open water swimming fort copacabana

In the first four Olympiads, from 1896 to 1904, swimming events were held in open water areas like The Mediterranean, The Seine River or artificial lakes. As mentioned in a previous post, the 1908 Olympics in London were held at the massive White City Stadium that had a pool and diving area built into the infield. For the most part in recent history, swimming events have been held in pools, and recently indoor pools.

At the 2000 Olympics, the triathlon was introduced, which includes a 1,500 meter swim in open water. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, athletes could compete for the first time in a 10,000 kilometer swim. In Beijing, this 10,000 meter swim took place in a rowing-canoeing park, while the same race took place in The Serpentine, which is a recreational lake in Hyde Park, London.

For the 2016 Rio Olympics, both the triathlon and the 10,000 meter swim competition will commence at Fort Copacabana, which is at the southern edge of Rio de Janeiro. This is truly open water as Fort Copacabana opens up into the South Atlantic Ocean.

There has been a lot of news about the filthy and possibly dangerous conditions in the Guanabara Bay waters, where the sailing events will take place, but Fort Copacabana is about 30 kilometers away from the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay, and there is less anxiety about sickness and safety for he triathlon and 10,000 meter race. This is how the site openwatersswimming.com puts it.

Fort Copacabana to Guanabara Bay

As can be expected in a beach bordering a major metropolitan area, Copacabana Beach is not pristine and there is plenty of urban runoff in the water, especially after a rain. But it still remains one of the world’s most iconic beaches and presents one of the world’s greatest natural amphitheaters for open water swimming competitions. With a twice daily inflow and outflow of water from the Atlantic Ocean, major events like the Rei e Rainha do Mar and Travessia dos Fortes are hugely successful.

To me, what is more amazing about the 10,000 meter open water swim is how close the finishes are. Unlike a 10k run, which is completed in 26 to 28 minutes at high performance levels, a 10k open water swim will take about 1 hour and 50 minutes to 2 hours, which is a little less time than a fast-paced foot marathon of 42 kilometers. While 10,000 meter race finishes are determined by seconds, marathon top finishers are often ten to thirty seconds apart.

Maarten van der Weijden
Maarten van der Weijden, winner of the first Olympic 10,000 meter open water swim competition in 2008.

In the short history of Olympic open water racing, after nearly two hours of grueling swimming, the differences between the top finishing times have been seconds, even fractions of seconds. At the first 10,000 race in Beijing, only two seconds separated the medalists, 1.5 seconds being the difference between gold and silver. At the London Games four years later, only 3.4 seconds separated first from second.

All this after nearly two hours in the water!

Dibiasi Webster and Gompf_Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Agency
On the Medal Stand at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics: Klaus Dibiasi (Italy) Bob Webster (USA), Tom Gompf (USA)_from the book Tokyo Olympiad, Kyodo News Agency

It’s an oft-told tale – the aimless youth meets the experienced veteran who sees the potential the youth does not see.

Bob Webster was one such youth growing up in California in the 1950s. While Webster would accomplish the astonishing – winning gold medals in the 10-meter platform dive competition in two consecutive Olympics – he had no idea he had a career in diving in high school….until he met Sammy Lee.

“I was a gymnast growing up in the local YMCA, but when the gymnastics coach left town to take another job, we were left hanging,” Webster told me, referring to his time at Santa Ana High School. “That summer of my sophomore year, we went to the community pool and did somersaults into the water.” Webster explained that they were going to the pool to self-train themselves in gymnastics, but in essence, that is how he got his start in diving.

Bob Webster profile
Click on image to see footage of Webster diving at the Tokyo Olympics.

Webster graduated from high school and stayed local by going to Santa Ana Junior College, which did not even have a pool. More importantly though was what Santa Ana Junior College had very nearby – Sammy Lee. “Of all people, who sets up his practice there in Santa Ana? Dr. Sammy Lee! How lucky am I?”

Webster explained that one of his diving buddies actually walked into Dr. Lee’s office, and said something to the effect of – we got this kid who went to Santa Ana High School and you have to check him out. “How many times has he heard that,” thought Webster. But Webster did indeed set up a time to meet Dr. Lee, who was at this time, one of the most renown American Olympians of his time – a US Army medical doctor who had won gold in the 10-meter platform dive in 1948 (London) and 1952 (Helsinki).

