View Full Version : Major US Open Water Swims

August 21st, 2003, 03:57 PM
I've been wondering about what are the major US Open Water Swims. By major, I mean the largest or the ones that are the single swim that people aim for in their area, oldest, most established, etc. I have a partial list which I think is probably partially correct, but I was wondering what I was missing and what mistakes I had made. And I do know that looking at US swims is provincial and that there are swims in other parts of the world that are larger and older than many of ours.

In California, I would put the La Jolla Roughwater, the Hermosa to Manhattan Pier to Pier, the Santa Cruz Roughwater swims, the DAM Lake Berryessa Swims, the RCP Tiburon Mile and any of the Alcatraz swims as being swims that attract 400 or more competitors and are major swims by any definition.

In Oregon, I think the Elk Lake swims put on by COMA are the largest, most successful swims. In Washington, I think it is the Fat Salmon. In Florida, I think that there is a Tampa Bay 5 K swim in the spring that is the largest. In the midwest, I think the Big Shoulders swim is the premeire event, and in the colonial zone, I think the Chesapeake Bridge Swim is the largest and most prominent. In Hawaii, the Waikiki Roughwater Swim is the main event, I think, in terms of size, age, prestige, etc.

But I was wondering what other people thought. My ulterior motive is partially curiousity and partially a desire to know what the different major swims are so that maybe I can try to swim some of them.

Thanks and I will be curious to see what responses I get, if any.

Bill Volckening
August 21st, 2003, 04:10 PM
Hi Bill,

A couple other swims come to mind: one is the Great Chesapeake swim, and the other is the Atlantic City Pageant swim. I think there is a limit on the number of participants in the Chesapeake swim, but it is a large, challenginng swim from what I've heard. The Pageant swim is usually on Labor Day. It is a one-mile straightaway from the Steel Pier to Pier One, parallel to the beach in Atlantic City. There are usualy several hundred participants in that one, and it's a lot of fun. I've done that one a few times.

I did all of the USMS Open Water Championship swims this summer. All of them were different, and each was great in its own way. I think my favorite was the Elk Lake swim in Bend, Oregon. The Central Oregon Masters really put on a great event, and they always have good food (and beer) afterwards. Having Peggy Whiter's corn salad, Connie Peterson's German potato salad, and the special Bend Brewery Elk Lake IPA fresh on tap is so much nicer than an orange slice and some Gatorade.


August 21st, 2003, 04:29 PM
Thanks Bill. I had meant the Great Chesapeake Swim when I was referring to the Chesapeake Bridge Swim.

I did 3 of the USMS National Championship swims this year, and even though the hosts were great at all of them, I have to agree that the COMA hospitality is hard to beat. Having micro-brew beer named after the lake we were swimming in, and with snowcapped mountains, wow.

No insult intended to Joel Wilson or the Texas organizers who put on great events, and had great hospitality.

August 21st, 2003, 05:01 PM
The Boston Light Swim has been around since early 1900's - 10 miles in Boston Harbor - usually 3rd Saturday in August. Kind of low key but a great accomplishment for the "lower maintenance" swimmer. Just to chime in from the Northeast...

August 21st, 2003, 07:37 PM
Most of these are listed on the USMS LD Calendar:


Manhattan Island
Catalina Channel
Tampa Bay Marathon
Maui Channel
Chesapeake Bay
Big Shoulders
Golden Gate
Snake River
Boston Light
Tahoe Relays
Tempe Town Lake Swim
-anything in NJ, Atlantic City, Oregon or La Jolla
-any of the USMS Natíl LD Championships


English Channel
Cayman Islands
St Croix
Bonaire EcoSwim

Good Open Water links:

www.USMS.org (Long Distance Calendar)

Bill Volckening
August 21st, 2003, 08:14 PM
I have done dozens of open water swims in eleven states, and from my experience, Oregon definitely gets the nod. The funny thing is I don't know if everyone here always realizes how great our swims are. People don't always travel to other places for open water swims, and the Oregon swims have been outstanding for many years. It would be easy to take it for granted, but I certainly don't.

