14 Essential Open Water Swimming Blogs for 2013

These are a few of my favorite OWS blogs. 14 of them, for 2013. Because I couldn’t choose just 13. They are listed in order of when I first added the RSS feed to my Google Reader (oldest to newest):

1. Rob Aquatics


Rob D. is the godfather of open water swim-blogging, known for his comical prose stylings, his GoPro ninja skills, his seeming indifference to cold water, and his fearsome adventure beard.

2. Lone Swimmer


Donal is my Irish BFAM and fellow co-founder of the Marathon Swimmers Forum. He’s an English Channel and MIMS soloist known for his stunning photography and authoritative writing about cold-water swimming. We founded our blogs in the same month, literally (February 2010).

3. Penny & Chris Palfrey


Quite simply: Penny is a legend. After her nearly-70 mile Cayman Islands swim, an almost-completed Cuba-to-Florida swim, and six of the seven channels in the Oceans’ Seven, one wonders what box she could possibly have left to tick?

She’s not the most active blogger, but I include her on this list because her entries remain fascinating even years after she’s written them. She is still the only successful solo swimmer off San Miguel and Santa Barbara Islands, so her reports are required reading for anyone attempting to follow in her wake.

4. Chicken’s Nuggets


Amanda (a.k.a. “Chicken of the Sea”) is one of the funniest, quirkiest humans I know, and her missives are always good for a chortle or two. (Here is a classic.)

I miss a few things about living in the Midwest, but none more than swimming at Promontory Point in Chicago. These days, “Chicken’s Nuggets” are the closest I get to feeling the soft freshwater embrace of my beloved old swim spot.

5. Gords Swim Log

Gords is an English Channel soloist and the founder and race director of the Great Salt Lake Marathon Swim.

He is also famous for his super-human tolerance for long monotonous pool sets, and for being abandoned by Vito (along with Goody and Cathy) on the other side of Clear Lake, left to hitchhike back in a Rob Aquatics speedo.

Personally, I think it was Luigi’s fault.

6. WaterGirl

Katie is an enthusiastic open-water swimmer and compelling writer hailing from Arizona — another up-and-coming open water area in the Mountain West region of the U.S.

She recently completed her first official marathon swim – Swim the Suck in Tennessee.

7. 10K Marathon Swim


When I first came across “Iron” Mike’s blog, he was an American living in Moscow. An unlikely location for an open water swimmer, perhaps, but one that allowed for occasional fascinating trips to nearby events.

He recently moved to northern Virginia, so it will be fun to see him tackle the more plentiful OWS offerings in the States. Like Katie, Mike, recently completed Swim the Suck.

8. Feel for the Water – the Swim Smooth Blog


Swim Smooth is one of several “schools of swim improvement” in the marketplace and, to my mind, the most sophisticated and worthwhile (especially for open water swimmers).

I especially enjoy the posts that are written with, essentially, a three-part structure (e.g., this recent one):

  1. Here’s something you may have learned from TI.
  2. Here’s why that makes you slow.
  3. Here’s what you should do instead.

Of course, Paul Newsome is a polite man (unlike me), so he never actually calls out TI by name. Always gives me a laugh, though.

9. The Long Swim


Karen is a sociologist from the UK, and as such, she often writes about marathon swimming from an academic perspective. Her posts are invariably thought provoking.

She’s also a successful English Channel and Catalina Channel soloist, and will complete her Triple Crown this June at MIMS.

10. Ollie’s Long Distance Swimming Blog

ollieOllie is an Aussie living in the UK, and a very fast swimmer. He and I had an exciting race a couple years ago in the Hudson, and he subsequently became the record-holder around Manhattan. Similar to me, Ollie’s marathon swims are often semi-masochistic experiences.

11. Shark Research Committee

sharkrcBecause you can never know too much about what’s swimming around below you. Or can you?

12. Throw Me In the Ocean

throwmeWhat Caitlin’s blog lacks in quantity, she more than makes up for in quality. In my opinion, the best prose stylist on this list.

13. Trent Grimsey’s Blog

trentElite athletes’ blogs and/or Twitter feeds are often poor quality (or possibly not even written by them), but Trent’s is pretty good. And it appears that he actually writes it himself!

