Do you primarily breathe on the left side or right side? Do you prefer Maxim or Gatorade? Do you mostly practice in the pool or open water? Do you train solo or with teammates?

Decisions regarding open water swimming are personal and are always subject to change.

But some decisions in the open water swimming world require all kinds of additional decisions, especially regarding channel swims.

Swimming in one direction versus the other direction is one of the most, if not THE most, complex and complicated decisions to make.

*Do you swim from Catalina to the mainland across the Catalina Channel?

*Do you swim from Oahu to Molokai or the other direction in the Molokai Channel?

*Do you swim from Hokkaido or Honshu in the Tsugaru Channel?

*Do you swim from the North Island or South Island across the Cook Strait?

Those are major questions that are not easy to answer. In the case of the Catalina Channel, swimmers can choose to start on Catalina Island and finish on the Southern California mainland, or start on the mainland and finish on Santa Catalina Island. There are advantages of both.

Start in Catalina and you attempt what most channel swimmers set out to accomplish. Not counting the double crossings, 302 people have completed a Catalina-to-mainland (CM) swim while only 22 swimmers have swum from the mainland-to-California (CM). That is, 92.7% of the successful Catalina Channel swimmers have chosen to finish on the mainland while only 7.3% have swum in the other direction.

Other than tidal conditions, wind and currents, there are several factors that can come into play:

Getting to the Start Position

Swimming from Catalina to the mainland means that you have to find your way over to Catalina Island either before or the night of your swim. If you boat over to Catalina (versus flying), you endure a long boat ride over in your escort boat or use one of the larger ferries to get over to the start. In rough conditions, this can mean a rough ride over. Some people do not mind; others can get queasy.

On the other hand, this time on your escort boat is an excellent time to bond with your crew and go over final preparations.

Maximizing Rest

Starting on Catalina generally means that you get less of an opportunity to rest in your hotel or home before a swim. If you start on the mainland, you can rest on a couch or a bed up until few hours before you start. Starting in Catalina generally means you have a start your day much earlier and are resting in a boat motoring over to the island (unless you spend the day/night in Catalina the day before).

Swimming Into the Cold

Swimming from Catalina to the mainland also means that the coldest part of the swim is generally encountered towards the end of the swim as you venture into the colder waters off the mainland’s coast. Some people do not mind swimming into the coldest part of the channel at the end of their channel swim; others experience hypothermia.

Welcome Party

Swimming from Catalina to the mainland means that a large(r) welcoming party can greet you at the finish. Some people welcome crawling on the rocks with friends recording the momentous event and family cheering them on. Others do not mind finishing on Catalina Island with no one on shore, but the Observer and crew documenting the official finish.

In either case – CM or MC – finishing is the main goal.

Touching land and crawling up the rocky shore is a wonderful feeling and sight to behold whether or not you are among the 22 mainland-to-Catalina swimmers (with an average time of 13 hours 35 minutes*) or among the 302 Catalina-to-mainland swimmers (with an average time of 11 hours 59 minutes*).

Catalina Channel Records:
*Catalina-to-mainland: Grace van der Byl (shown above), 7 hours 27 minutes (2012)
*Mainland-to-Catalina: Penny Lee Dean, 7 hours 15 minutes (1976)

* Average times do not include the swims of double crossings.

For more detailed information specific to the Catalina Channel crossings, visit SwimCatalina.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association