The idea of venturing into icy cold ocean water during winter doesn’t sound too enticing, but for open water swimmer Ria Bleathman, she’s compelled to push her body and mind to the limit.
Taking on a seriously chilly challenge of ‘The Winter Rip Swim’ on June 1, Bleathman will be joined by seven fellow cold-water swimmers who will dive off the coast of Point Nepean and make the journey to Point Lonsdale – battling choppy seas, boats and potential sharks.
While to most observers this 3.2km swim sounds mind boggling, according to Bleathman it’s a challenge they just must tackle.
“Any open water swimmer will look at any stretch of water in the world and think, ‘I’ve got to swim it’. The thought just gets in your head and doesn’t get out,” she said.
The crew will muster for a 6am start and abiding by English Channel rules, no wetsuit or neoprene will be worn – only bathers, goggles and swim cap are allowed on the hour to 90-minute journey.
One of the most dangerous crossings in the world, the swimmers will replicate the journey through the channel pioneered by Doug Mew, who made the inaugural crossing of the deadly ‘rip’ in June 1971.
“Open water swimming is in a different realm altogether, it’s the ultimate sense of freedom and achievement when it’s just yourself, your goggles, bathers and that’s it,” Bleathman said.
Having completed the rip crossing once already this summer, with admittedly better conditions, Bleathman will be looking to push herself once again – physically and psychologically – as she makes the dangerous voyage.
In order to make a successful crossing, the swimmers need to consider many factors, including the weather, ability of fellow swimmers, support team, shipping schedules and more importantly, the tides.
Clocking in at 15km/h the tides in the Bass Strait can catch unprepared swimmers off guard – swimming in the wrong conditions can see a swimmer drift 5-10km into the Strait within minutes.
But Bleathman remains determined.
“It’s just yourself and your own belief that gets you there. I’ve seen people get out there and try to beat the elements, but you’ve just got to work with them.”
Alongside Melbourne-based Ria will be a diverse group of swimmers ranging in age, experience and ability. Yet in the face of adversity that open water brings, differences in age and gender fade away.
“It levels the playing field. I’m in groups with guys half my age and my ability to get through it is just the same as theirs. I don’t know many sporting events in the world where your all competing on the same level,” Bleathman said.
With conditions looking clear for this weekend, Bleathman’s cool crossing is set to be another one for the history books.
The Winter Rip Swim has been organised by Grant Siedle, founder of the Rip Swim. Interested in taking a dip into the world of open water swimming?
Click here to find out more about swimming the Rip and Winter Swim Series.
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