Sammy Lee card

“When I went to meet Sammy, I was a nervous wreck,” said Webster. “He watched me dive, and he said, ‘I think you can win in the Olympic Games.’ I didn’t have any goals, but Sammy gave me the greatest gift – he lit the fire in my belly. He got me to believe in myself. ‘Bob I will be glad to train you,’ he told me. ‘We can do it at my home.'”

In fact, Webster trained off of a diving board above a sand pit, set up in Dr. Lee’s backyard. “That is how it started. He told me, ‘here is what I expect from you. You have to focus on this. And I will coach you.’ He didn’t charge me. He got me to believe in myself.”

Webster remembered Dr. Lee as a taskmaster, which is exactly what he needed. “I had some talent and desire, and Sammy drew it out of me. He was my idol, but we also called him the little general. ‘Do this. Do that,’ he’d say. But I’d do everything he told me to do. He must have made me do dives over and over until it was right. But he also had a great sense of humor. When I was training for the 1960 games in Rome, if I missed a dive, he’d sing Arriverderci Rome.”

Said Dr. Lee of Webster, “Diving-wise, he was the greatest competitor I’ve ever coached. He really held up under competition, as both of his Olympic medals were by narrow margins. I told him early on that he could be an Olympic champion and Bob finally said, ‘If you’re serious, I’m serious.’ I wrote to the University of Michigan and told them I had the

Torben Grael
Torben Grael (right), Brazil’s most decorated Olympian, is frustrated over the lost opportunity to clean up Guanabara Bay.

The Rio Olympics are under attack.

Not only is the world concerned about the removal of Brazil’s sitting President, the Petrobras scandal, the state of its weakened economy, and the threat of the deadly zika virus, prominent Brazilian athletes are also expressing increasingly powerful criticism and concern.

In this past week, Brazil’s most decorated Olympian, Torben Grael, as well as popular and former professional footballer, Rivaldo, spoke out very critically regarding the environment and security respectively.

In regards to the terribly polluted state of Guanabara Bay, Grael said in a recent interview that the organizers missed a huge chance to clean up the waters where sailing events will be held. Said the five-time medalist over five Olympiads:

We always hoped that having a big event like the Games would help. We ourselves put a lot of pressure to make it happen, but unfortunately it didn’t happen when they had money. And now they don’t have money, and so it’s even worse.

After the death of a 17-year old girl in Rio de Janeiro, Rivaldo wrote in frustration at the state of safety, health and politics in Rio, stating the following below a picture of the woman who was killed:

“Things are getting uglier here every day,” Rivaldo wrote. “I advise everyone with plans to visit Brazil for the Olympics in Rio — to stay home. You’ll be putting your life at risk here. This is without even speaking about the state of public hospitals and all the Brazilian political mess. Only God can change the situation in our Brazil.”

Rivaldo Instagram image
Rivaldo’s Instagram message from May 14.

On top of that, Dr Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa professor recently wrote in the Harvard Public Health Review that the Rio Olympics should be postponed for health safety reasons.

Simply put, Zika infection is more dangerous, and Brazil’s outbreak more extensive, than scientists reckoned a short time ago.  Which leads to a bitter truth: the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games must be postponed, moved, or both, as a precautionary concession.

Where is that light at the end of this tunnel?

Aleks Duric father and brother
Aleks (left), when he was 9 years old with his dad and older brother Milan at a restaurant where his dad always visited. (Photo © Aleksandar Duric)

Before he was junior kayaking champion of Yugoslavia, before he was an Olympian for the first Bosnian-Herzegovinian team at the Barcelona Games in 1992, before he would go on to a long and successful soccer career, Aleksandar Duric was his father’s son.

And being the son of Mladjen Duric was a challenge.

As Duric wrote in his fascinating book, Beyond Borders, his father was a “rugged, simple man, with little education”, whose mother abandoned him and whose father was killed in World War II. He was also an alcoholic and abusive to his wife and children. “When he was sober my father was a good man, not the sensitive or talkative type, but honest and unselfish – he would give you his own blood if you needed it. But drinking changed him; it turned him into an animal.”

beyond borders cover duricThe kayaker from Doboj, Bosnia recalled when his father got so drunk, he crashed and destroyed his car, in which so much hard-earned money was invested.

Our relationships was at breaking point at that stage. I was sick of him bringing shame to our family, sick of how he treated us all. I shouted at him, “You’re completely wasted. You’re a disgrace!”

“How dare you speak to me like that? I’m your father!”

