Andy Spencer's swim challenge
FEATURES,  Readers' Swims

Our favourite swim stories and challenges of 2023

From Nordic odysseys to record-smashing channel crossings, it’s been a remarkable year for open water swimmers. Here we share some of our favourite readers’ swim stories and challenges in 2023.

We’ve been bowled over by so many of the swimming stories we’ve shared over the past year, from the record-breaking swims to the weird-and-wonderful challenges you’ve done for amazing causes (I mean, making and wearing a different hat for each of your 100 swims, anyone?!).

Your stories have inspired the Outdoor Swimmer team and our readers so much in 2023, we thought we’d share some our favourite record-breaking challenges, endurance-testing feats, quirky fundraisers and protest swims for a better world.

The record-smashers

Sophie Etheridge’s longest ever one-way solo English Channel swim

Sophie Etheridge on beach accessibility

In August, adaptive swimmer and Outdoor Swimmer columnist Sophie Etheridge completed the longest ever one-way solo English Channel swim, with a time of 29h, 4m.

Sophie never set out to do a swim that captured the imagination of the outdoor swimming world and left even the most experienced swimmers in awe. She just wanted to swim the English Channel, and prove to herself and her doubters that she could do it. We’re so proud of you, Sophie!

Read about Sophie’s record-breaking English Channel swim.
Watch our Q&A with Sarah about her experience.

Andy Donaldson’s Ocean Seven Challenge in one year

Andy Donaldson Gibraltar Strait

In July marathon swimmer Andy Donaldson completed the final leg of his Oceans Seven, swimming the Tsugaru Strait (19.5km) in a time of 13h04m.

The Oceans Seven comprises the seven toughest and most iconic channel swims in the world. Andy’s goal was to swim all seven channels within a year, which he did with flying colours. He is the first person to have ever achieved this. With British records in the English Channel and North Channel, as well as a World Record for the Cook Strait swim, Donaldson has established himself as a formidable figure in the open water swimming world.

Read about Andy’s Ocean Seven Challenge.

Bárbara Hernández’s longest ever swim in Antarctic waters

Bárbara Hernández

Known as ‘The Ice Mermaid’, this year Chilean open water swimmer Bárbara Hernández became the first person to swim 2.5km in the icy waters of Antarctica

The temperature was 2°C, and she wore only a swimsuit with no protective clothing or grease. The swim lasted 45m and took place in Chile Bay, Greenwich Island.

Read more about Bárbara’s Antarctic swim.

Matt Dawson’s all the lakes without a break

Matt Dawson celebrating with raised arms after finishing his final Lake District swim. Green hills in the background.

In the summer, Matt Dawson set a new record in the Lake District, swimming all 13 publicly accessible lakes in the National Park, equating to approximately 70km of swimming.

The timer starts when you get in at the first lake and stops when you get out at the end of the final lake, so all swimming and travelling time in between counts towards the overall time.

Read about Matt’s record-breaking swim in the Lake District.

Hector Pardoe’s fastest swim in Windermere

Hector Pardoe

In a remarkable feat of endurance and determination, British Olympian Hector Pardoe set a new record for the fastest swim from end to end of Windermere, solidifying his position as a rising star in the world of open-water swimming.

The 22-year-old’s swim took place on 2 September in Windermere, the largest natural lake in England. Battling challenging conditions, pushing his physical limits and negotiating a busy lake, Pardoe completed the 10.5-mile (16.9 km) swim in 3:40.28, smashing the previous record, set by Justin Palfrey in 1997, by eight minutes.

Read about Hector’s fastest swim in Windermere.

Jessika Robson: youngest person to swim the North Channel

North Channel swim

At 17-years old, Jessika Robson is the youngest person to swim the North Channel, with a time of 11hrs, 46m. While conditions for the swim were mostly ideal, Jessika endured several stings from Lion’s mane jellyfish in the first few hours of her swim. Despite the pain Jessika cracked on, braving choppier conditions and unfavourable tides before reaching the end point at Portpatrick in Scotland.

Jessika’s swim took place in September, coinciding with other incredible record-breaking swims, including Jonty Warneken becoming the first amputee to swim the North Channel solo, and Gill Castle becoming the first person with a stoma to swim solo across the English Channel.

Read about Jessika’s swim in the North Channel.

The zany challengers

Jule Harries’ 100 Hats swimming challenge

Charity swim

In June, charity swimmer Dr Jule Harries completed her 100 Hats challenge, undertaking 100 open water swims while wearing a different hat each time to raise money for Surrey Young Carers and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Jule, who has collected hats since she was a teenager, started her challenge with conventional hats – such as vintage fireman and police hats – but her attention quickly moved to more elaborate inventions. Her masterpieces included a Carmen Miranda-style mountain-of-fruit headpiece, a giant lunchbox, a Dali-style lobster phone weighing over 2kg and a genuine frying pan with a flying pancake for Shrove Tuesday. You’ve got to admire her creativity!

