November 6th, 2013

NZ3 The Kiwi Triple Crown

Oceans Seven has created a massive amount of interest in New Zealand’s contribution to the Oceans Seven; Cook Strait. At present open water swim legend and Cook Strait swim guide guru Philip Rush fields a phenomenal number of inquiries about the swim, I believe he is now taking bookings for 2016 and beyond. Cook Strait is an amazing piece of water, the tides are completely opposite at each end of the strait making currents impossible to accurately model and predict. The weather can best be described as knarly. Every form of wildlife imaginable calls Cook Strait home or at least transits through, you honestly have no idea what you’re going to run into when you’re swimming Cook Strait, therefore to successfully swim it is truly a special achievement, as is any of the Oceans Seven swims. Having said that I believe it is of interest to note some of the other remarkable marathon swims that have been completed in New Zealand and are available to those motivated enough to take them on.

The Cook Strait is named after Captain James Cook , it runs between New Zealands North and South Islands. There is another Strait that Captain Cook passed on his travels in New Zealand only he failed to recognise it was a Strait, originally thinking that New Zealands third most prominent Island, Stewart Island and the South Island of New Zealand were linked. Stewart Island is located below the South Island. Foveaux Strait links the two. Foveaux Strait was discovered by an American, O. F. Smith, while searching for seals in 1804. In March 1806 he passed on the information to the Australian Governor of New South Wales who decided the Strait should be named after Major Joseph Foveaux, who was one of his aides at the time. Foveaux Strait is approximately the same distance as the Cook the Cook Strait at around 16miles/26km and because it is at a greater southern latitude the waters are colder and just as rough, if not rougher, than Cook Strait. It can be a very unforgiving place, between the years 1998 to 2012 there were a total of 23 maritime fatalities in Foveaux Strait.

Marathon swimming Foveaux; John van Leeuwen, a Dutch immigrant living in New Zealand made the first successful crossing of the Foveaux Strait on 7 February 1963 in 13 hours 40 minutes. He left the beach near Bluff at 9:15 am and reached Stewart Island at 10:55 pm. With all the recent day discussion on Jelly fish stings, it is interesting to read what John van Leeuwens had to say about his experience in dealing with jelly fish stings ;.

“I stopped and put in a complaint to the complaints department – Ivan. He got engine oil and smeared it across my mouth. That’s what saved me.

Since that time only 5 other non wetsuit and 1 wetsuit crossing attempt have been successful. The Foveaux is easily as tough as the Cook Strait swim if not tougher.

The third most prominent marathon swim in New Zealand has to be New Zealands largest lake, Lake Taupo. Located in the centre of the North Island. To date 30 successful non wetsuit Taupo swims have been completed . The first recognised swim of Taupo was completed by Margret Sweeny in 1955. In more recent times legendary open water swimmer Philip Rush holds the fastest crossing of this 40.2km swim at 10hours 52.48 and the fastest two way crossing at 23.05.

In my opinion these are the three most challenging marathon swims that New Zealand has to offer – together they make up what I would call New Zealands triple crown. As far as my research indicates no single swimmer is yet to conquer all three. Who will be the first?

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October 1st, 2013

Lessons Learnt


Autumn has arrived in the UK and spring has blossomed in New Zealand. Phases of training will be changing for the open water swimmers in each hemisphere. In the UK it’s almost time to head indoors for a few months of focus on technique and building the fitness ready for next year. In New Zealand it’s time for swimmers to start heading to the open water. Before you change training phases it’s a good time to take stock and to plan your next round of swimming. There are plenty of lessons learnt. Why make mistakes yourself when others have taken the time to make them for you?

UK Winter

Do keep swimming over winter , you’ll reap the benefits from spring. Yes we know lanes can be crowded and the chlorine smells.

-          Make sure you have swim program that includes routine (at least 2 swims a week) and plenty of variation in your swimming; different distances, intensities and rest periods. Even if you are training for an English Channel swim it’s vital to get some repeat sets and pace into your training so that come spring you can maintain a strong open water endurance pace. Don’t just get in a swim.

-          Look online for a masters swim club to train with, the social aspect will help keep it fun and keep you challenged. You will benefit from some coaching and everyone in the lane will be doing the same thing – far less interruption or chance of lane rage.

-          Get a chlorine neutralising product such as

If you’re a wetsuit swimmer check it for nicks and scrapes , we all get small cuts or tears in our wetsuit. Keep the suit best condition by repairing  . Or better yet check with your wetsuit dealer for deals or specials on last seasons range. There can be some great deals on last seasons wetsuits.

