Ultraswim 33.3
CHALLENGE,  Event reviews,  EXTRA,  FEATURES,  July 2024

A life-affirming and life-changing adventure in Croatia with Ultraswim33.3 #3

Mariana Santos shares her experience of this beautiful but challenging event on the Croatian coast

I showed up in Croatia as a Portuguese girl with a simple dream of swimming with other folks from all around the world. Swimmers who enjoy open water, just like I do. What I encountered was something I would not have thought possible, even in my wildest dreams. But it happened.

It was just what I needed. I recently had to close down my NGO, Chicas Poderosas, a movement to empower women through training on storytelling, after 10 years of community building. The experience was crushing, exhausting, and left me depressed and wondering what I was going to do with my life. UltraSwim33.3 has given me new energy and direction.

UltraSwim 33.3

Arriving in Stari Gard, on the island of Hvar, I immediately felt a sense of belonging. It took me no time to connect. There was no need to drop accolades or make an impression. Just the fact that each of us had dedicated this long weekend to swim and connect with other swimming lovers was a huge commonality that bonded us from the first seconds.

Pre-event jitters

I was both nervous and excited. What should I expect? I’d never been in such a big event with so much swimming, among so many swimmers of all ages, experiences, abilities and disabilities. But it was clear that a common line connected us all: a passion – or perhaps obsession – to jump in the water and challenge ourselves out of our comfort zones.

This was a life-changing moment for me. Surrounded by people I have never met, I had a feeling of mutual support from all sides. I sensed it didn’t matter how well you swim, or if you were new to open water or had completed the Oceans Seven. We were a tribe, belonging together, without a single drop of harsh competition. It was a connection that made us proud of each other, pushing each other to the finish line no matter if it was in the first group or the last, arriving sometimes hours later after swimming among jellyfish, battling waves or admiring the dramatic Adriatic coastline.

UltraSwim 33.3

I am often critical about events, having organised some. I want to ensure ‘users’ have the best experience possible. I have a huge respect for people’s time as this is our most precious gift. If someone decides to spend five days at the event, then it better be worth it. This comes down to leadership and the team working behind the scenes to make sure you have a good experience.

What I saw in Croatia was a happy and inspired team, with a leader that made them proud of what they were doing. Mark, UltraSwim’s founder, spoke to both swimmers and his team in a way that made everyone shine. From the media team, the logistics rockstars, the safety team and the kayakers, every single person looked inspired and proud to be there. I’d love as many swimmers as possible to share this magic and I even hope I can persuade UltraSwim to create an event around my home beaches on the Algarve in Portugal.

Much more than a swimming challenge

What I experienced over those days in Croatia was not just a swimming challenge. I heard from amazing swimmers and had deep conversations about how to live the best life possible through swimming. For example, Andy Donaldson, UltraSwim33.3 ambassador and Oceans Seven swimmer, told us in one of his poolside chats that when facing our fears in open water (or in life) we need to decide how to respond, rather than instinctively react. Later, I was able to discuss this openly with swimmers I’d only just met. People who didn’t judge but willingly shared their own fears and stories.

It’s hard to feel this connection in daily life. We have to deal with toxic competition in the workplace. We need to show up as strong and sorted. We can’t show how we really feel, who we really are. Being part of UltraSwim33.3 felt like a complete release from these pressures. I experienced a magical feeling, the possibility of being raw, showing my true self with like-minded people.

Ultraswim 33.3

On my flight home, I was full of joy while struggling to find the right words to describe the feelings I experienced over the previous few days. My heart was full of deep friendships made in a short time but which I look forward to continuing. As a solo traveller, I met my tribe, and felt empowered and loved, and still have goosebumps thinking about how profound and deep this collective and personal experience has been. I cannot wait for the next adventure with the UltraSwim33.3 tribe.

Mariana Santos is a swimmer from the south of Portugal. She is president of the Algarve Swim Association. She won the women’s wetsuit event at UltraSwim33.3 #3

Find out more about UltraSwim33.3

UltraSwim33.3 #3 took place from 17 to 20 May 2024 on the island of Hvar, Croatia. Swimmers covered 33.3km over four days, including a marathon 11.4km on day three. The water temperature was around 18 degrees. Wetsuits were optional and around 30 per cent of participants swam without.

UltraSwim33.3 #4 will be in Greece from 13 to 16 September.

UltraSwim33.3 #5 in Montenegro in October is sold out.

Bookings are open for 2025: ultraswim333.com

Images: ©UltraSwim 33.3 Vincent Curutchet / Lloyd Images

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