The Elephant in the Room

When you talk to triathletes they usually remind you of how cheap swimming is, when compared to running and especially cycling. The only tools you need are a swimsuit, a cap and some goggles, and you are all set. This is especially true for purist marathon swimmers, who don’t use wetsuits. 

However, traveling around the world to do races in different bodies of water is far from inexpensive. Worse yet, tackling the world’s most famous Channel Swims has become a very lucrative business for some – and a reason to go broke for others. With green lights being weather-dependent, and so many swimmers asking for the opportunity to do these crossings and have their minute of fame within the OWS world, waitlists are growing to 2-3 years, and some organizers do not even bother to answer emails or calls. This has sparked some debate lately, about the need for having ratifying associations at all. 

In most of the popular crossings, a single association manages the swim. In some others (EC, NC, potentially SG), there are conflicting associations but the price does not seem to get any cheaper. And apparently, there is sometimes a secondary market where a swimmer can sell his/her slot for a profit.

We cannot forget that this is an amateur sport. Securing funding or sponsorship is not easy (I’d know!), and the biggest challenge has become finding the money and the time off, rather than preparing for the physical and mental challenge itself. In fact, the money can also create additional tensions in your relationship / family, as you are not only spending most of your free time with your sport, but also some of your money. Or as WSJ brilliantly put it a few years ago, there is a risk that a workout may eat your marriage.

This is the elephant in the room nobody talks about, and in fact, you would not find a table with approx. costs for these swims. Until now:

Triple Crown: $20,000 

- Manhattan Swim (NYOW): The costs of registration plus boat and kayak escort has increased from $2,600 to $3,000 in two years. Add the flights for you and your “second” or “spouse”, and say 3 nights of hotel only, given the window is certain. Total $5,000. 

- English Channel (CSA / CSPF): Any of the 11 qualified pilots will charge you about GBP 3,000, and the CSA itself GBP 375. Add flights & car / train and 6 nights in Dover given the window slot. And add another trip for the 6-hour qualifying swim in waters under 15C. Total $8,000. 

- Catalina Channel (CCSF): Any of the 5 pilots will charge you $2,950 if you are lucky or fast enough to finish it within 9 hours – otherwise, add $275 per hour. Add a kayaker or two, flights and 3 nights of hotel in California. Total $7,000. 

Oceans Seven: $52,000 

- Strait of Gibraltar (ACNEG): E 1,950 for registration and boat support, plus flights and hotel for 6 nights. Total: $4,700. 

- Kaiwi Channel (KCA): $2,400 for registration, $3,800 for the boat and kayaks if you are good enough to complete it within 17 hours. Flights, 6-night hotel. Total: $8,600. 

- Tsugaru Channel (TCSA): Y650,000 for registration and boat support. Add flights, hotel, and trains to the tip of Honshu Island. Total: $9,400 

- North Channel (ILDSA): GBP 3,000 for any of the 3 qualified pilots, GBP 387 for ILDSA/NCSA. Flights, car / train and 6 nights in Douneghadee. 6-hour qualifying swim under 13C. Total $7,900. 

- Cook Strait (CSS): NZD 7,000 for registration and boat support, plus flights and hotel for 6 nights. Total: $6,400. 

Now, if you compare these costs with climbing the Everest, which can be up to $50,000, it does not seem too unreasonable. But if you would like to become an Ocean Sevener, you better prepare a fundraising plan - and make sure that your spouse is onboard!