Monday, June 16, 2008

America's Top 50 Open Water Swims

We previously published the World's Top 100 Open Water Swims after years of research and travel around the world, participating in and observing short swims, pier swims, river swims, marathon swims, charity swims, pro swims, cold-water swims and tropical events in lakes, rivers, bays, oceans, rowing basins and reservoirs.

We now present America's Top 50 Open Water Swims. Events with long histories, races with many participants or races held in historical or beautiful locations were given a priority.

1. Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (Manhattan Island Foundation series)
• Location: Around Manhattan Island in New York City, New York.
• Course: Complete counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the island of Manhattan Island, starting and finishing near Wall Street.
• Distance: 28.5 miles.
• Date: July.
• Description: Field limited to 25 solo swimmers and 18 relay teams that start and finish at Battery Park City. Fields sells out in 90 minutes. Race first held in 1927. Substantial surface chop and strong tidal pull are possible. Water temperature varies between 64-67°F (17-19°C). Salt water around Manhattan Island may also include random jetsam and flotsam. A Qualifying Swim must be completed before application will be accepted. The premier event of the Manhattan Island Federation that conducts 8 other open water events and has attracted nearly 10,000 participants in more than 110 events.
• Additional Information: The race organizers also host the 1.3-mile Lady Liberty Swim (Lady Liberty Swim) in May, the 1-mile Park to Park Swim (Park to Park) in June, the 2-mile Governors Island Swim (Governors Island Swim) in June that always sells out, the 1.5-kilometer Riverside Park Tune Up Swim (Riverside Park Tune Up Swim) in July, the 1-kilometer Brooklyn Bridge Swim (Brooklyn Bridge Swim in September that always sells out, 5.85-mile Little Red Lighthouse Swim (Little Red Lighthouse Swim in September, and the 17.5-mile Ederle Swim (Ederle Swim in October that always sells out, the Manhattan 10K Pro Challenge in September, and starting in 2009, a FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup (World Cup) in September that offers prize money as part of the global FINA pro circuit.

2. Waikiki Roughwater Swim
• Location: South shore of Oahu Island in Honolulu, Hawaii.
• Course: Start at the east end of Waikiki Beach, under the foot of Diamond Head Volcano, and finish at the west end at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
• Distance: 2.4 miles.
• Date: Labor Day, September.
• Description: Swimmers swim over beautiful coral beds and colorful marine life in a picturesque course. High surf and strong currents on occasion.
• Additional Information: Now in its 38th year. The inspiration behind the 2.4-mile swim leg of the Ironman Triathlon has grown to attract participants of all ages and backgrounds from dozens of countries and every U.S. state. In 1970, the race saw 4 women and 32 men swim across Waikiki. Over 1,000 people now annually enter the race.

3. La Jolla Rough Water Swim
• Location: La Jolla Cove, La Jolla, California (just north of San Diego).
• Course: Start and finish at the picturesque La Jolla Cove, a natural amphitheater for ocean swims.
• Distance: 250 yards, 1 mile and 3 miles.
• Date: September (Labor Day)
• Description: Known as America’s Premier Rough Water Swim. Began in 1916 when 7 men swam 1.7 miles in the beautiful La Jolla Cove near San Diego, California. By 1925, 8 men and 11 women swam the race. By 1950, 105 swimmers entered. In 1984, over 1,000 swimmers entered. In 1998, 2,255 swimmers participated, but in 1999, a cap of 2,000 was placed on the number of swimmers in order to maintain the high standards of the organizing committee.
• Additional Information: Marine life and kelp are abundant. Water clarity is among the best along the West Coast. Water temperature can be in the low 60°’s F.

4. Great Chesapeake Bay Swim
• Location: Across Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay.
• Course: Point-to-point race.
• Distance: 4.4 miles.
• Date: June.
• Description: In 1982, a 21-year-old local swimmer was the first to cross the Chesapeake Bay in memory of his father. In 1983, two swimmers entered the first official race and 60 swimmers participated in the second year. The swim grew to 870 entrants by 1990, with finishers ranging from 12 to 76 years old. In order to maintain high safety standards, the organizing committee now limits the race to 600 swimmers. It takes less than 18 minutes for the entire field of 600 swimmers to be filled up using the current online entry system.
• Additional Information: Strong currents on occasion; most popular swim on East Coast.

5. RCP Tiburon Mile
• Location: From San Francisco Bay’s Angel Island to the shores of downtown Tiburon, California.
• Course: Cold-water point-to-point swim in the beautiful San Francisco Bay.
• Distance: 1 mile.
• Date: October.
• Description: Strong currents on occasion and very cold water (around 60°F) highlight a charity swim for the Special Olympics of Northern California (over $650,000 raised).
• Additional Information: Outside of the Olympics and World Championships, the fastest and most prestigious race in the world where over 400 age-group and collegiate swimmers compete with pool Olympians and world open water champion swimmers from over 20 countries, including Russia, Australia, South Africa, Italy, Brazil, Mexico and Canada. US$10,000 to overall male and female winners.