One of the great Oregon open water swimming experiences can be found at Applegate Lake in Southern Oregon. This lake is the site of the 3.5K Open Water Championship next summer, and it was the site of the 10K Open Water Championship a few years ago. The host group, Rogue Valley Masters, is the group that invented the reknowned Oregon post-race feed. They usually have an amazing barbecue with grilled chicken, burgers, grilled veggies, etc. Dan Gray has been one of the ringleaders for years, but I think Greg Frownfelter may have been one of the original instigators.

In Oregon, we have what they call "swim festivals" during the summer open water season. Each host group puts on a weekend series, usually consisting of two or three swims. Series winners often receive beautiful, handmade prizes. This year, COMA had a 500 meter time trial swim and a 1500 meter swim on Saturday, plus the 5k swim on Sunday at Elk Lake. The 1500 also served as the first-ever NW Zone open water Championship, and it actually had more participants than the LC meters Zone meet at Federal Way. The 5K was the USMS 5K Open Water Championship. Overall series winners received beautiful, handmade pottery.

Applegate Lake had a similar series this summer, and the overall male an female winners in the 1500 meter state championship swim received these gorgeous, handmade glazed pottery bowls from Masters swimmer and master potter Frank Phillips.

We have also had fun events, like the dog open water swim at Eel Lake that was featured in SWIM Magazine last year -- and two Dorena Lake swims this summer: one was a kick contest and the other allowed swimmers to wear fins, paddles, etc. I was sorry to miss that one, as it took place the same weekend as Nationals at Rutgers.

Last year, at the Dorena Lake USMS 1-Mile Open Water Championship, a majestic bald eagle flew overhead as the group was receiving pre-race instructions. Of course, everything stopped while we all looked up in awe. Event Director Steve Johnson claimed in jest that he paid for that to happen, and I think some people may have actually believed him.

Whatever the event, it seems like Oregon swims are always attended by a spirited community of open water enthusiasts, and the events are typically held in fantastic venues and accompanied by great parties! Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention the camping. Lots of people camp out at these swims, and there are campfires, s'mores, beer, more beer, and always people wandering around in the morning, looking for coffee, dressed in flannel with sideways hair.

It's all good!
;) Bill

August 22nd, 2003, 07:49 AM
Bill Ireland: What a great question, and a wonderful topic for a thread! I ask myself the same question as I plan my year's training & travel (my main trip out of Zone this year is La Jolla). Some thoughts on the topic:
1. Sure, we can go to the master open water schedule (a huge resource, by the way), but what are the very best, most interesting, most challenging, traditional, classic, most fun, whatever swims listed? I'd like to know what I'm missing so far. We all have a different point of view, so let's get talking. Like any "best of..." list, this can produce the most spirited, controversal, and fun conversation on the Long Distance Discussion site in a while. I challenge anyone here to come up with their best 5 or 10 list, with comments & raves to support their choices!
2. Perhaps we could even parse such lists farther. For example, what are the best short swims (less than 3km), medium swims (3-10km), and long swims (greater than 10km)? Or what are the best salt water or fresh water swims? Personally, I'm not immediately interested in the real long ones--maybe someday--but I'd love to consider some new medium length ones, either salt or fresh.
3. What's happening in each Zone. For example, I know little about the outstanding open water swims in the midwest. Perhaps regional lists would be appropriate too!
4. Time prevents me from doing my list right now (what a copout, right?). I'll be back later with my top picks.

Randy: You've hit the highlights, and many thanks for listing the websites for more info!

Bill V: As Oregon LMSC Long Distance Chair for Oregon I am honored by your comments about Oregon open water swims, and as COMA Coach I am humbled by your kind words about our Cascade Lakes Swim Festival at Elk Lake. Many thanks. But just wait until next year's 10th-anniversary five-swim Festival over 3 days!

Bob Bruce

Leonard Jansen
August 22nd, 2003, 08:18 AM
Three more from the Northeast:
Lake Champlain Swim (8 miles) - Not really a race. More of a "tourist swim."
Swim For Life (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 miles) Chestertown, MD - More of a fundraiser than a race.
Little Red Lighthouse swim, NYC - Not for the faint of heart.


August 22nd, 2003, 09:37 AM
I'll give a shout out for the Boston Light Swim. They claim to be the oldest open water swim in the USA, with the first swimming apparently back in 1908.

