Participants are required to leap (jump or dive) from a 3m wall into a swollen, fast flowing river with a water temperature of about 5 degrees Celsius. They then have to swim about 100m across the river and exit via a set of steep steps. Wetsuits, naturally, are not allowed.
It somehow seems doubtful that this type of event could take place in Britain with its nannyish health and safety culture or whether an event organiser could get the required public liability insurance.
However, such an event does take place in Belgium, in the town of Huy, near Liege. The river is the mighty Meuse, which originates in France and eventually discharges into the North Sea, a historic border between the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France and the scene of the last major German counter-offensive in World War II.
This year’s event took place on 22 February. Dutch swimmer Annabelle Slingerland was there.
“The fun starts in the tour bus that takes undressed swimmers from the Aroan Quay across the historic bridge to the other side, ready to jump or dive. Once you surface you feel like a knight on a chess board: every stroke forward takes you two sideways. You sense this river could easily take you all the way through the Netherlands and dump you into the North Sea. Fortunately, the Belgians take safety very seriously and have plenty of boats ready to fish out those who can’t make it across.
“The experience of swooshing across the river is something like skiing. If you make it, you want to jump on the next bus, go back to the start and try again.”
A tamer version takes place in the summer, when the water is more like 20 degrees and the flow much less, but part of the thrill is coping with the shock of the cold and powerful current. I can see the attraction but suspect you will have to travel to Belgium to do anything like it.
On the other hand, we could try asking the Port of London Authority for permission to leap from the wall on the Embankment and swim across to South Bank while the Thames is at peak flow…