Five of the Toughest Swims in the World

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One of the best things about swimming are the massive fitness benefits you gain from regularly doing it. As we go swimming we also have the natural tendency to challenge ourselves, looking to complete more and more lengths of the pool each time.

Although most people tend to stick to challenging themselves in the pool, some take things one step further and attempt open-water swimming. Some take it even further than that and try one of these five incredible feats of endurance.

Where are the five hardest places to swim?

English Channel

The English Channel is the body of water which separates Southern England from Northern France, the shortest route across being a marathon 21-miles. As part of the Atlantic Ocean and famed for its rough currents, the Channel is a common challenge for swimmers looking for the ultimate challenge of endurance.

Matthew Webb was the first person to cross the English Channel in 1875, and 80 people failed the challenge before William Burgess became the second person to make the crossing 36 years later. Since then, over 1,700 people have completed the challenge of swimming the English Channel, with its popularity being such that you are placed on a 3-year waiting list when applying to attempt the swim.

Particularly famous for rough currents which take swimmers off course, one swimmer was once forced to take a 65-mile route across rather than her planned 21-mile journey.

North Channel

Sticking with bodies of water around the UK, the 21-mile North Channel which features heavy seas, cold weather, extremely strong currents and masses of jellyfish is famous for being one of the toughest swims in the world.

The North Channel swim was first completed in 1947, and since then it has only been completed by 29 solo swimmers. One of these was Kim Chambers in 2014 who, during her attempt, was stung over 200 times by jellyfish, requiring her to be immediately hospitalised upon completion of the attempt.

Kaiwi Channel

Also known as the Molokaʻi Channel, the Kaiwi Channel separates the Hawaiian Islands of Oʻahu and Molokaʻi. The Kaiwi is famous for being extremely deep, with the water being 701m at its deepest point, which makes for extremely strong currents below swimmers. Alongside these aggressive currents, the Kaiwi features a lot of aggressive marine life, adding further risks for people attempting to make the cross.

Since Keo Nakama became the first person to successfully complete the 26-mile journey in 1961 only 50 more people have completed the swim despite many attempts. One of the people to make the attempt was British swimmer Adam Walker, who got stung by a Portuguese Man O’War and lost feeling in his spine during his attempt.

Strait of Gibraltar

The Strait of Gibraltar is a body of water which separates Spain and Europe from Morocco and Africa. At just 10-12 miles long, depending on your route, this is the shortest swim on the list, which can lead to some people have a slightly false sense of security when attempting this swim.

Despite the shorter than average length, the Strait of Gibraltar is no easy swim. The Strait is an extremely busy shipping lane, meaning anyone attempting the swim will have lots of shipping boats to contend with, as well as the unpredictable water which comes with them. Sharks are also a common feature in this stretch of water, adding an extra layer of drama and tension to any attempt.

This feat was first completed in 1928, and since then over 600 swimmers have managed to complete it, with the swim taking four and half hours on average.

Tsugaru Channel

Separating Japan’s two largest islands, Honshu and Hokkaido, the Tsugaru Channel is a 12-mile wide strait which has only been successfully swam by 26 people. As well as rough currents, swimmers attempting to cross the Tsugaru Channel also have to deal with sharks, squid, sea snakes, jellyfish and a wide range of other marine life.

The first person to complete the Tsugaru Channel swim was David Yudovin of the USA, who achieved the feat in 1990. Following this, Steven Munatones completed the crossing three times that same year, although this was followed by nobody else completing the challenge again until 2005 when Miyuki Fujita completed the crossing.