It has historically been a small race (around 10 swimmers), and a somewhat local event. This year, a couple of teammates of mine did the swim, and I piloted an escort boat for one of them. Trying to bring things to the 'next level', I setup a web site with real-time GPS tracking of the race from the boat. The web site updated every 60 seconds with our position along the race course, and I also setup a webcam on the boat that updated every 60 seconds.


Official race web site:


2008 will be the 100th anniversary of the Boston Light Swim, so they are looking to ramp up the interest and participation for the swim. You should all come to Boston next summer! (It looks like it will be Sunday, August 1, 2004, 7:00am.)

Up here in the Northeast, I know the Manhattan group does a fabulous job with organizing a number of open water swims around New York City. They very much have their act in gear.


August 22nd, 2003, 01:28 PM
I did the Race for the River in the Hudson River this summer as part of the Manhattan Island Foundation Swim Series. (Someone has already mentioned the Little Red Lighthouse Swim which is also part of this series)

I thought the race was very well organized, fun, etc and would do it again or any other event sponsored by the Foundation in NYC. I have to admit, I was very concerned at first - worried mostly about dead bodies floating in the River and random flotsam and jetsam. It really is an amazing view of NYC (or New Jersey), the water is about as clean as any other open water swim that I have done. And, they give away a lot of nice stuff (and cool prizes). I highly recommend it or any other in the series.

Ken Classen
August 22nd, 2003, 02:15 PM
Check out the Horsetooth Wingshadaw 10K swim in Ft. Collins, CO. www.whswim.com Although this race has only been around 5 years it has been very well organized and run. I have swum the La Jolla Rough water 4-times and Big Shoulders once and although there great races when comes to treating the swimmer as king the Wingshadow team has done an outstanding job. So if your planning to visit Rocky Mountain National Park only about 45 miles from the swim site or you have a kid thinking of going to Colorado State University in Ft. Collins come out and do a 10K at high altitude. FYI - Apparently they are going to bid the race for 2005 USMS 10K Championship. To any committee members who may be reading this thread that review national bids. I know I'm a homer but organizers of this race have really done a great job.www.whswim.com

August 22nd, 2003, 04:30 PM
Ken - thanks, the Horsetooth Wingshadaw is now on my list of swims to do.....

A few ingredients for a good open water swim:

1) BEAUTIFUL LOCATION -best if different from your normal surroundings. Living in Florida I sometimes get bored of looking at palm trees, beaches, and condo's. ( well sometimes... ) In the Around Manhattan Island swim I remember fondly swimming backstroke under the Brooklyn bridge..and again at Yankee Stadium -and I am not a baseball fan! Bill V., along with everyone I've spoken with, speaks highly of the Oregon swims. They also have been put high on my list of swims to do. I hear the scenery is outstanding.

2) GREAT FOOD AND DRINK: Social activities after a swim, sometimes for days are wonderful!

3) Most important in making a great swim are the OPEN WATER SWIMMERS. For some reason these happen to be the most adventuresome, friendly, and "fun to be around" people on the planet. They always have a good attitude and smile on their faces. It is usually a very short period of time before the exhaustion of completing an open water swim disappears and the party begins!

Interested in a November swim in Ft Lauderdale? Check out Bill Korey's "Animal Swim" off Ft Lauderdale Beach. http://www.theanimalswim.com/ It is a fundraiser for the Wildlife Care Center.

Bill Volckening
August 22nd, 2003, 09:53 PM
Check out the photo of the mountain backdrop at Elk Lake -- on page 40 of the July/August SWIM magazine. Another picture from Elk Lake appears on Page 34 of the May/June issue of SWIM. More pictures from the Cascade Lakes swim series appear on the COMA web site at www.comaswim.org

;) Bill

September 24th, 2003, 09:58 AM
I have wanted to do the Snake River & Tahoe swims in the past, but now can't find any information on them on the web. Anyone have that info?


