Marathon Swimming

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Marathon Swimming

As per the Marathon Swimmers Federation, a marathon swim is "a nonstop open-water swim, undertaken according to standardized rules, and requiring at least several hours of sustained effort to complete. Ten kilometers without significant assistance from currents is the minimum distance considered to be a marathon swim."  Marathon swims are to be nonstop (remaining in the water on your own power for the entire duration of the swim without intentional physical contact with escort vessels, personnel, or any other objects) and unassisted (without artificial assistance to performance other than a swimsuit, cap, goggles, and channel grease).

Many marathon swimmers belong to the South End Rowing Club and use the Bay as the perfect training ground for especially cold water marathon swims.  We have people join the club from all over the world to help get some cold water training in to successfully complete marathon swims such as the English Channel, North Channel, Tsugaru Strait, and Cooks Strait. Along with the San Francisco Bay's water temperatures averaging between 55F - 58F year-round (getting as low as 47F in the winter), winds pick up in the afternoon helping to stimulate the environment for many of the channels.

Amy Gubser, Kelley Prebil, and Cathy Harrington on the boat ride back after Cathy successfully swam the 10.5 miles across the width of Lake Tahoe, her first marathon swim.

The rules of marathon swimming are based on the local marathon swimming organization that oversees the swims (such as the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation for all Catalina Channel swims).  The original rules were created by the Channel Swimming Association for the English Channel swims.  The Marathon Swimmers Federation authored the Rules of Marathon Swimming that was ratified by the international marathon swimming community as being accepted rules of marathon swimming to be adhered to in open water where there is no local marathon swimming organization.

Club members have successfully completed the following marathon swims:

  • Round-trip Angel Island (Club to and around Angel Island and back to the club)
  • Width of Lake Tahoe
  • Length of Lake Tahoe
  • Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (around Manhattan Island)
  • Catalina Channel (Catalina Island to Mainland and/or Mainland to Catalina Island)
  • Anacapa Channel (Anacapa Island to Mainland)
  • Santa Cruz Channel (Santa Cruz Island to Mainland)
  • Tsugaru Strait (Honshu to Hokkaido)
  • English Channel (England to France)
  • Straits of Gibtaltar (Spain to Morrocco)
  • Cooks Strait (South Island to North Island)
  • Au'au Channel (aka Maui Channel from Maui to Lanai)
  • Pailolo Channel (Molokai to Maui)
  • Kaiwi Channel (aka Molokai Channel from Molokai to Oahu)
  • North Channel (Ireland to Scotland)
  • Monterey Bay (Santa Cruz to Monterey)
  • Farallones to Golden Gate Bridge
  • Farallones to Mainland
History was made in 2015 when club member Kim Chambers became the first woman to swim from the Farallones to the Golden Gate Bridge in 17 hours and 12 minutes, and Team Nadadores Locos, comprosing of six club members (Amy Appelhans Gubser, Kirk McKinney, Les Mangold, John Sims, Jeff Everett, and Andrew McLaughlin), became the first relay team to successfully complete a two-way crossing from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands and back to the Golden Gate Bridge in 34 hours and 54 minutes. In May 2016, Team Nadadores Locos completed the first relay swim across the Monterey Bay from Monterey to Santa Cruz. Chambers is the third woman and sixth person to ever complete the Ocean's Seven.

Other notable marathon swimmers who belong to the club are Rick Barthels, first person to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, Steve Hurwitz, who along with Gary Emich has done over 1000 Alcatraz Island to San Francisco swims, Joe Locke, who holds the record for fastest Farallon Islands to Golden Gate Bridge swim in 13 hours and 58 minutes, and Evan Morrison, who broke the record for fastest Santa Cruz Island to Mainland swim in 9 hours and 47 minutes (Jim McConica beat Evan's record later in more ideal weather conditions). Morrison's Santa Cruz Island swim is featured in Driven, the first marathon swimming documentary ever made. Kristine "Bucko" Buckley successfully swam in the English Channel in 2001 in Force 5 wind conditions and 4-foot waves on the same day that another swimmer attempting The Channel was lost at sea. The other swimmer's body washed up on the shore of Ostenberg, France eight days later. Bucko was awarded "Inspirational Swimmer of the Year" by the Channel Swimming Association that year.

Kristine Buckley is embraced by her crew chief, Sylvia Marino, after her successful Catalina Channel swim.

Many of these swims would not have been successful if it wasn't for the support and guidance of fellow club members. Marathon swimmers are known for being supportive of each other and always offering to help out new and veteran marathon swimmers alike with training, information on feeds, sharing their experiences on the same swim, offering to be support crew, and which support boats to use for marathon swim attempts.  Two of our members, Suzie Dods, and Chris Blakeslee (aka "El Sharko") host a public marathon swimming discussion every year where aspiring marathon swimmers can come learn from fellow marathon swimmers about how to get started.

Interested in trying a marathon swim? Read what some of our accomplished marathon swimmers have to say in our Marathon Swimming Q&A page.

More information about marathon swimming can be found on the Marathon Swimmers Forum website.

Kelley Prebil doing backstroke during her Catalina Channel swim.