6. Tampa Bay Marathon Swim
• Location: Tampa Bay, Florida.
• Course: Covers the length of Tampa Bay, from the Sunspree Resort in St. Petersburg to the Ben T. David Beach on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
• Distance: 24 miles.
• Date: Late June or July.
• Description: Warm-water race that features pods of dolphins following swimmers on occasion.
• Additional Information: Escort boat required. Possibility of high winds, surface chop and poor visibility. Open Water Boot Camp also offered.

7. Maui Channel Swim
• Location: In the Au’au Channel between the island of Lanai and the island of Maui in Hawaii.
• Course: Start at the north side of Lanai on an uninhabited stretch of beach and finish on the south side of Maui.
• Distance: 9.6 miles.
• Date: September.
• Description: Swimmers cross one of the most beautiful channels in the world as they gaze upon 5 islands (Lanai, Maui, Molokai, Oahu and Hawaii) if the weather permits. Generally calm conditions, colorful marine life and clear warm cobalt blue water makes this event the most popular relay swim in the world. Marine life, strong winds and strong currents on occasion.
• Additional Information: The six-person relay race, started as a competition in 1972 between the Waikiki Swim Club and the Olympic Club of San Francisco, has now grown to over 60 teams of six and dozens of solo swimmers from numerous states, Australia, Japan and Taiwan. Swimmers rotate every 30 minutes. "The only masters inter-island relay race in the world"

8. Alcatraz Challenge
• Location: From Alcatraz Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay to East Beach near Presidio Park in San Francisco, California.
• Course: Point-to-point swim within the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the picturesque San Francisco skyline.
• Distance: 2.4 miles (current-aided).
• Date: August.
• Description: Strong currents, marine life and very cold water (under 60°F).
• Additional Information: Was initially held in 1981 with fewer than 100 participants. In 2007, there are now seven annual 1.5-mile races, each of which sells out months in advance. Nearly 6,000 participants from all over the world travel to San Francisco to test themselves against the 55° waters and powerful currents.

9. Pacific Open Water Challenge
• Location: Long Beach, California.
• Course: Flat-water course in shallow waters inside breakwater.
• Distance: ½ mile, 1-mile, 5K and 10K swims.
• Date: June.
• Description: mid-60°F water inside the Long Beach breakwater next to the Belmont Plaza pool.
• Additional Information: Festive race-day atmosphere and pre-race presentations and pre-race teaching clinics enhance the competitive nature of the open water swims where the swimmers can see the Long Beach skyline, the Queen Mary and Santa Catalina Island. Starting in 2009, it will offer $20,000 as the only West Coast race on the global FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup (World Cup) pro circuit.

10. Lake Travis Relay (American Swimming Association Series)
• Location: Lake Travis in Austin, Texas.
• Course: Point-to-point course that starts in the main basin of Lake Travis at Mansfield Dam Park and finishes on the dock of The Pier.
• Distance: 12 miles.
• Date: October.
• Description: A 6-person relay swim (and up to 10 solo swimmers) that finishes at The Pier restaurant. The Lake Travis Relay (Lake Travis Relay)
is recognized by the Austin American-Statesman as one of Austin's top ten recreation events (along with the Money Box Cap 2k which is Austin's signature open water swimming event). Swimmers in this 6-person relay swim 20-minutes legs, then 15-minutes legs, and then 10-minute legs in the most popular lake in Texas. Water temperature is between 78-80 degrees F.
• Additional Information: The Lake Travis Relay is one of the 9 open water events conducted by the American Swimming Association around the Austin area. The series includes the Money Box Cap 2k Open Water (Cap 2k) & Open Water Texas High School State Championships in Austin (2K swim in 70 degree F water in Lady Bird Lake in May), the Volente Beach Open Water Family Gala in Lake Travis (200-meter, 400-meter and 1-mile swims from Volente Beach around Starnes Island and back in June in 78 degree F water), The Highland Lakes Challenge in Highland Lakes, Austin (stage swims in 5 lakes in 5 days in October in 74-78 degree F water), the Dam 5k in Mansfield Dam Park in Lake Travis in November, the ASA Open Water Collegiate National Championships in Mansfield Dam Park in Lake Travis (5K in November in 74 degree F water), and The Quarries Open Water Festival in Lake Travis (1-mile, 400-meter, 800-meter, 1-mile and 1-mile (4 x 400 relay swims) in The Quarries in November in 73 degree F water), and the Polar Bear Swim (200-meter and 1-mile swims in the main basin of Lake Travis, 59 degrees F, on New Year's Day).

