Open Water Swimmer Takes to the Sea for a Good Cause

Open water swimmer Sigurgeir Svanbergsson took to the sea on Friday for a good cause. RÚV reports that the self-trained sea swimming enthusiast set out on his odyssey from the Westman Islands to Landeyjasandur on the mainland at 3:45 pm and was expected to complete the 12-km [7.5 mi] journey in five to six hours, arriving between 9:00 and 10:00 pm.

Sigurgeir is swimming on behalf of Save the Children Iceland. (Donate here.) All the money he collects for his monumental undertaking will be donated. He considers this a truly pressing issue, noting that one in every six children in the world—or 450 million total—live in conflict zones, which is a 5% increase from last year.

Synt frá Vestmannaeyjum, FB

‘I always have to go a little further and try something a little harder’

This isn’t Sigurgeir’s first open water plunge—nor his first for charity—although he is still relatively new to the pursuit. Last year, with very little prior swimming experience, he swam across Kollafjörður from Kjalarnes to Reykjavík. (In that instance, he swam for Unique Children in Iceland, a support group for children with rare diseases.)

Sea swimming was a pursuit he took up during the COVID lockdown years, unable to practice or compete in his first sport, Lethwei, a particularly strenuous, full-contact form of boxing practiced in Myanmar. “I was supposed to be competing in the world championship, but COVID spoiled that. […] So I had to find something else to do.” Sigurgeir had no particular background in swimming and had only really practiced when he was in school. But that was part of the appeal for him. “I’m really interested in putting myself in situations that are really challenging. It’s so interesting to see where your head goes when you find yourself in a situation that’s actually kind of impossible.”

And he learned a lot during the course of that first journey, even if it wasn’t all smooth swimming. “It went well, I finished it, but with all kinds of complications,” he recalled in a recent radio interview. For one thing, the engine went out on his escort boat and Sigurgeir ended up having to swim around it for an hour and a half while he waited for a new one. During that break, the currents in the fjord changed direction and so Sigurgeir had to complete his journey swimming against a strong current. The swim took nine hours.

“It was hard and I almost failed,” he said. “But then I always have to go a little further and try something a little harder.”

Synt frá Vestmannaeyjum, FB

 Learning from experience

Sigurgeir has certainly found something “a little harder” with his current swim. The distance of the Kollafjörður swim was just the same, 12 km, but the swim from the Westman Islands will be much more difficult. “So, this is the open sea, of course,” Sigurgeir noted. “I really have no idea what I’m getting into, in a way.”

He’s learned from previous experience, however, and in addition to training extensively in advance of Friday’s swim—both physical preparation in the form of cold training and mental preparation for better stress management—Sigurgeir has made some adjustments. He said he’d be more mindful of the change currents and planned to bring a kayak with him where he could eat mid-swim. He was also going to practice better feeding methods. Sigurgeir said he didn’t do this very well last year and as a result, ended up vomiting for the last three hours of his swim. “There was actually a trail of vomit behind me the whole way.”

Outlook good

At time of writing, Sigurgeir hadn’t completed his swim from the Westmans to Iceland’s mainland, but the conditions were good when he set out. The currents were favourable, and the weather on Heimey, the only inhabited island in the Westmans from where he set out, was good: 10°C [50°F], with just a slight breeze, a bit of fog, and scattered showers.

Sigurgeir was in high spirits before setting out on Friday afternoon, saying: “In the first place, I just think it’s exciting. Just such an exciting idea to give this a try. And then there’s a good cause, too.”

Check Sigurgeir’s Facebook page, Synt frá Vestmannaeyjum (‘Swam from the Westman Islands’), to see how his saga ended on Friday night.

Six Icelandic Women Complete Relay Swim Across English Channel

The group was ready for their swim across the English Channel

Sea swimming group Bárurnar (the Waves) reached the coast of France yesterday after completing their relay swim across the English Channel. The trip took the six women 16 hours and four minutes in total, and its last part was against the clock and in choppy waters, as the weather was turning.

Bárurnar consists of Guðmunda Elíasdóttir, Elsa Valsdóttir, Sigríður Lárusdóttir, Harpa leifsdóttir, Jórunn Atladóttir, and Bjarnþóra Egilsdóttir. “We are just regular women, mothers and grandmothers,” Guðmunda told Iceland Review. “We’re no athletes or elite swimmers, just a group of middle-aged women.” While the idea to swim across the English Channel was first sparked some years ago, the group only started regular training last autumn.

Elín Laxdal

“Some of us had a solid background in swimming,” Guðmunda noted. “While others were just starting to learn the front crawl stroke in August of last year!” Being regular women with regular lives, the group has its ups and downs, and last year, during preparations for the swim, one of its members got an ostomy bag. She did not let it interrupt her practices and became the first ostomate to cross the Channel. The group also includes two surgeons. With their relay swim, they want to raise awareness for the condition, inviting those who followed their travails to support the Icelandic Ostomy Association.

The shortest distance between the coasts of the UK and France is 34 km, but their route was a little longer as they had to swim with the heavy Channel currents amid high waves. The women swam 54 km in total, taking turns swimming for an hour at a time.

The group had its doubts about whether they would set off for their swim yesterday morning due to the bad weather forecast and their accompanying boat captain’s pessimism. Still, as it was the only feasible day in the seven-day window they had planned, they set off anyway. The six swimmers took turns swimming for one hour at a time while the other five tried to keep warm in the boat. The temperature of the water was about 13.5°c.

via Facebook. There were smiles all around the boat when the last swimmer made her way onto the rocky french coast.

Hypothermia on the Rise at Reykjavík Beach as Winter Sets In

As winter sets in around Iceland, hypothermia is becoming increasingly common among open-water swimmers at the Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach in Reykjavík, according to Department Head Óttarr Hrafnkelsson.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Hrafnkelsson implored patrons to exercise caution and good judgment. Exhaustion and hypothermia among patrons have put a significant strain on Nauthólsvík’s staff (as many as four patrons in one day have suffered exhaustion from swimming in the frigid waters, Mbl reports).

In his announcement, Hrafnkelsson advised amateur swimmers to stay close to land in order to ensure safe passage from water.

“The Geothermal Beach is a bathing place. Our job is to maintain a sanitary and safe environment: a hot tub, a steam bath, toilets, showers, and a locker room. It is worth pointing out that none of our employees’ job description involves rescuing swimmers struggling at sea. Besides, when the water is four-degrees or colder, swimming with another person to land is nothing short of impossible.”

The Nauthólsvík beach was opened in 2001 and it attracts over 500,000 guests annually. Over the years, open-water swimming has become increasingly popular among patrons of the beach (and Icelanders generally). The temperature of the ocean varies from around -1,9°C during the coldest winter months and around 17°C in the summer.

What Doesn’t Kill You…

I’m outside looking at the wild sea at Nauthólsvík beach. It’s noon on a Wednesday, and despite the winter sun and the scarf, hat, winter coat, mittens and wool underwear I have on, I’m freezing. The temperature is 1 degree Celsius, which the astute reader will note is the least amount of positive degrees possible. This is not good, I’m thinking. See, I’m here to partake in sea swimming, a tradition that many people practise here at Nauthólsvík up to six times a week. But I also want to live to tell the tale.

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