14. Fermoy Fish

owenokeefeA relative newcomer to the OWS blogging community, Owen is already making a name for himself, in his homeland of Ireland and beyond. In 2009, Owen swam the English Channel at 16 years old – the youngest Irish person to do so.

If young Owen is any indication, the future of marathon swimming is bright indeed.

Should you use swim paddles? A rule of thumb

Swim paddles (in my opinion) are useful for developing swim-specific strength, especially in the shoulders and lats. I prefer Strokemakers:

strokemaker paddles
Strokemaker paddle (size red #3). NOTE: The paddles come with a longer strap meant for the wrist, but don’t use it. That’s goofy. If you need the wrist strap to keep the paddle stable, you’re doing it wrong.

Strokemakers are the classic paddle for competitive swimmers. At various points in my swimming career I’ve used Green #1sYellow #2sRed #3s, and Blue #4s. As a Masters swimmer, I use Reds. As an open-water and marathon swimmer, I feel that the strength I develop with these paddles (which some have derogatorily described as “dinner plates”) helps me power through waves and chop in rough-water conditions.

(Note: I have no financial relationship with the company that makes Strokemakers. Every one of their products I own, I’ve paid for. I just like their paddles.)

There’s a catch, though: It’s probably a bad idea to use these paddles as a beginning (or even intermediate-level) swimmer. You can hurt yourself! Certain stroke flaws (thumb-first entry, crossing over the mid-line, dropping your elbows on the catch), combined with paddles, can lead to rotator cuff injuries.

How do you know if your technique is good enough to start using “power paddles” such as Strokemakers?

I’d like to suggest a simple rule of thumb: If you can swim with the FINIS Agility paddles without struggling to keep them on your hands, your technique is probably good enough for power paddles.

Karen has a nice description of how the Agility paddles “test” your technique.

Important caveat: If at any point you develop shoulder pain while using paddles, stop using them immediately!

finis agility paddles
FINIS Agility paddle. Hand not included.

I received a complimentary pair of Agility paddles from FINIS at Jamie’s swim camp a few months ago. I have no trouble keeping them on, but I still use them occasionally because of how well I can feel the initial “catch” of my stroke. I think of the Agility paddles as feel for the water paddles, in contrast to the Strokemaker power paddles.

I was happy to hear recently that FINIS is now selling three sizes of Agility paddles – small and large, in addition to the original size (now called “medium”). I always felt the original Agility paddles were a bit too small for my hands, so if I were in the market for new ones, I’d get the Large.

One final note: as usual, I find Terry Laughlin’s perspective on this to be overly simplistic and dogmatic.

The best marathon swims of 2012

What’s the right way to decide something like this?

By fiat, like the Freshies? By committee, like induction to the IMSHOF? A vote by a group of journalists, like the Baseball Hall of Fame? Or, like the WOWSA awards, an online poll open to anyone regardless of experience or expertise?

First, some background…

‘Round this time last year, a few of us were discussing some of the great achievements in marathon swimming during the previous year (i.e., 2011). A few of them, truly world-class feats of endurance, on par with anything any famous athlete did in more visible, monetized sports. Penny Palfrey‘s 67-mile swim in the Cayman Islands came to mind. As did Forrest Nelson’s circumnavigation of Catalina.

Yet, as it stood then (in early 2012), no organization existed that was saying to the world, and recording for posterity: These are the most outstanding achievements in marathon swimming this year. The question was: How to do it? Who decides? What’s the process?

Long story short: This conversation gave rise to the announcement of the Marathon Swimmers Forum in March. And the Forum, which by October had attracted nearly 500 members, then gave rise to the Global Marathon Swimming Awards.

So there you have it: A community decision. The community being the Forum, which is made up of marathon swimmers and those who have an active interest in the sport. The reward is the respect of peers – no more, no less.

This approach was not without its detractors. Jamie Patrick, commenting on Loneswimmer, said this:

Allowing only those that are members of the forum to vote narrows your audience and does not present to the world the great things these swimmers have done…. This does nothing to bring the public into the marathon [swimming] world. It does nothing to teach and inform outsiders. It just becomes a social club voting for one of their members who they think did the best.

