SBCSA announces drug-testing for marathon swims

Last month, the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association (SBCSA) became the first major channel swimming sanctioning body to prohibit swimmers from intentionally drafting off the escort boat. The SBCSA prides itself on its position at the vanguard of protecting the integrity of marathon swimming.

Today we are excited to announce another major step forward in ridding our sport of cheaters.

Starting with our 2013 swim season, the SBCSA will be collaborating with the World Anti-Doping Agency and its counterparts, the USADA and ENGSO, to carry out random testing for prohibited substances. We expect that our fellow channel swimming governing bodies, the CCSF, CS&PF, and CSA, will soon be following suit.

What does this mean? Very simply: When you arrive on the beach at the end of your swim, exhausted, chafed, and possibly jellyfish-stung — you’d better be ready to pee in a cup. We will have personnel there to greet you as you emerge from the surf and escort you to the nearest toilet. No stopping to chat with friends and well-wishers; no posing for pictures; you must proceed directly to the toilet.

A moderate inconvenience, perhaps – but we hope our swimmers understand it is essential to ensuring fairness and a level playing field in our sport.

In the meantime, please familiarize yourself with the WADA List of Prohibited Substances. In this era of increasingly sophisticated cheating schemes, the “I Didn’t Know” defense will not be tolerated. Ignorance is equivalent to guilt. So let’s please avoid any misunderstandings.

Evan Morrison
Chairman of the Rules Committee
Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association

P.S. — April Fools!

Related Post

One year in the life of a marathon swimmers forum

One year (and one week) ago, Donal and I launched the Marathon Swimmers Forum with the following mission statement:

  • To celebrate and promote the sport of marathon swimming.
  • To foster connections and information sharing among the global community of marathon swimmers.
  • To provide an educational resource for aspiring marathon swimmers.

Donal and I are both pretty proud of what’s happened since then. Just by the numbers, 565 confirmed members have contributed 5,437 posts in 400 separate discussion threads. Even better, the quality of the contributions has been gratifyingly high.

To celebrate the Forum’s first birthday, here’s a quick peek at the site analytics:

A Global (yet, to be honest, mostly anglophone) Community

Geographical distribution of visits by city

Geographical distribution by country, full year

Geographical distribution by country, first month
Geographical distribution by country, first month

Everybody Loves a Controversy

Top Threads, as measured by pageviews:

Up and to the… Right!

Site Visits, weekly
Unique Visitors, weekly

Thank you to all who have helped make the Forum such a compelling, informative community this past year.


Take the marathon swimming rules survey

If these discussion threads at the Marathon Swimmers Forum are any indication, marathon swimmers love to argue about rules. This is not surprising; rules define the boundary conditions of our sport, what is and is not a “marathon swim.” The beauty of marathon swimming derives, at least in part, from its purity and asceticism — its prohibitions against things that would make it easier.

Take the survey HERE

Debates and hand-wringing occasionally arise due to a few “local variations” on marathon swimming rules:

  • Neoprene caps are allowed by the Farallon Islands Swimming Federation, out of respect for Stewart Evans and Ted Erikson, who both wore neo caps on their pioneering Farallon swims.
  • In NYC Swim events, swimmers are allowed to exit the water in the event of lightning, and return to the water afterward without disqualification.
  • In Cook Strait swims, swimmers are allowed to exit the water for ten minutes in the event of a shark encounter.
  • Increased-coverage swimsuits (e.g., rash guards and stinger suits) are allowed in Rottnest Channel swims.

Concern trolls sometimes use these variations in an attempt to undermine marathon swimming, or to promote an “anything goes” policy. There may not be any universal set of marathon swimming rules (and I don’t think it makes sense to have one), but there is absolutely a universal spirit, going back to Captain Webb: to swim without artificial assistance.

Technology being what it is, new apparel and devices are always being developed, which are intended to make the act of swimming easier, but which do not specifically violate the rules.

How should we deal with these developments? How to decide whether an item violates the “spirit,” or not?

With these questions in mind, the SBCSA (specifically, Scott Zornig and I) present a community opinion survey on rules in marathon swimming:

(The survey benefited from feedback from Donal Buckley and Rob Dumouchel — thanks guys.)