11. North Shore Surf 'n Sea Swim Series
• Location: Along the famous north shore of Oahu, Hawaii.
• Course: A series of four different warm-water point-to-point swims along the North Shore.
• Distance: 1-mile, 1.2-mile, 1.6-mile and 2.3-mile swims.
• Date: Held every two weeks from late June to early August.
• Description: The Raging Isle Sprint is a one-mile swim that begins at Sunset Beach and finishes at Ehukai Beach Park (Pipeline). The 1.2-mile Cholo’s Waimea Bay Swim is followed by Chun’s Reef to Waimea Bay 1.6-mile Swim and the Surf & Sea North Shore Challenge, a 2.3-mile swim from Pipeline to Waimea Bay.
• Additional Information: Strong currents on occasion and abundant marine life along beautiful beaches, crystal clear water and enjoyable open water swimming competition from all ages and abilities.

12. Swim Around Key West
• Location: Key West, Florida.
• Course: Clockwise course around Key West, the southernmost tip of Florida.
• Distance: 12.5 miles.
• Date: June.
• Description: Beautiful, shallow, generally calm, warm-water (85°F) course with the bottom of the ocean visible throughout the course. Abundant marine life includes Conch shells, manna rays, seaweed, sting rays, seat turtles, very docile nurse sharks and colorful tropical fish.
• Additional Information: Race has a unique Lightening Rule: if a lightening storm threatens the swimmer, the swimmer may swim to shore or get into their escort boat and head for shelter. Once the threat passes the swimmer may re-enter the water in as near to the location he/she exited the water as possible. The swimmer will not be disqualified for the event; however the clock continues to run.

13. Catalina Channel Swimming Federation
• Location: Channel between Santa Catalina Island that lies 21 miles off the coast of Southern California.
• Course: Shortest point-to-point course is from Emerald Bay on Santa Catalina Island to the San Pedro Peninsula, near Cabrillo Beach.
• Distance: 21 miles.
• Date: Solo and relay attempts generally made from June to October.
• Description: A deep-water channel that is comparable to the English Channel in terms of water conditions, difficulty, distance and the physical and mental challenges to the swimmer. Mid-60°F water with marine life seen on occasion, including migrating whales and large pods of dolphins.
• Additional Information: First successful swim was in January, 1927 when Canadian George Young won $25,000 in the Wrigley Ocean Marathon Swim in 15 hours and 44 minutes.

14. Trans Tahoe Relay
• Location: Lake Tahoe in the states of Nevada and California.
• Course: From Sand Harbor Beach in Nevada to Skylandia Beach, Lake Forest, California.
• Distance: 11.5 miles.
• Date: July.
• Description: 6-person relay at an altitude of more than 6,200 feet. It is a cold-water (55-60°F), clear-water event that requires a high level of physical fitness.
• Additional Information: Now in its 32nd year, the popular and prestigious relay race is the only swim race that crosses two state lines. Wetsuits are not allowed.

15. Moloka’i Channel (or Kaiwi Channel)
• Location: Deep-water (701 meters) channel between the western coast of Moloka’i Island and the eastern coast of Oahu in Hawaii
• Course:
• Distance: 27 miles.
• Date: As conditions permit.
• Description: Extraordinarily strong currents; extremely large rolling swells, strong winds and abundant marine life always present a challenge for solo swimmers.
• Additional Information: Beautiful views of Oahu and Molokai that was first crossed in September 1961 by Keo Nakama in 15 hours and 30 minutes.

16. Nike Swim Miami
• Location: Miami, Florida.
• Course: Rectangular course in the Miami Marine Stadium.
• Distance: 1-mile, 5K and 10K swims.
• Date: April.
• Description: Swimmers enjoy the beautiful Miami downtown skyline in warm waters
• Additional Information: Several Olympians and Olympic medalists take part in a highly competitive and enjoyable event for swimmers of all ages and abilities.

17. Bridge-to-Bridge 10K Swim (Water World Swim Series)
• Location: San Francisco, California.
• Course: From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge during a 3.3-knot flood tide in San Francisco Bay.
• Distance: 10 kilometers.
• Date: May.
• Description: Limited to 30 elite swimmers with extensive cold-water experience. Cold water (under 60°F), but spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and the San Francisco downtown skyline throughout the event.
• Additional Information: Water World Swim conducts numerous clinics, Alcatraz Island crossings and workouts in addition to five other rigorous open water races in San Francisco Bay including the Golden Gate Bridge Swim from the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge to xxx in September, the 3.25-mile Swim Around the Rock with changing tides and fast currents from Aquatic Park and around Alcatraz Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay in July, the 1.25-mile Alcatraz Swim of The Centurions from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park in July, the 2.5-mile Alcatraz n Go from Aquatic Park to Alcatraz Island and back in October, and the Winter Alcatraz Swim in January.

18. Open Water Festival
• Location: Fort Myers Beach, Florida.
• Course: Warm-water loop course along the clear waters of Ft. Myers.
• Distance: 1000-yard, 1.5K, 2.5K, 1-mile, 5K, 10K and 25K swims and a 1-mile Sunset Open Water Dash-for-Cash event.
• Date: May.
• Description: Plenty of sunshine, warm water and competition for novice and experienced open water swimmers of all ages. Doubles as the USA Swimming national champion events. Surface chop can be significant with offshore winds.
• Additional Information: Also serves as the selection race for USA Swimming National Open Water teams that compete in international competitions.