It escalated from there. We had a blazing argument and my mother stepped in to try to calm things down. That made him angrier. He made a wild move to grab my mother and hit her. I got in between them, grabbed a kitchen knife from the counter and pointed it at him, saying, “If you ever touch her or Milan again, I’ll kill you. I swear to god, I’ll cut you into pieces.” The scary thing is, I meant it.

A few years later, Duric served as an officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, just as the diverse and increasingly hostile parts of the Bosnian region of Yugoslavia – Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks – began to splinter. One time, Duric’s commanding officer sent him and his team on a convoy mission to protect trucks transporting weapons and ammunition into areas at the heart of the Bosnian conflict. Duric, who was personally wrestling with the suspect reasons why the Yugoslav’s People’s Army was fighting the battles it was, reluctantly took his team on the tense trip through hostile territory. When he and his team completed the mission successfully, he was asked again to take his team on another mission. Duric pushed back saying that he and his team were promised they would be able to return to their base and safety if they had completed the one mission.

As related in this book, after being called a coward, and slapped around, Duric was thrown into jail for insubordination, threatened with imprisonment for years. As Duric was being moved to his jail cell, he saw an officer he was friends with and shouted to him to tell his father that he was in military jail. And despite all that he and his father had been through, he knew his father would help. “My father was not an affectionate man and he had plenty of personal demons, but he was not going to let his youngest son rot in some cell in Vukovar.”

In the end, his father shouted, berated and threatened the right people and got his son released. “To this day I don’t know what went on behind the scenes after this. Favours must have been called in, more threats must have been made. But whatever happened, all I know is that he very next day I was escorted out of the cell, handed a couple of sets of keys to some waiting Landrovers with my men already sitting inside them, and told in no uncertain terms to get me out of their sight immediately.

Aleks Duric and kayaking team
Winter in Doboj with the kayaking team. 15-year-old Aleks is second from left, squatting. (Picture © Aleksandar Duric)

Since that time, Duric left Bosnia and laid low in Szegred, Hungary, with little money and little prospects for the future. As explained in the previous post, Duric went on to compete in the Barcelona Olympics, and a 20-year career in professional soccer in Australia, China and Singapore. He did not return to Doboj to see his family again, even when his mother was killed by a Bosnian shell that hit her home in 1993.

But in 2000, Duric received word from his brother that his father was dying. Duric made the trip from Singapore to Doboj, and spent the final days with his father, telling him about his days at the Olympics and his successes on the soccer pitch. And his father, after

Szeged to Barcelona

The weeks leading up to an Olympic Games can be exhilarating – for many, a once-in-a-lifetime period of gleeful privilege: receiving your kit, which contains your team outfit, training wear, and uniform for competition, being feted in pre-departure parties, meeting dignitaries and celebrities, and having all travel and lodging logistics taken care of for you.

Alexsandar Duric, also had a once-in-a-lifetime experience leading up to his trip to the Olympic Games. But his was not one of glee and delight. As detailed in part 1, Duric was asked to represent newly established nation, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the midst of an internecine war. He made the difficult decision to go. Now he had to figure out how to get there.

Duric, who was not a person of means, had a small backpack, a kayak paddle that a good friend gifted to him, and $20 in his pocket. Now he had to travel some 2,000 miles from his base in Szeged, Hungary to Barcelona. He fortunately did not have to make it all the way to Spain. He just needed to get to Ljubljana, Slovenia where he would join his nine other teammates on the Bosnian team, and from there get on a plane to Barcelona.

Duric stuck his thumb out and a man driving an empty mini-bus stopped to pick him up. The driver said that he could take him to the Austrian border, but not through it. The driver was Serbian, who had a hard time believing that he was sitting next to a fellow Serb going to Barcelona to represent Bosnia in the Olympics. “He didn’t like that, and he asked why I was going to the Olympics for ‘them’. It was an awkward conversation, but he was a nice man who drove me to the border.”

Duric made it to the Austrian border, and explained to the officials in Austria that he had a legitimate reason to enter Austria. “Why would an Olympian in this day and age be hitchhiking across Europe instead of being jetted and pampered as befitting his status” was what the officials were wondering. Even when Duric showed his invitation letter from the Austrian Olympic Committee, which was managing the process for the Bosnian Olympic squad, the Austrian authorities were skeptical, until they called the number on the document and confirmed that this unlikely straggler was, in actuality, an Olympic kayaker.