The spirit of marathon swimming is defined by the “spirit” (and opinions) of marathon swimmers. But to my knowledge, there has never been any systematic study of what marathon swimmers actually think about these issues.

So that’s the motivation behind the survey. Anyone (marathon swimmer or otherwise) is invited to take it, by the way.

In closing, I’d like to quote a Michael Oram email from the Channel Swimmers chat group, which to my mind at least, eloquently captures the “spirit” of the sport:

It has always amazed me how athletes spend such a lot of time trying to stretch the rules and find aids. Channel swimming is a personal competition between the swimmer and the elements. Looking for that extra edge all the time is a negative approach as instead of working within the established parameters you are grasping at straws to get a little more assistance, or confidence.

Once you have started it’s you against the elements; whatever hat you are – or are not wearing.

Related external post:Confused” – by Jamie Patrick, Adventure Swimmer

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.

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).

A movie that deserves to be made

At the SBCSA annual banquet this past weekend, Ben Pitterle and Brian Hall showed a brand-new trailer for their independent documentary film about marathon swimming, DRIVEN. The film features three swims across the Santa Barbara Channel this past summer – including my Santa Cruz Island swim.

See for yourself:

Driven Trailer from Element 8 Productions on Vimeo.

They just started an online fundraising campaign, which will continue for the next 30 days.

THE FUNDRAISING PAGE IS HEREThere are various “perks” available in return for your contributions – including a listing in the closing credits for only $100.

On a personal note…

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog over the past nearly three years – perhaps occasionally to the detriment of my career and personal life. I’ve never made any money from it (just a few affiliate commissions). Indeed, I continuously lose money to web hosting fees.

It’s a labor of love – love for swimming, and love for writing.

Similarly, this film is a labor of love for Ben and Brian. If they end up making any money from it, it probably won’t be much, and certainly paltry compensation for the countless hours they’ve put into it.

And that’s assuming it even gets made – it may not. Filmmaking (especially good filmmaking) is expensive. Ben and Brian are not financed by a studio. They’re not personally wealthy. They are depending on the open-water swimming community to come together and make this happen. It’s the story of three swimmers; but really, it’s all of our stories.

If you’ve ever gotten anything out of this blog – a useful tip, or a moment of inspiration – this is one very meaningful way you can pay it forward. 

I admit, there’s a certain selfish desire to see my swim (a life-changing experience) on the big screen. But Cherie, Fiona, and I are merely vectors for a larger story about an incredible, extreme, yet largely anonymous sport. The story will be told not just by us, but also through interviews with, among others: David Yudovin, Ned Denison, and Steve Munatones.

And the main character isn’t a person, but rather a place – the Santa Barbara Channel, one of the richest and most beautiful marine environments on Earth.

Please consider helping make this film a reality. Even $10 – if contributed by every email and RSS subscriber of this blog – would make a substantial dent in their unmet funding needs.

Thanks for reading.

Related Links

Announcement: The Global Marathon Swimming Awards

Along with my friend, fellow swim-blogger, and Marathon Swimmers Forum co-founder Donal Buckley (of fame), I am excited to announce the first annual Global Marathon Swimming Awards.

As the name suggests, these awards aim to promote and celebrate the sport of marathon swimming – a unique and historic niche within the increasingly vibrant community of Open Water Swimming. Marathon swimmers – just as our founding father Capt. Webb did nearly 140 years ago – swim long distances in open water without artificial aids.

2012 has been an exciting year for our sport. In addition to the second appearance of marathon swimming at the Olympic Games, numerous solo swimmers have done incredible things in ocean channels, lakes, bays, and rivers across the world.

Few, if any groups – online or in the flesh – are in a more knowledgeable and legitimate position to identify and celebrate these achievements than the MARATHONSWIMMERS.ORG community. At nearly 450 members, the Forum counts a sizeable chunk of the world’s currently active marathon swimmers among its members – and many others who will join their ranks in the coming years.

With that in mind, I look forward to the community’s nominations in the following categories:

Any forum member may submit a nomination. If you’re not yet a member, we welcome you to join today!

Five finalists will be selected from among the nominees in each category. The community will then vote in a private survey. We will be taking numerous precautions against vote-rigging and other biases to ensure the legitimacy of the process.

Read Donal’s announcement HERE.