19. Lake Berryessa Open Water Swim
• Location: Lake Berryessa, California
• Course: Buoys at approximate 200-yard intervals help guide swimmers around the beautiful lake in Northern California.
• Distance: 1-mile and 2-mile swims (wetsuit and non-wetsuit divisions) for masters, 1-mile swim for ages 18 and under, 500-yard swim for ages 8-10.
• Date: June.
• Description: An extremely competitive race in all age groups with the expected water temperature between 65-70°F. Surface chop can increase with winds.
• Additional Information: Now in its 28th year, the 1-mile course goes around Flamingo Island the the popular 2-mile course goes around Goat Island. Large picnic is held after the races.

20. 1 Mile Against the Tide Swim for Breast Cancer (1 Mile Against the Tide Swims)
• Location: Hopkinton State Park in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
• Course: Easy-to-navigate course in a flat water lake.
• Distance: 1 mile.
• Date: June.
• Description: Fund-raising event to benefit the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition. Casual fitness/recreational swim and the more challenging competitive swim enables swimmers of all ages and abilities to participate.
• Additional Information: Race organizer also hosts the Karen Smyers Open Water Swim Clinic at Hopkinton State Park in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, the YMCA Cape Cod Swim Clinic at YMCA Cape Code in West Barnstable, Massachusetts in June, and the 1 Mile Against the Tide Swim for Breast Cancer in Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod in August.

21. Death Valley Open Water Swim
• Location: East Beach in Hartwell Lake on the Clemson University campus in Clemson, South Carolina.
• Course: Out-and-back swim with buoy markers every 100 meters.
• Distance: ½-kilometer, 1K, 2K, 3K, 5K and 10K swims.
• Date: June.
• Description: Calm, fresh water lake with water temperature expected to be in the low 80’s°F.
• Additional Information: Also doubles as the South Carolina Open Water State Championships and U.S. Masters Swimming 10K national championships (in 2008 only).

22. Glen S. Hummer Huntington Mile
• Location: Lake Clare, Huntington, Indiana.
• Course: Flat water swim around a ¼-mile cable covered by intermediate buoys.
• Distance: 0.5-mile, 1-mile and 5K swims.
• Date: July.
• Description: In-water start and finish.
• Additional Information: Excellent spectator viewing from shoreline. Race organizer also hosts the Indiana State Open Water Championships (750-yard, 1.5K, 2.25K and 3K swims) in same location. USA Swimming national open water team coaches also conduct an Indiana Age Group Open Water Camp the day before the Huntington Mile.

23. Jack King 1-mile Ocean Swim
• Location: 24th Street Park in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
• Course: Point-to-point swim parallel to the shoreline.
• Distance: 0.5-mile, 1-mile and 5K swims.
• Date: June.
• Description: Festive atmosphere along one of the most popular beaches on the East Coast.
• Additional Information: In its 25th year. Other swims in state include the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service Ocean Challenge (1K Swim in July, 3K in July, 5K swim in August at ( and the Chris Greene Lake 2-mile Cable Swim (in Charlottesville, Virginia in July at (www.Chris Greene Lake 2-Mile) which serves as the 2008 US Masters Swimming national 2-mile championship.

24. Swim Across America Series
• Location: Boston Harbor, Massachusetts.
• Course: Start and finish at Rowes Wharf in downtown Boston.
• Distance: 22 miles.
• Date: July.
• Description: Relay where each swimmer swims 15-minute sessions.
• Additional Information: Series has generated over $20 million to the research, treatment and prevention of cancer. Series organizer also hosts six other Swim Across America events where many Olympians participate. Events includes Swim Across America Greenwich Swims (½-mile and 1-mile swims) in Greenwich, Connecticut in June, the Swim Across America Nantasket Beach Swim in Boston, Massachusetts in July, the Swim Across America Lake Michigan Swim (½-mile, 1-mile, 1.5-mile and 3-mile swims) in Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois in July, the Swim Across America Long Island Sound Swims (1-mile, 4-mile and 6-mile swims) in Westchester County, New York in July, the Swim Across America Sound to the Cove Swim (1-mile, 5K and 10K swims) in Long Island Sound, Glen Cove, New York in August, and the Swim Across America San Francisco Bay Relay Swim (10 miles) in October.

25. Semana Nautica Swim Series
• Location: East Beach in Santa Barbara, California.
• Course: Loop course parallel to gorgeous East Beach.
• Distance: 3 miles.
• Date: 4th of July weekend.
• Description: Generally calm conditions where rough and windy conditions can occur. Kelp and flotsam can be occasionally found.
• Additional Information: Race organizer also conducts the 6-mile Ocean Swim at Goleta Beach in July and 1-mile Ocean Swim in East Beach in July.