Southern Hemipshere

Congratulations another winter is coming to an end. Check the gear before hitting the water. Swim outdoors sooner rather than later and get used to the water temps. You’ll feel and appreciate the water temperature increase and mid-summer open water temps will feel good. Don’t just start swim open water at one pace for a set period of time. Your body will adjust and you’ll plateau. Continue to vary your training. Perhaps do one group open water swim each week   If you’re nervous about open water swimming or think you need some help to get faster or more efficient , get some expert advice; If you’re a triathlete and prefer the bike and run, don’t just train bike and run; put some time into the swim training now! Do not wait until 4 weeks until the event and then panic. I have said it before … Race day is not the time to figure out that your wetsuit doesn’t fit right, you can’t swim in a straight line or you feel uncomfortable not being able to touch the bottom.


Safety – Be familiar with your open water swim location. Don’t swim alone.  Don’t just think everything will be OK. Who knows where and when you are swimming and when you’ll be back? Wear a swim cap, to help keep the heat it and so you are visible in the water. Find a local swim group, just search online and you’ll find cool swim groups like this

Goggles – always have two pair. Be comfortable with both. Ideally a tinted or dark pair for sunny days and a yellow , blue or clear lense pair for cloudy days.

In New Zealand I will be training swimmers specifically for our main events … a  or

NZ State Ocean Swim Series

Epic Swim

Lake Hood


For all swimmers there are three skill sets you should always be developing; technique, fitness and your open water swim skills. Think about what work you will be doing in each category and when. For example open water swim skills; the fastest way to the finish line is a straight line. It’s also the hardest line to swim. Practice sighting in open water or in the pool. Get your head up regularly. Don’t know what I’m talking about …

And finally you are much more likely to do well at your training and your chosen swim event if you are having FUN. Make sure you do, it’s ultimately what it should be all about !

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September 18th, 2013



Let’s start with some clarification: I do not consider myself a marathon swim expert. I have a reasonable amount of experience in many different forms of swimming. I do love swimming.  Any kind of swimming.  I have been involved in swimming my entire life. I enjoy sharing my swim knowledge.  I enjoy seeing people achieve their swim goals. I enjoy learning from other swimmers and coaches alike. Hearing about others swim experiences and different perspectives on swim technique and performance is part of the learning process.  I don’t care if you swim in a costume, in a wetsuit, want to learn to swim, swim a mile on the ocean or conquer a channel or two. To me it’s all swimming and swimming is cool.


Last week ITV called me up for an ‘expert opinion’.  I am not sure why they called me or how they got my number.  I know there is a lot I do know and far more I don’t know. I’d prefer to share my opinion with those that care about the sport – the swimmers.  The growth of open water swimming in the last 5 years has been terrific. It’s exciting. The number of global open water swim events of all kinds has exploded. There are currently four swimmers who have completed the amazing Oceans 7 and a number look soon to complete this epic swim challenge.  Each week there are more and more swimmers completing their first ever open water challenge. All are amazing, remarkable achievements. Achievements that deserved to be celebrated.  Recently Diana Nyad completed her Cuba to Florida swim. I was gob smacked. This was her 5th attempt. Such tenacity. Such drive. Truly impressive perhaps fanatical drive for her to put so much into such a swim. I don’t think many of us would go past two attempts, let alone three or four, certainly not five.  Diana deserves to be recognised for this swim, it is truly remarkable.  It has been fascinating following the post swim media after Diana’s swim. Diana clearly has a huge team in place and works hard at publicity. Not all the publicity following her swim has been complimentary (most was) however a number of swimmers have asked questions about specifics of the swim. When a person places themselves firmly in the public spotlight such as Diana Nyad you must be aware that you actions will be open to question, sometimes critical questions, just as much as you will receive compliments and praise. Surely in this day and age this would not come as a surprise to anyone?


I for one was a little curious after Diana completed her swim. There was a part of her blog that indicated she had not eaten for 8 hours, wow.  Also following one of her previous attempts I believe I saw an online picture of her on her support boat taken during the swim. I understood she subsequently got back in and carried on. I have no problem with this however the media releases during the swim made no indication a rest (for whatever reason) was taking place. For these two reasons I needed to hear proof that Diana had actually swum this distance. I’m now very happy that she has – wow. Amazing.  I read today in the Miami Herald that Diana will be claiming her swim as unassisted. In the same article it states that team members helped her put on her ‘stinger suit’ as well as helping to duct tape gloves and booties on wrists and ankles each evening during the swim. The article also quotes Diana as saying ‘I don’t want the record if they are going to call it assisted because that is the equivalent of swimming in fins or a shark cage’ . I would argue yes and no to this.  What is the definition of ‘Assist’? ‘To give help or support to’ OR ‘The action of helping someone with a task’.  Diana you are amazing, the swim is mind blowing. I don’t care about rules one iota but you definitely did have some help. Let me put it to you like this. My mum turns 70 next year. Let’s say she decides to swim Cuba to Florida … naked and with no support boat at all. I think I could accurately describe this as a naked unassisted swim. If Dianas swim is also listed as ‘unassisted’ any unassuming person would think the only difference between Diana’s swim and my mums is the lack of clothing. For Diana to complete this swim she required minimal help, but she did receive some help just the same. I think we are all very clear she did not wear fins nor did she swim in a shark cage. But I think it’s also important that we leave the ‘unassisted’ description clear for the person who swims it for the first time without receiving any direct assistance. To put it differently the assistance provided from a support boat is a grey area but for me it becomes black and white when support crew are physically touching you to help you with a task – you are receiving assistance. It does not need to about propelling you forward; assistance in direct form does reduce workload.

