From across the globe open water enthusiasts signed up to the Longest Swim on the Longest Day, committing themselves, their friends and families to swim outdoors on or around the 21st June. Not all the swims went to plan, but it brought swimmers together whilst we having to be apart.
For the first half of 2021 we needed something to distract us from our countrywide lockdowns and to encourage us to go outdoors and swim, all weathers, even when our motivation was waning. We didn’t need reminding how much outdoor swimming has helped us through this most difficult of periods, often finding new friends along the way; however, we did need something to unite us as a swimming community, having been denied swim gatherings for so long.
The Longest Swim on the Longest Day, The Outdoor Swimming Society’s new virtual event, did just that. From over 20 different countries across the globe open water enthusiasts signed up and committed themselves, friends and families to swim outdoors on or around their 21st June. Participants poured over maps, concocted swim plans, bought new kit, met in pairs to train, or saw it as a reason to plot a personal swim journey after recovering from a spate of ill health.
The weather was not, in the main, very midsummery – heavy rain, thunderstorms and tornados were among the prompts for last minute changes of swim plans. In Seattle a group doing four ocean swims had to quickly change destinations due to a bay-wide influx of Lion’s Mane jellyfish, while in Switzerland they had to dodge crop spraying farmers.
“A crazy explosion of lion’s mane jellyfish throughout the Puget Sound meant a complete change of route at the very last minute from multiple salt water beaches to four beautiful freshwater lakes. A half dozen of us swam in all four, others joined us as their schedule allowed” – Karen, who swam 4.9km, from Seattle, USA.
Participants came from 21 countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Jersey, Lithuania, Northern Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, USA and Wales.
Over 700 adults and children, from 21 countries around the globe, took part in the Longest Swim. It may have been their longest day or it may have been their shortest, or somewhere near the equator where day and night are more balanced. We originally saw this as a Northern Hemisphere thing, for it’s pilot year, but our Southern Hemisphere participants told us that to qualify for the longest swim all that mattered was a passion for open water and a desire to swim outdoors and observe the moment together.
“Our plan was to follow the western shoreline of Bedwell Bay to Jug Island Beach…and then retrace our route back. The water was perfectly calm, and the dropping tide pulled us up the bay as we quietly swam past boats moored off the steep granite cliffs dripping with the flowers of midsummer. Soon our paddle boarder entourage caught up and accompanied us past curious seals, over eelgrass beds, through sandy narrows dotted with ochre sea stars…” – Brian and three friends swam 4.7km, from British Columbia, Canada.
The types of swims were adventurous, ambitious, fun loving and flexible. Every longest swim was personal – some people took part to mark their new open water lifestyle, having been driven outdoors to swim because of pool closures in 2020 and 2021. Others wanted an adventure to celebrate new swimming friendships or an excuse to get the family outdoors to hike, kayak or have a BBQ.
There was the journey of the lone swimmer, their desire to set personal swimming goals, such as to swim in four lakes in one day in Washington State, USA, or to swim 5km in lengths at a lido in London, England. One swim is still to come: Adam Moss is planning a 65km long swim on 4th July as travel restrictions in Sri Lanka did not permit him to do it on the Longest Day.
The Longest Swim Log Book 2021 records participants swimming as part of a longer swimming journey, such as those who are swimming around the Anglesea peninsular in Wales. Other records include: hiking up a mountain and using ropes to reach a pool in Norway. There was a 9 °c cold water swim in a Canadian glacial lake and a 32 °c reef swim in the United Arab Emirates.
“Met my motley bunch of boys for the first time. Off they went and hell no was I being left behind! One swam left, one swam right and the rest swam straight up the middle. Regrouped at the 3.5k mark to be told ‘Geez, you still with us luv!’” – Tiffany swam 5.1km in Lake Aegeri, Switzerland.
In the northern hemisphere there were warm 4.30am sunrise gatherings, rainy mid-afternoon dips, round island family swims and swims ending in a boat pick-up and cocktails. From Australia came 4.5km winter sea swims. From Sweden came a 1.3km river swim in an effort to overcome a fear of swimming in fish-filled water. From England came a Fathers’ Day swim in the River Avon to remember those who have passed. From Scotland came a family swim at Portobello Beach including a 79 year old mum. Participants swam within unfit bodies in the sea chasing their more swim-fit buddies, with their children or with their dogs and they swam with a family support crew of kayakers and paddle boarders in tow.
“Off we trudged, maps in arms, safety gear in tow and dog at the ready. The swim-venture went perfectly. Buttermere was awesome, the water was calm and the day dry,” – Frances swam 6.5km in the Lake District, England.
“I began my swim in Paradox Lake, an idyllic lake ringed with pine trees in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State. My goal was 6500 yards…I chose the number to celebrate my age (minus a few zeroes),” – Sally, who double dipped and finished her longest day swim in her favourite outdoor pool in New York State, USA.
The Longest Swim on the Longest Day was about more than swimming, it was about our being with others, sharing the joy and frustrations of open water swimming, being challenged and motivated (or lack of it) and responding to last minute changes in weather and water conditions. On or around 21st June we swam in the sunshine, we dipped in a storm, we were in the water for the longest time, or three times, or between school runs – what mattered is that we swam.
“…we both realized that this was becoming what I call a “meditative swim”. The feeling of the water directly on the skin, looking at the curling waves and the shadows of the clouds, feeling the waves in the face, finding the right breathing pace according to the crawl stroke,” – Tanya with new ‘pandemic’ swim buddy, Anja, who swam 2.6km, Heiliger See, Potsdam, Germany.
“After finishing a long and tiring day at work, me and a friend packed up our kit bags and loaded them into the car. After a winding drive through unknown back roads we arrived with the sun peeking behind the clouds. Hesitantly we dipped our toes after donning our wetsuits and committed to a swim,” – Iain, 1.5k, Dumbroch Lock, Glasgow, Scotland.
This Longest Swim on the Longest Day was an event fundraiser for The Outdoor Swimming Society and Project Seagrass. Thank you to everyone who supported it. Your donations will support the work of both organisations, helping The OSS (which does not charge for membership) keep our information service, website, emails and social channels running, and the insurers paid.
On the evening of midsummer’s day in the UK, we ran a webinar, a virtual Global Pool Party to share our love of outdoor swimming. The webinar was hosted by British Adventurer Al Humphreys who spoke to actor Joanna Scanlan, The OSS founder Kate Rew, broadcaster Calum Maclean, cold water doctor Mark Harper and Director of Project Seagrass Ben Jones about their longest swims. We heard from long distance swimmers Vicki Watson and Paul Smith, and other Longest Swim participants.
The Longest Swim Log Book 2021 is for all participants. As part of the Log Book entry we ran a story competition with event sponsors Alpkit and Red Original.
Hundreds of you submitted your longest swim stories to the competition. Thank you to everyone who took the time to entertain us with their warm-hearted tales. We are delighted to announce that the following people have won the following prizes:
Read the six winning longest swim stories here
Thank you to all of the Longest Swim participants who signed-up and have so generously shared their poems, videos, photos and swim stories, who also took part in our Global Pool Party webinar and completed the Log Book.
A huge thank you to our Global Pool Party contributors: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Ben Jones, Mark Harper, Calum Maclean, Alice Peyredieu, Rob Savin, Joanna Scanlan, Paul Smith and Vicki Watson.
Finally, thank you to our Longest Swim partners Alpkit, Red Original and Fuel ReFuel PR, you encourage us to remain ambitious with our events and activities and we truly appreciate your ongoing support.
The Longest Swim on the Longest Day 2021 was supported by: