Photo courtesy of Dr. Jim Miller, FINA 10 km Marathon Swimming World Cup race in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Whether coaches are standing offshore in the water or from a feeding pontoon, they all have different types, sizes, lengths, and colors of the feeding sticks (feeding poles).

It is a colorful sight to see.

While many channel swimmers use a water bottle on a string as a means to feed and hydrate on their marathon swims, there is an alternative that many professional marathon swimmers use. They use a feeding stick (or feeding pole).

All of these feeding sticks are hand-made.

This is how you can make one for under US$30 in the United States (not including the GoPro camera):

1. Go to a local hardware store (e.g., Home Depot in the United States).
2. Purchase an extendable paint pole (that can be called a telescoping paint pole or similar names) that is portable and can extend up to 2-4 meters in length. An extendable / telescoping paint pole that can range about US$20 is easy to pack in your luggage and is convenient to carry on the boat.
3. Purchase a plastic (PVC) coupler for US$0.25 in order to attach the cup holder to the extendable paint pole.
4. Purchase a cup holder for US$2-4.
5. Purchase marine sealant/glue for US$2-3.
6. Attach or glue the cup holder to the paint pole with the coupler.
7. Add 2-3 thick rubber bands to the cup holder.
8. Decorate as desired (see below).

The rubber bands can hold down gel packs or other items to the cup holder (e.g., new set of goggles, aspirin, banana slice, sandwich squares) so the swimmer can easily get them while also reaching for the water bottle for hydration.

One extra step is optional. The coach can attach a GoPro camera on the feeding stick in order to capture great images of the swimmer approaching the feeding station or boat, grabbing the water bottle, and swimming away after the competition.

Complete these 8 easy steps – easily done within an hour – and voilà, you are ready to go.

The shopping is easy; the assembly is simple; the cost is minimal; the transportation of the feeding stick is convenient; the usage during the swim is straightforward and practical.

Some athletes prefer to purchase and exchange 2 different colored cup holders during their races. One color may indicate certain things while the other color indicates something else.

For example, a red cup holder can indicate warm liquid in the bottle while the white cup holder indicates cool liquid. A red cup can indicate a liquid with crushed aspirin inside, while a white cup can indicate hydration without. The different colors can also provide instructions from the coach to the swimmer that he should pick up the pace (with use of the red cup holder) or, conversely, stick with the pack (with use of the white cup holder). The different colors enable confidential instructions to be relayed between the coach and athlete without the need for shouting and waiting for verbal communications.

A video of this construction of a home-made feeding stick is shown below:

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