Duric told me that at that time, the Austrian-Hungarian border was closely monitored as many people were trying to leave the countries in the Soviet bloc. In fact, the friendly Hungarian border officials had told Duric the Austrians would probably send him back to Hungary, as they did routinely to all of the people trying to escape to Austria. When Duric watched reports of Syrian refugees struggling to find freedom from war and famine, he remembered his time at the border. “I was there in the 1990s. I saw so many families with small kids trying to find a better place. People talk bad about refugees, but I wish I could open my house to them. I know how they feel.”

The Austrian border officials eventually made contact with someone in the Austrian Olympic Committee verifying that Alexsandar Duric was indeed a member of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Olympic Team, and needed passage through Austria to get to Slovenia. “I clearly remember,” he told me. “At first, they didn’t believe me. I couldn’t explain it. They were asking me ‘where’s your car?’ ‘Where are you going?’ I only had this piece of paper from Olympic Committee of Austria. Eventually, they were all smiles, asking me where my car was, or if I had my first-class air tickets. They slapped me on the back and wished me luck.”

The officials also asked someone who was headed to Slovenia to take Duric, and even phoned ahead to their colleagues at the Austria-Slovenian border to let Duric through quickly. United with the other members of the Bosnian team, Duric spend a few days in Ljubljaana before getting on a plane to Barcelona, finally no longer having to figure out the logistics.

Bosnia Herzogivna team
The first ever Bosnia-Herzegovina Team in 1992.

And suddenly, he was an Olympian, in Barcelona, at the 1992 Summer Games. “I grew up in Doboj, and then, I thought Belgrade was like New York. When I arrived in Barcelona, I thought, ‘Am I in this world, or another planet?’ All the lights. The beaches. I was in a magic world.”

“Stepping into the village was amazing. I couldn’t believe my eyes who was walking by me in the huge restaurants. I was there for hours staring at people. I saw the Dream Team the first day before they moved out of the Village I saw Michael Jordan. Carl Lewis came up to

beyond borders cover duric

He was Yugoslavian. More specifically, he was a Serbian born and raised in Doboj, a town in the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. More intriguingly, he was a powerful kayaker, junior champion of Yugoslavia at the age of 15, and one of the top ten kayakers in the world at the age of 17. Aleksandar Duric had a very viable dream of going to the Barcelona Olympics, but his country was crumbling.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Yugoslavia was a diverse federation of republics and provinces, primarily held together by the former president, Josip Tito. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the USSR’s influence waned, Yugoslavia’s political world began to spin apart. In 1989, Serbia declared independence. Soon after, Croatia did the same. Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was a highly diverse province of Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks, became an independent sovereign nation in March, 1992, and fell into years of a cruel and bloody civil war.

Duric was an eyewitness to Yugoslavia’s disintegration as a teenage officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, following orders while trying to understand why Serbs, Croats and Muslims who had lived peacefully were now at each other’s throats. He was ethnic Serbian in an army that was dominated by Serbs, in a region that held a Muslim majority.

In 1992, Duric left the Army, his disagreements with leadership and distaste for the war making it untenable for him to remain in the Army. In fact, he felt the need to leave the country, settling in with a friend in a border town in Hungary. Out of work, out of training, away from family and friends, Duric merely bided time.

And then one day in July, 1992, his mentor and friend, Jusuf Makaravic, gave him the news that the IOC was inviting ten athletes from the newly established nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that Duric was one of them. The IOC understood that many of these athletes would not be in peak condition due to the war, that their intent was to emphasize that all nations should participate in the Olympics. Duric’s first reaction was “But I’m a Serb.”

Duric immediately understood the difficult decision before him. As he explained in his autobiography, “Beyond Borders“, Duric was swayed by his mentor’s rationale.

“Yes, Aleks. But you’re a Bosnian first, don’t forget that. You can play your part in showing the world that Bosnia does not necessarily mean Muslim, you show them that Bosnia is home to people of many backgrounds. You lived your life in Bosnia, you trained half your live on the river Bosna, you deserve to compete for Bosnia as one of their first ever Olympians.”

Help Bosnia Now

As Duric told me, despite his friend’s advice, he felt so alone as he knew his family and friends would be made uncomfortable with a Serbian son representing a nation in conflict with Serbians in the former Yugoslavia. “When I got this call for the Olympics, it was definitely one of the toughest decisions I had to make. I was sitting in my room alone. In the back of my mind, I could deal with friends. But I didn’t want to disappoint my father, my mother, my brother.”

In the end, it was the life lessons from his parents that enabled Duric to make his decision to go the Olympics. He had learned a lot from his parents, particularly how not to hate other colors, other religions. “My mom and dad shaped me. When I was growing up, I was told that you have to respect all people, even if they are not good to you. All my friends were Bosnians. I was a Bosnian.”