I don’t believe we need further governance or rules in open water swimming to make this clarification when common sense can easily allow us to make a distinction. Fair enough?  Finally my hat is off and I am in awe of Diana’s amazing achievement. Well done.


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September 8th, 2013

RealSwim Adventures

Queen Charlotte Sound

Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand are extraordinary swimming experiences in the beautiful waters of New Zealand and the Cook Islands. Our swim locations are surrounded by some of the world’s most breath taking scenery.

A lifetime of conventional swimming inspired swim coach Dan Abel to create a swim experience like no other; ‘I have coached hundreds of swimmers both in the pool and the open water. Many swimmers love competition but for a large majority, the swim experience is much more than a finish line and a finisher’s medal. I wanted to create swim activities that are not just about swimming as fast as you can or beating the person next to you.’

RealSwim Adventures is about experiencing and enjoying the open water. The playground is the water; The RealSwim Adventures concept is based on the belief that swimming, even when learning or training, should be fun both in and out of the water. Sharing food or drink afterwards deepens the sense of reward and pleasure from the swim experience.Aitutaki

RealSwim Adventures has assembled an amazing line up of renowned swimming and triathlon experts including;   wim coach Dan Abel, Open Water legend Philip Rush, Ex Olympic swimmer and Olympic Swim Coach Brett Naylor, Former Ironman World Champion Scott Molina and triple Olympic swimmer Helen Norfolk.

Aitutaki - Paradise

Whether it’s a relaxing swim around an amazing reef in warm tropical clear waters, taking on the challenging Cook Strait or preparing for a triathlon, we craft the perfect blend of coaching and adventure.

Come and join us on a RealSwim Adventure of a lifetime

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August 24th, 2013

Swim Yoga

Ellie working her magic

Body position, flow, breathing, relaxed yet controlled awareness of body and mind … am I talking about yoga or swimming? The reality is I could be talking about either. After decades of swimming , poor posture and some brief experiences with yoga I finally have a season, routine , means and motivation to dedicate some proper  time to yoga.  For the past two months I have been attending yoga sessions 2-3 times a week. After a month I noticed changes. Years of swimming and shoulder and chest development had pulled my shoulders forward and down, my spine is rounded more than most, even still I had not realized how much I looked down rather than forward when I walked. After just a month I noticed how my walk had changed I was looking up rather than at my feet and seeing the world from a whole new perspective. My spine feels long and my body feels much more comfortable. I have found the yoga sessions complement the smooth rhythm required of swimming along with the requirement for control of breath.

As a guy attending yoga for the first time can be intimidating, most classes seem to be predominately female. The moves take some time to learn and girls generally have a far greater range of motion than the guys. But give it time and the moves do start to flow even when you are as uncoordinated as me. I have also been lucky in South West London to have an inspirational teacher, Ellie. Ellie took the time to introduce herself to me at my first class as she does with every single new student. She explains that in her yoga class there are no wrong moves, it’s all part of a learning journey.  I have found the classes have helped me find calm outside of my busy life and away from the pool, my muscles feel more limber, long and loose and my shoulder blades are getting drawn together for the first time in a long time improving my posture and comfort tremendously. If you are looking for a great complement to your swimming give yoga a try. And if you are in South West London and are looking for a great instructor send Ellie an e-mail   She teaches classes all over SW London and teaches private lesson too and best of all she’ll be relating yoga moves to swimming throughout the class so you won’t miss a beat.

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August 22nd, 2013

Is drafting over-rated?

Simon Griffiths Editor of published a blog post titled ‘Is drafting over-rated’. The full script is below … and below that is my response.

Elite swimmers race in packs for a simple reason. If you swim behind and to the side of another swimmer, or directly behind them, you can swim faster for less effort. There’s no doubt that drafting can help you swim quicker but, in an open water event, should our default position be to swim in someone else’s wake?

I think, not necessarily.

The major benefit of drafting is that you can swim faster than your regular pace, or you can maintain your regular pace with less effort. If you trust the person in front to follow the correct swim route, you may also get away with sighting less.

