SA ice swimmers conquer Antarctica


Words & photo: Leap communications

In a world first, three South African extreme swimmers have conquered a gruelling “ice mile” in treacherous Antarctic waters, while three others completed between one and 1.5km in sea temperatures between 0 and -1°C.

Photo credit: Leap communications

Ryan Stramrood, 40, Gavin Pike, 47 and Toks Viviers, 51, swam a mile wearing only Speedo costumes, caps and goggles in what is believed to be one of the most extreme swimming feats undertaken, with the official water temperature measuring -1°C.

Their teammates, Kieron Palframan, 40, swam 1.55km, Ram Barkai, 56, completed 1.2km and Andrew Chin, 45, swam 1km in O°C water and followed closely by a curious, but potentially deadly, Leopard Seal. The six were among 180 passengers who spent 13 days aboard the cruiser, Ocean Diamond, which sailed from Ushuaia across the notoriously rough Drake Passage to the Antarctic Circle, 68°S. There, the six planned to undertake the most southerly ocean extreme swim.

Barkai explained that “a very tight schedule, 50 knot winds, massive swell and water temperatures below 0°C rendered our initial attempts impossible.” The ship then headed back to Neko Harbour at 64°S, a tiny bay, surrounded by glaciers and icebergs.

There, for logistical and safety reasons, only three of the team: Barkai, Stramrood and Palframan, undertook the first attempt in an ocean measuring just below 0°C.

Stramrood completed the mile (1650m) in 31:30 minutes, while Barkai completed 1200m and Palframan was pulled out after 1550m (100m short of a mile), suffering from hypothermia.

Later that day, the second team of Viviers and Pike completed their mile, also in -1°C, at Paradise Island while Chin set his goal at 1000m which he also accomplished.

Speaking on behalf of the team, Stramrood said “that it was an unbelievably tough and frighten challenge. I am elated and humbled by what now seems like a surreal experience. We feel privileged to have had the opportunity to swim in such an extreme, yet beautiful setting which is facing environmental threats on so many fronts”.

Speedo SA Brand President Stuart Hopwood said: “This is an incredible testament to the triumph of the body and mind over what are considered ‘impossible’ odds. It’s yet another amazing feat by South African swimmers who continue to astound the world with incredible accomplishments.”