26. Charles River 1 Mile Swim
• Location: Rick Dock, Boston, Massachusetts.
• Course: Loop course between the Harvard and Longfellow Bridge.
• Distance: 1 mile.
• Date: June.
• Description: In-the-water start in the historic Charles River.
• Additional Information: Limited to 125 swimmers. Entrant maximum number rapidly fills up.

27. Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier Swim
• Location: Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach in Southern California.
• Course: From the south side Hermosa Beach Pier to the north side of the Manhattan Beach Pier.
• Distance: 2 miles.
• Date: August.
• Description: Point-to-point swim parallel to the shore with hundreds of safety personnel in boats and on paddleboards. Clear water, competitive field and festive atmosphere create an enjoyable event.
• Additional Information: Part of the International Surf Festival.

28. Point to La Pointe Swim
• Location: In Lake Superior, Bayfield, Wisconsin.
• Course: From Bayfield to Madeline Island.
• Distance: 2 miles.
• Date: August.
• Description: Straight course to island from Bayfield, a small city of 611 on the shores of Lake Superior in northernmost Wisconsin.
• Additional Information: Pristine beautiful lake with clear waters in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Wetsuits are recommended. Event serves as a fundraiser for the local swimming pool and recreation center.

29. Pennock Island Challenge
• Location: In Ketchikan, Alaska.
• Course: Around Pennock Island in the Tongass Narrows.
• Distance: 8.2 miles.
• Date: August.
• Description: Current-assisted course sheltered from large surf everywhere except the sound end. Water temperature is between mid-50’s°F to low 60’s°F. Air temperature will range from the mid-60’s°F to mid 80’s°F. Swimmers can enter as solo and as members of a relay. Wetsuits are allowed, but will have their own awards category.
• Additional Information: Fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association.

30. Boston Light 8-mile Swim
• Location: Boston, Massachusetts.
• Course: From Little Brewster Island to L Street Beach.
• Distance: 8 miles.
• Date: August.
• Description: Strong winds (up to 45 mph in recent years), cold water (60°F in recent years) and oncoming waves (3-4 feet in height in recent years) are possible.
• Additional Information: Called the “Granddaddy of American open-water marathons”. 100th anniversary of the earliest account of the Boston Light Swim.

31. St. Vincent’s Medical Center's SWIM Across the Sound
• Location: Bridgeport, Connecticut.
• Course: From Port Jefferson, New York to Captain’s Cove Marina in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
• Distance: 25 kilometers.
• Date: August.
• Description: Solo and relay swimmers
• Additional Information: Now in its 21st year, more than 250 swimmers participated in 2007, including 39 relay teams, raising over US$350,000 for cancer prevention, education and support programs sponsored by St. Vincent’s Medical Center's SWIM Across the Sound. 60 escort boats support the field (solo and relay swimmers) that attracts athletes from many states and several countries.

32. Big Shoulders 5K Lake Michigan Swim)
• Location: Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois.
• Course: Triangular course starting and finishing at the Ohio Street Beach.
• Distance: 2.5K and 5K swims.
• Date: September.
• Description: One loop is 2.5K. Chilly, windy conditions very possible. Water temperature can vary between 65°F and 80°F. Can view the impressive Chicago skyline.
• Additional Information: Also has a separate wetsuit division. Event founded by Olympic gold medalist, Bill Mulliken.

33. Lake George Open Water Swims
• Location: Lake George Village in New York.
• Course: 1K solo and 4K relay courses held at Million Dollar Beach, 6K solo course from Silver Bay YMCA to Hague Beach, 500-meter and 2K relay courses held at Bolton Landing, 2K solo course at Hague Beach.
• Distance: 500 meters, 1K, 2K, 6K and 41K solo swims and 2K and 4K relay swims.
• Date: July.
• Description: 20 mph winds possible in a beautiful lake.
• Additional Information: 41K swim marathon was held for the first time 80 years after the first 41K event. 41K event was between Lake George Village and Hague in Lake George.

34. Santa Barbara Channel 6x6 Relay Race (Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association)
• Location: Channel between Santa Cruz Island and Santa Barbara, California.
• Course: From Santa Cruz Island to East Beach
• Distance: 26 miles.
• Date: September.
• Description: Limited to 6 boats with 6 swimmers per boat.
• Additional Information: Channel has mild currents, but the average water temperature is 60-70°F (15-21°C). The 6x6 Relay Race is a fund raiser for ocean-caring non-profit organizations. The Santa Barbara Channel uniquely offers four different length of crossings: 12, 20, 26 and 30 miles. The Association also conducts the Santa Barbara Channel Relay Swim in June.

35. Huntington Beach Pier Swim (Huntington Beach Pier Swim)
• Location: Around the Huntington Beach Pier, Huntington Beach, California.
• Course: Swim around the longest concrete pier in California.
• Distance: 0.5 miles depending on the tide.
• Date: June.
• Description: Very large surf possible with very strong currents along pier. Winner combines strong swimming abilities with good body-surfing instincts and abilities.
• Additional Information: Now in its 58th consecutive year in the town known as Surf City U.S.A.