Is drafting over-rated

If you’re in a race and you’re after the prize money or prestige that comes with a fast time or good finishing position, by all means go ahead and draft, and swim faster. Likewise, if you’re in a triathlon and your finishing position is important (isn’t it always in triathlon) then stick on someone’s feet and conserve energy for the bike and run.

But, as open water swimmers, it’s possible we might have other goals than a fast finishing time, like having a pleasant swim or enjoying our surroundings, and drafting can spoil that for you. Here are some other reasons why drafting might not be for you.

  • Drafting well is a skill, and like most skills has to be learnt and practised. There may be other things you’d rather spend your precious time in the water doing.
  • Drafting is hard work. Yes, you can swim faster but you have to stay mentally alert and focused to maintain your position. You tend to swim in rougher water and you may have to fight to defend your position against other people that want your drafting spot. It’s also harder to see where you’re going and know where you are.
  • You can swallow a lot more water than when swimming in clear water
  • Your pace is determined by those in front of you so you lose your choice. You will also waste energy keeping up with pace changes.
  • You are more likely to be kicked, punched, scratched of swum over, even if nobody is intentionally trying to hurt you.
  • The person leading you may suddenly veer to one side or the other. If you’re swimming to the side they turn to you may get hit. If you’re swimming behind you have to choice whether to hold your line or follow their weaving, often without knowing why they’re changing direction.
  • At a turn you can be forced into taking a much wider line than you’d like to, or you can be squeezed into a corner.
  • You often can’t maintain your natural rhythm or stroke rate. This might just be annoying or uncomfortable, or it might exhaust you.
  • It annoys the person in front, especially if you keep tapping their toes.
  • If you’re swimming in very rough water then the waves can throw you about a bit. You might be better off giving yourself a bit more space to avoid being flung into another swimmer.

The main point, I guess, is that if you’re swimming for pleasure or personal challenge rather than speed and medals, then drafting might not be for you. However, a lot of people, perhaps who’ve spent a lot of time reading triathlon publications, or who have come from a triathlon background, seem to adopt drafting as a default in open water swimming. It is possible for the majority of people to complete the distance without being dragged along by someone else, so why make your swim less pleasant for the sake of a few seconds or a slightly lower number against your name on the finishers list?

The other thing that annoys: if you go to a lake where swimming is organised – i.e. you pay money and there is a course marked out to follow – why do complete strangers start swimming on your feet? If you want to practise drafting, do it with your friends or training buddies rather than someone you don’t know.

FitandAbel’s Dan Abel responds

Hi Simon,

Is drafting over-rated? My answer is unequivocally No.

In our swim coaching sessions we talk about an ‘open water swimming tool kit’. It’s a figurative rather than literal toolkit. Its contents are open water swim skills; being able to breath both sides, ability to relaxed in rough water, comfort with natural water temperatures, being able to sight and navigate and being able to draft. The more tools in your tool kit the better equipped you are to deal with the varying conditions confronted when open water swimming. 

We are in agreement – the major benefit of drafting is being able to hold a faster pace or being able to maintain a pace with less energy expenditure. However that is not the only benefit of drafting. Drafting is an open water skill. Practicing and refining your drafting skills is part of becoming more adept at open water swimming. Swimming in proximity to other people and non-aggressive body contact is a large part of open water swimming.

Many of the reasons you list in your blog for not drafting are experiences a swimmer would have if they are not adept at this skill; eg

-          Drafting is hard work  It shouldn’t be, It can actually be a great time to relax and chill out

-          You are more likely to be kicked, punched or swum over Truly? Or you are more likely to leave the pack behind?

-          You can’t often maintain your natural stroke  This is inexperience , plain and simple

-          It annoys the person in front especially if you keep tapping on toes Generally they will only get annoyed if they are also inexperienced. Learning to ignore body contact and focus on your swim is a key skill.

A large proportion of swimmers come to our coaching sessions because they want to be faster, more efficient and more competent in open water. Like get used to biking in a pack when road cycling , learning to swim in proximity to others and understanding the benefits of drafting and how to properly draft are essential open water skills. Drafting teaches swimmers how to conserve energy, it teaches them how to swim in proximity to others. Many new swimmers get annoyed at having their feet touched or at any body contact what so ever in open water swimming. We don’t have lane lines in open water. One of the hardest things to do is to swim a straight line. You may be swimming slightly left, I may be swimming slightly right of track. We may accidentally have some contact. It happens. Or I may be drafting you, I may touch your toes either accidentally or to ensure I am in the pocket OR to let you know I’m drafting (maybe we could take turns and leave the pack for dust?) . If you have trained for and are experienced in these situations you are more likely to cope, less likely to be annoyed or distracted and therefore you are more likely to perform better and enjoy your swim more.

No you do not have to draft but Yes you should most certainly practice and learn how to draft properly. Drafting can make you faster and more efficient. It will most certainly make you a  more confident and competent open water swimmer.


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