If these discussion threads at the Marathon Swimmers Forum are any indication, marathon swimmers love to argue about rules. This is not surprising; rules define the boundary conditions of our sport, what is and is not a “marathon swim.” The beauty of marathon swimming derives, at least in part, from its purity and asceticism - its prohibitions against things that would make it easier.
Debates and hand-wringing occasionally arise due to a few “local variations” on marathon swimming rules:
- Neoprene caps are allowed by the Ted Erikson, who both wore neo caps on their pioneering Farallon swims.
- In NYC Swim events, swimmers are allowed to exit the water in the event of lightning, and return to the water afterward without disqualification.
- In Cook Strait swims, swimmers are allowed to exit the water for ten minutes in the event of a shark encounter.
- Increased-coverage swimsuits (e.g., rash guards and stinger suits) are allowed in Rottnest Channel swims.
Concern trolls sometimes use these variations in an attempt to undermine marathon swimming, or to promote an “anything goes” policy. There may not be any universal set of marathon swimming rules (and I don’t think it makes sense to have one), but there is absolutely a universal spirit, going back to Captain Webb: to swim without artificial assistance.
Technology being what it is, new apparel and devices are always being developed, which are intended to make the act of swimming easier, but which do not specifically violate the rules.
How should we deal with these developments? How to decide whether an item violates the “spirit,” or not?
With these questions in mind, the SBCSA (specifically, Scott Zornig and I) present a community opinion survey on rules in marathon swimming:
(The survey benefited from feedback from Donal Buckley and Rob Dumouchel - thanks guys.)
The spirit of marathon swimming is defined by the “spirit” (and opinions) of marathon swimmers. But to my knowledge, there has never been any systematic study of what marathon swimmers actually think about these issues.
So that’s the motivation behind the survey. Anyone (marathon swimmer or otherwise) is invited to take it, by the way.
In closing, I’d like to quote a Michael Oram email from the Channel Swimmers chat group, which to my mind at least, eloquently captures the “spirit” of the sport:
It has always amazed me how athletes spend such a lot of time trying to stretch the rules and find aids. Channel swimming is a personal competition between the swimmer and the elements. Looking for that extra edge all the time is a negative approach as instead of working within the established parameters you are grasping at straws to get a little more assistance, or confidence.
Once you have started it’s you against the elements; whatever hat you are - or are not wearing.
- Related external post: “Confused” - by Jamie Patrick, Adventure Swimmer