Road to Antarctica

How does an ordinary guy from the subtropical Canary Islands, who had never swum in waters colder than 18 degrees, become the US Winter Swimming champion in 100 and 200 Freestyle and qualify for the first ever 1 km swim competition in Antarctica with the world’s best ice swimmers? Just believing in it – and training hard for it.

When I started shaping the Continents Seven project at the end of last year, I knew I would have to speed up and become a “cold swimmer” rapidly. I started doing research on Ice and Winter Swimming, and the different bodies regulating this newish, extreme sport internationally. I did not fully understand the differences and boundaries between the International Ice Swimming Association (IISA) and the International Winter Swimming Association (IWSA) (I still don't), but I knew that the IISA was organizing a swim in Antarctica in November 2018 and I was quick to sign up for it.

I was the last swimmer to enter the 2018 batch and I had to show I could do so safely. The first step was to increase my awareness to the reactions of the body to extreme temperatures. Second, I had to experience them by increasing distances and time in waters between 0 and 5 degrees, including the longest events at the USWSA National Championships in February. Lastly, I had to wait for the right conditions to complete the mandatory “Ice KM”, i.e. 1,000 meters in waters under 5 Celsius or 41 Fahrenheit. According to the IISA, only 227 individuals have swum to date an Ice KM and 261 individuals, an Ice Mile to date.

Last Saturday, all planets aligned and I did have the perfect conditions for the Ice KM in my own backyard in New York. It had snowed throughout the week so the water had dropped 1 or 2 degrees, and the day was sunny and the wind, bearable. On top of that, I counted with the priceless help of Jaimie Monahan, an experienced ice swimmer who had just returned from swimming a mile in Antarctica herself, and helped me to set up the course and observed my swim and my recovery. I had a smooth swim and 16 minutes later, I was walking fast towards a hot coffee while trying to control my shivering.

Do not get me wrong – this is no joke, and is probably one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. My arms became numb and I felt I was swimming with huge paddles I could not control. In the second half of the course I started feeling the skin of my toes falling off (luckily that was not true), and when I exited the water, I experienced some extra pain in my private parts – true story. Furthermore, Brighton Beach does not necessarily have the best facilities for a long, cold swim, as there are no saunas or hot tubs around, and the closest restaurant is over a mile away so the recovery was extra hard. The Ice KM in Antarctica will have better facilities, doctors – and competitors around me, so I am now very confident I will be successful in becoming the first Spanish national to ever swim in the waters of Antarctica.

The biggest challenge of preparing the Continents Seven is the flexibility: few days before the Ice KM I was getting fried in the Australian summer. In the next 8 months I will be swimming long (e.g. 58 km in North Dakota); I will be swimming dark (e.g. Catalina Channel during night-time); I will be swimming high (e.g. 3,800 meters in Lake Titicaca); I will be swimming rough (e.g. Bosphorus Cross); I will be swimming fearless (e.g. Robben Island’s sharks); and above all, I will be swimming extreme cold (e.g. Antarctica). And for the avoidance of doubt, all of them without wetsuit or any kind of external support. 

Now that I am qualified to Antarctica, I will "reward" myself with a nice, warmer race in Florida (7-mile circumnavigation of Lido Key), before I travel to Cape Town to tackle my second continent, Africa. As the IISA motto goes, never be scared to dare...