Tuesday, May 5, 2009

It's A Small World

Michael Read, the former King of the Channel®, once said that open water swimmers have greatly benefited from the use and improvement of technology. Everything from GPS and AIS transponders to Google Earth and intercontinental jet transportation has helped open water swimmers plan and succeed at their solo challenges and marathon swims.

With the advent of online communications, especially email and social networks, open water swimmers throughout the world have been able to much more easily and quickly communicate with one another and with race organizers and escort pilots than in the previous century.

Up until the mid-1990's, open water swimmers primarily communicated via letters, faxes and telephones. Before then, it was regular postal mail. In contrast, global communications are now nearly instantaneous and convenient. Twitter, Facebook, email, blogs, websites, online forums, Google Groups, online travel sites and mobile communication devices of all sorts have supplanted the post office and the home phone as the communication tools of choice.

Instead of waiting for a letter from one's escort pilot, Blackberries and iPhones provide immediate linkage to the global open water swimming community. Its benefits are immediate and profound.

One example of the immediate positive effects of the contemporary real-time communication is the recent appeal by Bruce McCoubrey (shown above) of Vancouver, Canada. Bruce sent a simple email to the Channel Swimmers on Google Groups, broadcasting his interest in joining a relay for a 2009 English Channel attempt.

Within hours, Bruce received feedback from numerous teams from around the world. These people had never met each other, but there was an immediate bond between each other. They did not doubt each other's intentions or abilities. They immediately established a mutual trust primarily - or perhaps exclusively - because they were all members of a Google Group for Channel Swimmers.

Bruce is now choosing what team to join and made the same appeal for a Catalina Channel relay crossing and a Maui Channel relay crossing. As a result, Bruce sitting at his home in western Canada, was able to have multiple choices in what international teams to join in swims from Hawaii to the English Channel.

Additionally, when swimmers travel around the world, they are able to track down open water swimming groups. On a trip to Bermuda, Bruce was able to find a group of swimmers who swim every morning at 6:30 am at various locations in Bermuda. The locals, members of the English Channel group, had invited Bruce via email to join their daily open water swims. The Internet's usefulness is even more profound in Bermuda: depending on the weather and water conditions, all the swimmers in the local Bermuda group are notified via email of the next day's swim spot.

Just as Walt Disney envisioned...it's truly a small world ... and getting smaller.

Lower photo is of the winning team of the Santa Barbara Channel 6x6 Relay Race.