.
4. English Channel (two- or three-way crossings): 21 miles (one-way) of shifting tides, cool waters, currents, turbulence and marine traffic in the showcase theater of marathon swimming, a key leg of the Oceans Seven.
5. Bering Strait: A 53-mile (85 km) stretch between Russia and the USA located slightly below the polar circle where extremely cold water (under 6°C or 43ºF), strong tides and currents punish its challengers for 2.2 miles between Little Diomede (USA) and Big Diomede (Russia).
6. Lake Pumori: a glacial lake up in the Himalayas 17,000 feet (5,300 meters) in altitude that requires a hike up and down Mount Everest to reach the freezing water of 32°F (0°C).
7. Isle of Wight: the 90 km (56-mile) circumnavigation of the rough island off the English coast demands endurance, cold water acclimatization and exquisite timing to avoid strong adverse tidal conditions throughout the swim.
8. Okinawa-to-Taiwan: 120 km (74.5 miles) of rough conditions, whitecaps, strong winds, unpredictable currents, aggressive sharks (Tiger Sharks, hammerheads), jellyfish and Portuguese man o war between Yonaguni Island, the southwesternmost part of Japan, and the eastern coast of Taiwan.
9. Cayman Islands: 67.2 miles between Little Cayman and Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Warm water, aggressive sharks (including the Oceanic White Tips), jellyfish, Portuguese man o war, tides, ocean swells unrelentingly pummel its aquatic challengers.
10. San Nicholas Island: 69.3 miles of unforgiving ocean swells, extremely rough conditions, cold water (10-15°C or 50-59°F), Great White Sharks, strong tides, punishing winds and flesh-nibbling sea creatures between the outermost California Channel Islands and the California coast near Santa Barbara.
11. Lake Tahoe: 21.2 miles (34 km) at 6,225 feet (1,897 meters) in a large freshwater lake high up in the Sierra Nevada range in the western United States between the states of California and Nevada. Strong winds and consistent surface chop make for a long day in one of the Still Water 8.
12. Loch Ness: 23 miles (37 km) of cold water temperatures averaging 50°F (10°C) throughout the Scottish summer season. Known for its deep black and chilling waters, it is part of the Still Water Eight and known for the alleged sightings of the cryptozoological Loch Ness Monster (“Nessie”).
13. Lake Ontario: 31.5 miles (51 km) of variable water temperatures that can change in the matter of minutes due to wind shifts from 50 to 72°F (10-22°C). The United States to Canadian international swim, part of the Still Water Eight, is difficult due to unpredictable wind and currents.
14. Catalina Island: 48-mile (77 km) circumnavigation around the Southern California Channel Island demands endurance, cold water acclimatization and exquisite timing to avoid strong adverse tidal conditions throughout the swim and aggressive sharks.
15. Moloka’i Channel: Also known as the Kaiwi Channel between the islands of Oahu and Molokai, this leg of the Oceans Seven is 26 miles (42 km) of huge ocean swells, marine life including aggressive sharks (Tigers), jellyfish and Portuguese man o war, strong trade winds, relentless whitecaps and shifting tides.
There are many other swims around the Northern Hemisphere from the 103-mile Florida Strait to the Round Jersey swim, but these 15 are mind-bogglingly difficult.
The hardest open water swims in the Southern Hemisphere are listed here.
Photo shows a marathon swimmer in Cyprus.
Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association