36. Potomac River 7.5-mile Swim for the Environment
• Location: Point Lookout State Park, Scotland, Maryland.
• Course: From the Potomac River where it meets the Chesapeake Bay, starting at Hull Neck, Virginia and finishing at Point Lookout State Park, Maryland.
• Distance: 7.5 miles.
• Date: May.
• Description: Picturesque peninsula formed by the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River.
• Additional Information: Starts in Virginia and ends in Maryland. Swim started in 1993. Each swimmer is escorted by a volunteer kayaker. With favorable conditions, the swimmers can finish in 3 hours or less.

37. Lake Harriet Open Water Swims
• Location: Lake Harriet, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
• Course: Follow the perimeter of the lake.
• Distance: 1- and 2-mile swims.
• Date: June.
• Description: Low-key swims for swimmers of all ages and abilities.
• Additional Information: Water temperature is approximately 68°F.

38. Hawaiian Christmas Looong Distance Swim (Swims in Hawaii)
• Location: South shore of Oahu Island in Honolulu, Hawaii.
• Course: Start at the east end of Waikiki Beach, turn around at the other end of Waikiki and return to Kaimana Beach at the foot of the Diamond Head Volcano.
• Distance: 7 kilometers.
• Date: December.
• Description: Swimmers swim over beautiful coral beds and colorful marine life in a stunningly picturesque course. Large swells and strong currents on occasion.
• Additional Information: Now in its 26th year. The event has attracted many of the world's best open water swimmers over the years.

39. Manitou Monster Lake Swim
• Location: YMCA Camp Manitou in New Auburn, Wisconsin.
• Course: Hexagonal course marked with buoys.
• Distance: 2 miles.
• Date: July.
• Description: Low-key swim with 2-hour limit.
• Additional Information: Now in its 18th year whose main purposes are enjoyment and accomplishment.

40. Independence Day 1-mile Bay Swim
• Location: Somers Point, New Jersey.
• Course: Loop course starting and ending on Kennedy Park.
• Distance: 1 mile.
• Date: June.
• Description: Easy-to-navigate swim in bay.
• Additional Information: Now in its 22nd year.

41. Columbus Swims
• Location: Alum Creek State Park Reservoir, Lewis Center, Ohio.
• Course: Triangular course in one of Ohio’s largest inland body of water.
• Distance: 0.75K, 1.5K and 3K swims.
• Date: June.
• Description: Tree-lined shores, shale cliffs and sheltered inlets, near Columbus.
• Additional Information: Most swimmers compete in more than one race. Second race at Antrim Park in Columbus is in the spring-fed lake. All swims have a mass start and offer wetsuit and non-wetsuit divisions.

42. July 4th Fire Cracker 8000
• Location: Lake Natoma, Folsom, California.
• Course: Swim upstream by starting at Sacramento State Aquatics Center and finishing at Negro Bar Beach.
• Distance: 8 kilometers.
• Date: July.
• Description: A truly unique event where the water temperature at the start is about 75°F, but the water gets progressively colder as the swimmers head upstream.
• Additional Information: Finishing water temperature is about 56°F while the swimmers fight against a slight current throughout the swim, making this event a great test of both the cold and distance. Email requests for race entries to

43. Harbor Springs Coastal Crawl
• Location: Little Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan at Harbor Springs, Michigan.
• Course: Start at Zorn Park (City Beach).
• Distance: 1-mile, 2-mile, 3-mile and 10K swims.
• Date: August.
• Description: Calm lake with refreshing 65°F water temperature.
• Additional Information: Also has a wetsuit division. 10K swim consists of 3 laps of a 2.05-mile course marked with buoys and a feeding station.

44. Jim McDonnell Lake Swims Swim
• Location: Lake Audobon, Reston, Virginia.
• Course: An interesting loop swim with clearly marked turn buoys in a flat-water lake.
• Distance: 1-mile and 2-mile swims.
• Date: May.
• Description: Water temperature can range from 60°F to 75°C with air temperatures in the 80's. Recently hosted the US Masters Swimming National Open Water Championships.
• Additional Information: Now in its 21st year, swim proceeds benefit the Lymphoma Foundation of America. The local Lake Audubon community pool is open for warm-up and warm-down swims. Wetsuits are permitted, but are awarded prizes only in the wetsuit divisions. An educational pre-race clinic is offered that covers the basics of open water swimming and allows swimmers to become familiarized with the course.

45. Swim Buzzards Bay
• Location: New Bedford, Massachusetts.
• Course: From Davy’s Locker Beach in New Bedford to Fort Phoenix in Fairhaven.
• Distance: 1.2 miles.
• Date: July.
• Description: Event is in warm, clean waters and separated into two waves: the first wave for more experienced swimmers and the second wave for swimmers who want a personal safety escort.
• Additional Information: Fundraiser for The Coalition for Buzzards Bay.

