With its iconic status, history and symbolism, the 7.2km swim from Robben Island to the mainland at Blouberg is a uniquely South African challenge and remarkably rewarding experience. The unique perspective of Table Mountain that a swimmer gets from the water is unforgettable!
Although the swim is a dream for many, it’s not the distance that is the challenge but rather the low water temperatures which make the swim particularly difficult.
All Robben Island swims are conducted under the auspices of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association (CLDSA) which records and officiates swims in the area. Most swims follow the English Channel rules which state that no wetsuits may be used. A swimming costume, cap and goggles are all that stands between a swimmer and the frigid Atlantic waters. Hence, the biggest threat facing swimmers is hypothermia!
Preparation for a Robben Island swim must include cold water acclimatisation. Regular dips in the cold waters off the Cape coast or swimming through a Joburg winter, in an outside pool, are essential for both body and mind preparation.
Preparation for a Robben Island swim must include cold water acclimatisation. Regular dips in the cold waters off the Cape coast or swimming through a Joburg winter, in an outside pool, are essential for both body and mind preparation. Eating more cake and putting on some weight could also be beneficial, as extra body fat serves as a natural insulation and may prevent hypothermia.
Furthermore, a swimmer must devote time to building up their endurance and swimming technique. Open water swimming requires an efficient stroke with less focus on power from the legs and more focus on maintaining a good rhythm and being comfortable in the water.
What about sharks? Seeing a fin in these grey waters is frightening! More often than not it’s a Cape fur seal coming to investigate. Notwithstanding this, many swims are now carried out using a Shark Shield, a device that emits an electrical wave in water that is supposedly discomforting to sharks!
The swim can be conducted as a solo crossing or as part of a relay team. It can be undertaken independently or one can participate in an organised event such as the annual Freedom Day Swim on 21 April (where a half distance swim is also available).
Distance: +/- 7.2km from Robben Island to Blouberg
Water temp: 11-18 degrees Celcius
Best time of year to swim: between October and May
Biggest challenges: weather (wind, fog), water temperatures
For more information: Big Bay events: www.bigbayevents.co.za and email firstname.lastname@example.org (your are looking at a cost of about R2 500 to do the swim)
Cape Long Distance Swimming Association: www.cldsa.co.za
If you're planning on doing the Robben Island swim, you need to be a technically competent swimmer.
A Swimfast one-on-one video analysis and stroke correction session will give you invaluable insight into your current stroke. It'll give you a visual reference on how to improve your technique and drills designed specifically to correct your weak areas. It's guaranteed to make you swim more efficiently, and will make the time and effort you invest in your swimming training effective, efficient and rewarding.