SA ice swimmers win coveted global award


Words & Photo: Leap Communications

Four South Africans are among a group of extreme athletes who have won the title of World Open Water Swimming performance of the year for their treacherous 134km relay swim across the icy Bering Strait from Russia to the USA last year.

SA ice swimmers win coveted global award

The four, Toks Viviers, Andrew Chin, Ryan Stramrood and Ram Barkai, were among 66 swimmers and a support team of 55 who braved life-threatening conditions – including dangerously rough seas and a water temperature at times as low as 2°C – to complete the world-first crossing by swimming 24 hours-a-day over six days in August 2013.

The Bering Strait Swim was up against 14 other extreme swims selected by the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) who said the winners’ challenge took place in “the harshest conditions possible” and had comprised many of the world's best ice swimmers from 16 countries.

“The 86km [the actual distance, however due to currents, the swimmers completed 134km] relay was the sport's most dangerous swim of 2013 with large ocean swells, heavy fog, stiff winds, relentless whitecaps, currents, and water temperatures between 2◦C and 8◦C.

“Man versus nature was never more one-sided in a swim that was...always in danger of failure. For their belief in themselves, a commitment to an adventure with life-threatening situations, their ability to withstand six days of the harshest conditions possible, the ...swim is a worthy recipient of the ... award,” said global swimming icon, Steven Munatones, of WOWSA.

The SA relay swimmers wore only Speedo briefs, a silicon cap and goggles. None of the participants wore wetsuits. Until recently, swimming significant distances in sub 5°C temperatures without a wetsuit was largely deemed impossible.

SA team member Ram Barkai, founder of the International Ice Swimming Association – which won WOWSA’s Swimming Offering Award for 2013 – said the challenge had been the most extreme yet due to the lack of sufficient recovery time from near hypothermia between exiting and re-entering the icy water. “It was incredibly physically and mentally challenging,” he said.

Stuart Hopwood Brand President of Speedo SA which provided the SA team’s kit, said the award showed again that SA swimmers were among the best in the world.

“Swimming is fast growing as the best low-impact sport activity for fun, fitness and competition. Extreme swimming is now hugely popular around the world. These four South Africans have taken extreme swimming to new levels and we pay tribute to them and the rest of the team for this remarkable feat and their amazing award.”