I actually don’t disagree with Jamie’s comments. The problem is, he seems to assume our goal is to maximize publicity. It is not. Our goal is to identify the best marathon swims of the year, and to honor them with the respect of peers. The people who are most qualified to decide this – of “getting the right answer” – are those who are actively involved in the community. Not the general public. We’re not interested in a popularity contest, or encouraging get-out-the-vote campaigns.

The open water swimming community already has an awards program whose goal is to maximize publicity: the WOWSA awards. The WOWSA folks already do a good job, so why would we copy their approach? They have different goals, and they will get a different “answer” than we do (and probably more page-views) — and that’s fine.

Anyway, enough background. After a nomination period, we announced the finalists on the Forum in early December. We then sent a survey invitation to the entire Forum membership via email. These invitations contained a unique “token” that could only be used once, and only by the intended recipient. This was to prevent fraudulent voting, which is rampant in other online polls. Voting closed at midnight on January 1st.

In the end, three remarkable individuals prevailed in the voting. They are as follows:

tina neill
Tina Neill

For Female Solo Swim of the Year: Tina Neill, for her 52-mile swim from San Clemente Island to the California mainland. This was the first time any human has completed a solo swim from this island, and it was the longest-ever solo swim on the Pacific coast of the United States. She swam continuously for 28 hours, 41 minutes – no resting on the boat! It was, in my opinion, one of the greatest feats in the history of marathon swimming. You can read Tina’s original nomination HERE.

trent grimsey
Trent Grimsey. Photo by Donal Buckley

For Male Solo Swim of the Year: Trent Grimsey, for his world-record setting swim in the English Channel. 21 miles in 6 hours, 55 minutes. Donal was fortunate enough to crew on this epically speedy swim. His written account of the experience is also pretty epic – Part 6 is here, with preceding parts linked inline. You can read Trent’s original nomination HERE.

grace van der byl
Grace van der Byl

For the Barra Award (most impressive body of work in 2012, all considered): Grace van der Byl, for a season that included nine new speed records in eight swims. She crossed the Catalina Channel in 7 hours, 27 minutes – a new overall world record by more than 15 minutes. And she swam all seven stages of the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, setting course records in every stage plus the overall time. You can read Grace’s original nomination HERE.

Did we get the “right answers”? Frankly, I think we did. But I suppose it’s not for me to decide.

Interestingly, for sake of comparison, the WOWSA Man of the Year and Woman of the Year were both marathon swimmers – and both were nominees in the Global Marathon Swimming Awards. Likewise: Tina, Trent, and Grace were all nominees in the WOWSA Awards.

We got different answers. And that’s fine. I think we all agree that 2012 was a great year in marathon swimming. Onward!

Please also see Donal’s post announcing the winners.

Avila Polar Plunge

So, here’s what I did for New Years’:

Photo by Ed

Not pictured is the Avila Pier, from which I had just leaped.

See Rob there, already in the water, closest to me, holding a GoPro on his wrist? He’s about to take this picture:

Photo by Rob D, instagrammed by yours truly

The water was nice, about 53F. Typically I would at least wear a cap at this temperature, but I forgot it. Oops. Ice cream headache.

“Errrggmmhh.” Photo by Rob D, instagrammed by yours truly

Here’s Cathy, a somewhat more photogenic jumper:

Photo by Rob D

As it turns out, Cathy and I are experienced hands at this sort of thing. Back in September in Maui, this happened:

(NOTE: For those reading via RSS or email subscriptions, use the link at the bottom of this post to see the video.)

Anyway, the swim back to shore was about 400m. We sat on the beach for the next couple hours, re-warming and eating empanadas with our fellow outlaws.

A fine start to 2013.

Some other reports from the day:

USMS Swimmer magazine interview

I was interviewed by Elaine Howley for USMS Swimmer magazine on the topic of selecting crew members for a solo marathon swim. Here’s the article from the January-February issue.

Thanks to Elaine and editor Laura Hamel for the interest. If you are a current USMS member, you can now access the digital edition of SWIMMER from this page (login required).