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Dedicating life to promoting open water swimming

Outdoor Swimmer talks to Miguel Rahola, co-founder of Marnaton, one of Spain’s premier open water swimming event organisers

Marnaton organises a series of open water swims in Catalonia and was one of the pioneers of mass participation swims in Spain. From swims with just a few participants 10 years ago, Marnaton events now attract thousands of swimmers.

OS: How did you come up with the idea and get started?

MR: In 2006 I swam across the Gibraltar Strait. It was fantastic and I loved the experience. I did a lot of my training alone in the sea along the Costa Brava and it got me thinking that there’s something really special here.

One day I had a drink with some friends, and the question came up, what would you be doing if you were not working for Vileda, where I’ve worked for 24 years [Miguel is the General Manager for Spain and Portugal]. The answer to me was obvious: I would dedicate my life to open water swimming. I then realised that I had a mission for my life, to make open water swimming popular.

Then I wrote down these three words on a blank sheet of paper: Mar (meaning sea), Natación (meaning swimming) and Marathon. In my mind, these words merged into one, into “MARNATON”, and I suddenly thought, I have something here. I got a bit crazy about it and immediately registered it as trademark. A few months later I proposed the idea to Mirentxu Vignau, a friend of mine, to join the adventure and we co-founded Marnaton.

OS: Was anyone else organising swimming events in Spain at the time?

MR: There have always been open water events in Spain but until we started these were always small and local. A seaside town might have a race from one beach to another or something, typically around 1-2 km distance, but it was only ever local people who took part and there wasn’t any professional organisation. I think what we have done is shown that large scale professionally run events can attract lots of swimmers. In particular, distances of about 6-7 km in true open water conditions, such as around capes and headlands etc. When we started in Cadaqués 10 years ago many people thought we were completely crazy to swim in such a wild and windy place. Fortunately, some others just loved it. Nowadays, each September, many people come from all around the globe. This year we are very proud to celebrate the 10th edition.


OS: When did you realise you were on to something positive?

MR: I was excited right from the beginning. I knew we discovered something nice and we had to share it. I was lucky to find a team of people who shared the vision. We also made a lot of mistakes to start with, but we took it as part of the process. On the other hand, we really learned a lot quickly. After two or three years, other event companies entered the market and to me this was proof that our idea wasn’t so crazy after all. Now, in this part of Spain, there is an event nearly every weekend in the summer. We get up to 2000 people at our MARNATON swims.

OS: What do you think swimmers are looking for at events?

MR: I think swimmers like challenges and something to aim for. A lot of our events are therefore ‘crossings’ of some kind. For example, from the natural park of the Cap de Creus to the unique village of Cadaqués, which is a 6.5km swim that takes participants around the impressive headland that shelters the natural harbour in Cadaqués. There’s a purpose. You swim from one place to another and you get amazing views along the way.   

To really experience our “SWIM&FUN” essence, we ensure security on the sea and then everyone to join the fun afterwards. You shouldn’t miss our amazing party in Cadaqués with live music and DJ that runs until four in the morning.

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OS: How has starting Marnaton changed you?

MR: Sometimes you feel something or think something and do nothing about it. It’s just a nice idea. But, with Marnaton, it was completely different as it was really coming from the heart. We got so passionate about it that we could not stop chasing our vision to make it happen.

Having worked always for a large multinational company, I could not have imagined how much one can change by developing an exciting project like this one and becoming an entrepreneur. It is been an incredible journey. Let’s keep on popularising open water swimming and fostering “SWIM&FUN”!

OS: How has Marnaton moved from one event to a swim Cup?

MR: To be honest it was a bit of trial and error. We started in Cadaqués, then we tried several places like Sitges or Ibiza until we found our way. Today, the VI COPA MARNATON eDreams by VW California is composed of four events and many different distances (long, medium, short and kids). We start in Barcelona in May and then we continue along the Costa Brava: Begur in June, Sant Feliu in July and, finally, Cadaqués in September.

Find out more: marnatonedreams.com/en/home.html

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.