Read about Jule’s 100 Hats swimming challenge.

Menna Jones’ year of full moon swimming

Full moon swimming

When a bout of Covid left her unable to celebrate her 40th birthday on New Year’s Eve, Menna Jones decided to mark the milestone year ahead by swimming under every full moon of the year.

This new year intention brought about a plethora of blessings in Menna’s life, and she’s now a self-confessed full moon swimming addict.

Read about Menna’s year of full moon swimming.

Damien Wildes’ 1km swim in every Irish county

Ireland swimming challenge

In the summer, endurance athlete Damien Wildes completed an extraordinary swimming challenge – to swim 1km in each of Ireland’s 32 counties in one weekend.

The challenge began at 4.30am on the morning 16 June at Balbriggan Beach in Dublin and took Damien all over the country, swimming in lakes, rivers, bogs, the Irish Sea and the Atlantic. Damien completed the challenge in his hometown of Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Read more about Damien’s 1km swim in every Irish county.

Hafsa Mughal: complete beginner to English Channel relay swimmer

English Channel relay

Prior to applying for Optimum Nutrition’s Channel More project, Hafsa Mughal did not know how to swim. She learnt completely from scratch before diving headfirst into Greg Whyte’s training programme and completing her leg of an English Channel relay on 30 September. Her team finished the swim in just under nine hours.

Read about how Hafsa Mughal went from complete beginner to English Channel relay swimmer, all in the space of five months.

Jari Cennet Tami’s longest unsupported swim

Longest unsupported swim

In the summer, Swedish adventurer Jari Cennet Tammi successfully completed his second attempt at what is believed to be the world’s longest unsupported swim, from Stockholm to Helsinki across the Baltic Sea.

After months of rigorous training (including towing a Ruckraft weighted with 6kg, plus four filled 5L canisters) Jari embarked on his challenge on 10 June 2023. His swim involved navigating his way through Stockholm’s archipelago of over 30,000 islands, and busy shipping traffic in the Åland Sea.

The swim took him 41 days (plus 11 days waiting for the right weather conditions). He towed his own kayak containing his food and gear and swam an average of 13.9km per day.

Read about Jari’s longest unsupported swim.

The heart warmers

Andy Spencer’s 365 daily swim challenge in memory of his father

Andy Spencer's swim challenge

Last winter Twickenham resident and Thames ferry captain Andy Spencer completed his swimming challenge – to swim a mile a day in the River Thames for a year – in memory of his late father Francis.

Andy, a novice swimmer, did his first mile in the River Thames on the first anniversary of his father’s death. His final swim was watched on by his mother Jenny who has been supporting his challenge every step of the way.

Read about Andy’s swim challenge.

Ger Moore’s swim against suicide in the River Shannon

River Shannon swim

On 18 June, charity swimmer Ger Moore embarked on his 250km swim of the length of the River Shannon, starting at the top of Lough Allen then ending in Limerick City on 1 July.

Ger swam an average of 17km per day for 14 days. Throughout the challenge, Ger was raising awareness and funds for suicide prevention charities Jigsaw and Pieta House.

“I swam for these two charities as I feel there isn’t any community in the country that has’t been affected by someone dealing with mental health issues and/or suicide,” Ger told us.

Read about Ger’s swim for suicide prevention in the River Shannon.

The campaigners for a better world

Yvette Tetteh’s 450km swim of the Volta River

Yvette Tetteh

Yvette Tetteh’s epic 450km swim down the Volta river system in Ghana highlighted the environmental damage done to the country by fast fashion and the trade in second-hand clothes.

As one of the largest recipients of used clothing in the world, Ghana sees some 15 million items of second-hand clothing from global north countries such as the EU, the UK and the US entering local markets every week. Waste textiles from fast fashion choke the country’s waterways and beaches.

Astoundingly, Yvette’s Volta river challenge was her introduction to open water swimming.

Read about Yvette’s 450km swim of the Volta River.

Lewis Pugh’s Hudson swim for cleaner waters

Lewis Pugh Hudson swim

This year, Lewis Pugh took on his longest river swim yet, 507km of the Hudson River from source to sea, in his campaign for the health of our rivers and oceans.

“If we want healthy oceans, we also need healthy rivers – it’s that simple,” Pugh, said. “The good news is that rivers are accessible to most people, and we know what it takes to get them healthy. I specifically chose the Hudson for this swim because of the environmental progress that’s been made on the iconic waterway in recent years.”

Read about Lewis’s epic swim of the Hudson.

Read more inspiring swim stories.

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Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for The Guardian, BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.