46. Save The Bay Swim
• Location: In Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island.
• Course: From the Naval Station Newport to Potter Cove in Jamestown.
• Distance: 1.7 mile.
• Date: July.
• Additional Information: Now in its 31st year. In 2007, 443 swimmers helped raise $245,000.

47. Atlantic City Pageant Ocean Swim
• Location: Atlantic City, New Jersey.
• Course: Starts at States Ave. through the surf, around Steel Pier and southwards to Missouri Ave.’s finish on the beach.
• Distance: 1.5 miles.
• Date: September.
• Description: Warm water ocean swim through surf and roughwater conditions when the winds are strong.
• Additional Information: Now in its 79th year.

48. Fort Lauderdale Rough Water Swim
• Location: D.C. Alexander Park, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
• Course: Start at Terramr Street and finish at SE 5st.
• Distance: ¼-mile, ½-mile, 1 mile and 5K swims.
• Date: January.
• Description: Swim in the warm Atlantic Ocean
• Additional Information: Now in its 38th year. Parking for participants will be at the International Swimming Hall of Fame with shuttles transporting swimmers to the starting area. Formerly called the International Swimming Hall of Fame Ocean Mile Swim.

49. Hudson River Swim for Life
• Location: Kingsland Point Park in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
• Course: Starts at Nyack Memorial Park and finishes at Kingsland Point Park.
• Distance: 1-mile, 3-mile and 5K swims.
• Date: September.
• Description: 1-mile and 3-mile swims are non-competitive events that benefit the Leukemia & Lymphona Society.
• Additional Information: Now in its 17th year. 5K swim is a competitive event. 5K race participants are required to raise pledges for the Friends of Claire foundation for ALS Disease.

50. Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K Open Water Championships
• Location: Huntington Bay, New York
• Course: Counter-clockwise triangular course marked with orange buoys.
• Distance: 1K, 2K, 3K, 5K, 10K swims.
• Date: July.
• Description: The finish requires all swimmers to touch the target at the end of the pier.
• Additional Information: Swimmers from 19 states entered in 2007. In memory of Fran Schnarr who died in 1991 and was a supporter of the Flushing YMCA, the Flushing Flyers Aquatic Club and Metropolitan Swimming.

* As Fran would say, “Just get in and have a good time.”

Copyright © 2008 by World Open Water Swimming Association


Anonymous said...

Steve - Great Website! Is there any place to find average water temps for these races? Thanks again for your great coverage of open water swimming!

Steven Munatones said...

I have the average water temperatures for many of the swims, but I will ask the race directors to confirm this data.

Anonymous said...

After I posted the first comment I went back and found that you do have that information for most of the swims. That's very helpful. But, I was specifically wondering about the Open Water Festival at Ft. Myers Beach and the swim around Estero Island. I heard the water was very hot this year - 90 degrees at some points and I was wondering if it is normally that hot?

Steven Munatones said...

I will confirm with the Ft. Myers race director.

alcatrazjoe oakes said...


Thank you for taking this on. It will help countless swimmers, myself included, to find interesting and worthwhile swims all over the country.

RE THE ALCATRAZ CHALLENGE: The distance is 2.4 miles, current aided; started in 1981; and it is on the WEST coast.

Joe Oakes

Jeff said...

Fantastic job on all of the swims! You also made sure that all geographic areas of the U.S. were represented as well.

Perhaps someone can organize a "check-off" challenge for people seeking to swim America's Top 50 OW swims.

Although it was canceled last year, the Atlantic City Around the Island Marathon Swim attracted an impressive field of international swimmers and garnered substantial media coverage. Many of the residents who live along the course have elaborate parties overlooking the swimmers.

Since the majority of my OW swims have been in the Mid-Atlantic, I always enjoyed the 1 mile John Boyd Swim in Seaside Heights, NJ. You get to swim parallel along the town's famous boardwalk and end at a great beach party with loads of food and beer.

Steven Munatones said...

We are organizing a Global Open Water Tour that will be announced by August 20th (the date of the women's Olympic 10K Marathon Swim). Stay tuned.

Steven Munatones said...

Yes, the Atlantic City Around the Island Marathon Swim is not only a highly competitive and challenging event, but it has a great history. Due to its cancellation, it was not added to this list, but it is truly one of the world's best open water swimming events.

Anonymous said...

Great list of swims--including some obscure ones. The only two swims that seem like omissions from your list are the Hurricane Man Swim in St. Peter in May and the Fat Salmon in Seattle in July. Both of those get several hundred swimmers every year.

Looking at the list, I've done about 27 or so of the listed swims. Its hard to rate which are best however because they are so different. The Death Valley Swim Meet is a lot of fun, well run, etc. Its got very little that is comparable to a Catalina Relay.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the Lake George event in New York is cancelled for 2008, according to their web site.