Damage Inc
September 26th, 2003, 01:55 PM
I swam the Alcatraz Sharkfest for the first but not last time this past weekend and had the most fun ever for an open water event. The ferry boat ride out to Alcatraz island is a great way to get started. Jumping off the ferry into the ocean is quite an experience. Once you are in the water you can see the Golden Gate bridge from a unique vantage point: from the waterline while breathing on the right side. We stayed at the hotel that was 5 min walk from the start/finish area which was great. The event is held walking distance to Fishermans Warf and all the fun stuff in that area. Obviously SF is a great vacation spot, and to be able to one of my favorite activities, (open water swims), its a perfect event. I deffinate must go on my list.
Great thread by the way. I started a list for next year through posted sugestions. Thanks

September 27th, 2003, 12:57 PM
If you are interested in the Alcatraz swim, PH Mullen(the literary pride of the Dartmouth Swim Program) wrote an article about this year's Envirosports swim. for Swiminfo.com(http://www.swiminfo.com/lane9/news/5890.asp )--which is up to his usual standards. Worth reading.

December 13th, 2003, 08:37 PM
The 7th Annual 24 Mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim is set for Saturday, April 17, 2004. Entry information is available at www.distancematters.com

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Ron Collins

ph: 727.531.7999

December 24th, 2003, 01:33 PM
How many people normally participate in the earlier-mentioned open water swims? I'm guessing the starts have to be incredible experiences compared to other smaller open water events that I've done. Of all the different sports competitions I've done, nothing compares to the incredible energy of an OWS or tri start.

Also, how do wet suits fit into these events? Again, my OWS experience has just been 1-2 mile races Michigan where I've felt no need for a wet suit, although I've seen a few use them.

What would be considered the open water swim to do in the continental United States, if a person could select only one?

Also, are there any 1-3 mile races in Florida that might be recommended?

Thanks in advance.

February 16th, 2004, 07:53 AM
Add another one-


Labor Day. Sounds like it should be a great swim. I think it is all downstream. Anyone here ever done this swim?

February 16th, 2004, 03:22 PM
Great Thread :)
Just incase a few may think of some Canadian Open WaterSwims:
July 18th, 10km Lake Cowichan, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.
August 7th Skaha Lake 11.8 Ultra Swim in Penticton BC, Canada.
August 13th, 26km Lake Cowichan Marathon Swim.

Lake Cowichan is crystal clear, and warm where you will swim past some prime and pristine, untouched forested shoreline. In the 26km you will begin at the head of the lake, and swim down the lake. The total distance of the lake is 34km, however 26km appeals to more. Great food, and an embroidered vest is one of the souveniers you will recieve with your entry fee.
Skaha Lake is also a warm lake. In this swim you swim from Penticton to Okanagan falls at the other end of the lake. Fantastic food and the Ultra party is excellent.
Wetsuits are not needed in either event, but they are permitted. There are specific catagories for wetsuits and non wetsuits.

Leonard Jansen
February 17th, 2004, 03:38 PM
Originally posted by Perkunas

What would be considered the open water swim to do in the continental United States, if a person could select only one?

Talk about a tough question... here are some candidates in the order that I would rank them (your mileage may vary):

1) Catalina Island to mainland (CA) - One of the world classic swims.
2) Manhattan Island Marathon (NY) - The Circle Line without a motor. 28.5 miles. Serious bragging rights if you finish this.
3) Atlantic City Marathon Swim (NJ) - Another FINA world cup event. Hard to get into unless you are a studmuffin. 21+ miles. Serious bragging rights if you finish this.

In the more human range:
1) Boston Light Swim (MA) - Arguably the oldest OW race in the U.S. 8 - 10 miles (depends on who you believe).
2) Tiburon Mile (CA) - Lots of major talent shows up for this one.
3) Bay Bridge Swim (MD) - 4.4 miles across the Chesapeake with 600 of your closest friends.
4) 10k for the USA (NJ) - A FINA world cup event this year that has a separate master's division.

Of course, there are also things like swims across the various Great Lakes, swimming down the Mississippi, etc.


March 29th, 2004, 01:33 AM
Thanks to everyone's comments, I am going to do some new swims this summer--Ron Collins' Tampa swim(as a relay), and the Boston Lighthouse Swim while trying to find a palatable work-related excuse to do some others this year also. Its really hard to find a good reason why I have to be in Bonaire or St. Croix but I'm still working at it... I'm looking forward to trying to get to some of the others mentioned also in future years.