The “Freshies” – My 10 favorite open-water happenings of 2011

End-of-year list-making: It’s not just for music aficionados, film buffs, and the New York Times Book Review. Why not open water swimmers, too?

So, here are my 10 favorite open-water “happenings” of 2011 (“happenings” because they’re not all swims).

The list is, admittedly, U.S.-centric – America is where I live and what I pay the closest attention to. While I greatly admire (for example) Nejib Belhedi’s 1400K Swim Across Tunisia, I have no unique insights to add to what others have already said. Perhaps Donal or somebody can make an international list.

The list also reflects my own personal biases. I readily admit, I couldn’t care less about “stunts” in which the promotional efforts are more impressive than the swim itself. Sorry, but I find such things distasteful and think they degrade our sport.

With that in mind, here are the winners of the inaugural “freshies” (in no particular order):

Rob Dumouchel: New Year’s Day Polar Bear 10K.

6 miles through sharky 53F (11.6C) ocean, from Avila Beach to Pismo Beach, CA. Quite possibly, the northern hemisphere’s first marathon swim of 2011. Long live the adventure beard!

David Barra & Rondi Davies: 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim.

A 120-mile expedition stage swim from Catskill, NY to the Big Apple. Earned a feature in the New York Times while still seeming under-promoted. A surprising omission from the WOWSA nominations.

Jen Schumacher: Mt. Whitney & Lake Tahoe Back-to-Back.

Day 1: Climb Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S. (14,505ft / 4,421m). Day 2: Swim across Lake Tahoe length-wise (21 miles at 6,225 ft elevation). A lung-busting feat of cross-training. A tacit acknowledgment of the spiritual bond between mountaineers and open-water swimmers.

Forrest Nelson: Catalina Circumnavigation.

Forrest doesn’t call the L.A. Times. He doesn’t hire a camera crew to film a made-for-TV special. Forrest lets his swimming do the talking. The most impressive marathon swim of 2011 by someone not named Penny Palfrey.

  1. Roger Allsopp: English Channel at age 65.
  2. Pat Gallant-Charette: Catalina Channel at age 60.
  3. Elizabeth Fry: Double crossing of the English Channel at age 52.

Three heroic swims, three new age records.

NYC Swim: A re-written record book. The first double-Ederle swim, by Elizabeth Fry (and along the way, new one-way records in each direction).
Then, re-broken one-way Ederle records, by Lance Ogren and myself.
Best of all: Rondi Davies’ and Ollie Wilkinson’s incredible MIMS match race, with both swimmers breaking Shelley Taylor-Smith’s legendary 16-year old round-Manhattan record.
Morty Berger isn’t someone who seeks out attention, but I’ll just go ahead and say: He deserves a lot of the credit for these record-breaking swims.

Penny Palfrey: Cayman Islands Swim. If this wasn’t the greatest feat of endurance swimming in history, it’s second only to the English Channel triple-crossings (Jon Erikson, Alison Streeter, & Philip Rush).

Petar Stoychev. Not a terribly original choice, but you can’t under-sing this guy’s praises. Petar is, it would seem, immune to water temperature. He already holds the fastest English Channel crossing (6 hr, 57 min). This year, he won the FINA 25K world championship in 32C (90F) water. He has won the FINA Grand Prix circuit 10 years in a row, and is still going strong at age 34. At some point soon, he will probably be acknowledged as the greatest open water swimmer…ever.

USA Swimming 10K Open-Water National Championships. Rough-water swimming at its finest – and the most exciting open-water race I’ve ever seen. For 9,800m, Andrew Gemmell, Sean Ryan, Arthur Frayler, and Mark Warkentin battled it out in insanely choppy conditions. Swimmers were colliding with each other from opposite directions on a rectangular course. Alex Meyer slipped in for the win, to qualify for World Championships (and eventually, London). Here’s a video.

State of California: Shark fin ban. Because shark-finning is barbaric and shameful. Sometimes, government can make a difference.

For what it’s worth, I endorse the following nominees for the WOWSA awards:

  • Man of the Year: Simon Griffiths (publisher of the new H20pen Magazine)
  • Woman of the Year: Penny Palfrey
    • Note: Penny is listed in both this category and the “performance of the year” category. As I predicted, she is splitting her own vote.
  • Performance of the Year: Forrest Nelson
    • Need another reason to vote for Forrest? I haven’t gotten a single email or Facebook post from him, begging for my vote.

18 thoughts on “The “Freshies” – My 10 favorite open-water happenings of 2011”

  1. Great article. I’m not sure I’m up to an international list. And my bias might show when I’d nominate Stephen Redmond for Male WOWSA.

    I will make this prediction which I plan to elaborate on in the near future, if I can get all the ducks lined up:

    2012 will the greatest year ever (to date) in open water swimming.

    So few people seem the understand the mountaineering/swimming link. My favourite swimming books, are actually climbing books.

    1. As I think about it, I’d put Howard Keech’s North Channel swim in the nomination list for a few reasons: the timing risk he took which paid off (regarding jellies), the temperature he endured (which was even lower than the normal low temperatures). And Howard is a thin guy, testament to his training. Any Mouth of hell solo is special. Especially when The Swim nonsense across the Irish Sea was on the Performance of the Year list. I honestly think almost every real Irish & UK swimmer agrees with that, certainly all I’ve heard so far have.

      1. Stephen Redmond is nominated for Male WOWSA!

        Howard Keech is a hero. I wouldn’t have thought it (the North Channel) possible for someone so thin. Here in the US we’re very proud of Craig Lenning, the first American…

        1. I think there should be a “Forrest Nelson Award”….. for the least exploited OW feat of the year. Certainly, Craig’s North Channel swim would qualify!

          1. That’s a great idea, actually. At least Forrest has friends who spread the word…. Think of all the anonymous swims that must happen without anybody ever knowing!

  2. Thanks for the shout out, a great list, (if I may)…. and honored to be a part of it.
    As we are opening applications for 8 Bridges 2012 on January 20, I suppose its time for some promotion!

    1. 8 Bridges was an impressive physical feat, but the way you and Rondi connected it to the HRV community and the history & revitalization of the river… truly made it transcendent.

  3. Agreed on the least exploited award.
    Will the last leg of the 8 Bridges be open to flotsam such as myself? I’m tossing up between that and the first leg.

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