Anonymous said...

great effort but room for improvement - numerous alcatraz 100 and ASA swims missing... alcatraz sharkfest, swims proximate to bend, oregon, and the horsetooth reservoir 10K

sharkfest has approximately 800 swimmers annually... whatever? perhaps I missed it.

Anonymous said...

charleston, sc's low country is a very cool 2.4 mile tidal-assisted swim

pensacola 3-mile bridge swim...

Anonymous said...

steve - super website... but your list of 50 top u.s. swims is little more than a list of 50 u.s swims.

for instance, ASA, nycswim and other swims need to be identified to the particular swim... the challenge and character of each of these swims is very different.

you fail to mention the envirosport's alacatraz sharkfest - easily a top ten swim, the burlington, vt YMCA lake champlain, charleston's low country splash, the donner lake 2.7 mile, pensacola 3-mile bridge, cascade swim series proximate to bend, or, and horsetooth reservoir 10k.

I have made considerable effort to identify open water swim destination and your list is excellent but as a top 50 it needs a ton of work.

your website rocks!

Steven Munatones said...

Thank you very much for these comments. Attempting to put together a Top 50 list was difficult; I am now putting together a World's Top 50 List which is even more difficult because the number of swims outside the U.S. far outnumbers the swims within the U.S. Also, this list is simply the first step in a series of polls that will be published over the next several months. Other lists will include World's Best Open Water Swimmers, America's Best Open Water Swimmers, World's Toughest Open Water Swims, Pioneering Open Water Swimmers, Best Beach Finishes, Best Point-to-Point Swims, Greatest Swims around New York, etc. Your assistance in identifying these swimmers and events are greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I'd drop #40 in favor of the Bridge-to-Bridge 5k (Atlantic City) and/or the Rainbow Channel Challenge (2.6-ish miles). They are in the same area (exact same area in the case of Rainbow) but are much better courses.

Anonymous said...

I vote for #10, anything American Swimming Association puts on because Keith and Sandy are so great. Plus I did their Quarry lake open water festival last year, taking men's 1st place 18-35 in the 1 mile swim and the 400 m swim!

I only wish there were more people there!

It was warm, approx. 82 F for the Quarry Lake swim. Sandy used these HUGE buoys, NEON ORANGE with german written on them, anyway they were VERY visible which is a big plus. They were nicer than the smallish TYR buoys we were straining to see at the couple's triathlon in austin yesterday!

Anonymous said...

Nothing from Maine?! We have a few great swims every favorite is the 2.4 mile Peaks to Portland (from Peaks Island off of Portland to East End Beach in Maine's biggest city).

Steven Munatones said...

I did not even know about open water swims in Maine. Thank you very much for alerting me. I will do a story on the Peaks to Portland swim. Do you have any photos from the race? Thank you very much for the information.

Steven Munatones said...

I am sorry. I did report on the 2008 Peaks to Portland swim on July 24th. Check out

Bryan said...

Good to see La Jolla so far up the list; special mention should go to the 3 mile "Gatorman"; it is the premier race in Southern CA. Also, there should be a mention of the Newport Beach "Pier to Pier" (certainly above the Huntington Beach pier swim); the Pier to Pier swim (from the Balboa Pier to the Newport Pier) is a two mile swim, sponsored by the Newport Beach Lifeguard's Assoc., and is slso one of the premier Southern CA swims.

Steven Munatones said...

Out of curiosity, how do you define "premier"? Is it by the number of participants, the number of quality competitors, the number of years the race has been held or other parameter? Your input is greatly appreciated in order to make the list better in 2009. Also, where would you put the Hermosa Pier-to-Pier swim (which has more participants than the Newport Beach Pier-to-Pier)? How would be compare the Southern California swims with the Northern California races (e.g., Berryessa, Alcatraz, etc.)? Again, your opinions are appreciated.

Bryan said...

Steven - First, let me say great work with the website. Please don't take any part of my post as criticism of your efforts - just the contrary. While a list of top anything is by nature subjective, I would certainly say degree of difficulty, number of participants, and level of competition as probably the three most important criteria for ranking open water swims. The Hermosa swim would definitely rival or possibly rank ahead of the Newport Pier to Pier for the above mentioned reasons, although they are very similar. You should look into the "Longbridge" swim in Sandpoint Idaho, which has been held for about 13 years and has grown to nearly 800 participants. I only thought the pier to pier swim should be ranked above the HB pier swim based upon distance and level of competition, and would put the Hermosa swim ahead of it as well for the same reason. Comparing S. CA swims to N. CA is a little more difficult, although Alcatraz should certainly be up there (based primarily upon difficulty: i.e. currents and water temp.). Not sure I helped at all, but it is a great topic for conversation!

Steven Munatones said...

Thank you very much for your comments and suggestions. They are helpful. I have done many swims, but I have not done or seen them all, so obtaining everyone's input is great. For example, I found out about the Idaho swim only recently and will definitely do a story on this Idaho race in 2009. Unfortunately, I am only limited by time. I have over 1,000 races now in my database and simply cannot keep up with all the new races coming online.