And from that moment, Duric was an Olympian from Bosnia-Herzegovina, fulfilling a dream he had nestled for over a decade. “Holy shit, I’m going to the Olympics!”

Duke Kahanamoku and Henry Fonda
Duke Kahanamoku with film star Henry Fonda (1905 – 1982) who is draped in leis. Fonda is in Hawaii for the filming of ‘Mister Roberts’.

Kahanamoku first achieved Olympic glory in 1912 in Stockholm, Sweden, but because of the cancellation of the 1916 Olympic Games, Kahanamoku had to figure out how to remain an amateur for 8 years until he competed again at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium.

Only a few months after the 1912 Stockholm Games, gold medalist pentathlete and decathlete, Jim Thorpe, was stripped of his medals and amateur status because he took home pocket change for playing semi-pro baseball in 1909 and 1910.

Kahanamoku, who considered Thorpe a friend, was crestfallen, and was reported to have said, “Jimmy Thorpe was the greatest athlete there ever was. He could do everything. And what happened to him was a bad break for sports and for everyone.”

When Thorpe was stripped of his medals, Kahanamoku and his backers had to be cautious. So, according to author David Davis, when the citizens of Hawaii raised money for Duke Kahanamoku after his gold-medal winning performance at the 1912 Stockholm Games, they weren’t sure how to provide it to him lest they risk Kahanamoku losing his amateur status. And if Kahanamoku lost his amateur status, and could no longer compete in AAU events or the Olympics, then Kahanamoku’s ability to draw tourists and opportunities to Hawaii, it was thought, would diminish. Eventually, a house was bought by a trust company, and Kahanamoku was able to move into a new home. The trust was set up so that he could never re-sell the home. The flip side of the deal is that the powers that be in Hawaii probably kept this transaction under the AAU radar.

While it is possible that Kahanamoku received cash very quietly for appearances at exhibitions all over the world, as well as for low-key advertising campaigns in a pre-television, pre-internet world, Kahanamoku did not financially benefit from his immense celebrity while he was an athlete. This was true even after Kahanamoku had surrendered his amateur status and tried to make it in the world of film. His Hawaiian “otherness”, however, got him typecast as the quiet pacific islander surfer, or native American Indian chief. He was never able to rise to the easy heights of fellow swimmers, Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan films, or Buster Crabbe in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers films.

Anita Stewart and Duke Kahanamoku
Anita Stewart and Duke Kahanamoku in what I think is the 1927 film Isle of Sunken Gold

Kahanamoku is credited with appearances in 14 feature films, including the WWII naval classic, Mr Roberts, with Henry Fonda and James Cagney. But one film that is not mentioned is The Beachcomber, a film made shortly after Kahanamoku’s triumph in Stockholm. It never got distributed in the US, as it was seen as a threat to Kahanamoku’s amateur status. Here is how David Davis explains it in Kahanmoku’s biography, Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku:

Before returning to Hawaii, Kahanamoku made his motion picture debut in The Beachcomber, shot on an unidentified beach in Southern California. The one-reel silent film was directed by its star, Hobart Bosworth, a pioneer in Hollywood’s nascent movie industry. (Bosworth also was a friend and business associate of the author Jack London.) Duke did not have to stretch much to play a native islander who swims out to rescue Bosworth’s character from drowning. Publicity shots showed him wearing nothing more than a sarong. Bosworth had to delay releasing the film, however, after it was discovered that “the champion might lose his right as an amateur if swimming for money,” according to Motion Picture News. It is unclear whether The Beachcomber was ever shown or distributed in the United States, although foreign audiences reportedly were able to view the stirring flick.

Roy_1965 maybe
Roy, around 1 years old

On May 1, 2015, I kicked off my blog, The Olympians, with the intent of providing at least one blog post every day. Here we are, 365 days, over 10,000 visitors, nearly 20,000 views later, and I have kept my promise. Many thanks to all those who have helped me along the way!

Below are 20 of my favorite posts in 2016:

  1. The 1962 Asian Games: How Cold War Politics Sparked Heated Debate, Leading to the Indonesian Boycott of the 1964 Games
  2. “Do it Again. Again. Again.”: The Uncompromising Mindset of an Olympic Champion
  3. The Dutch Boycott of the 1956 Olympic Games Part 2: Rehabilitation
  4. The Hijab and The Turban: Why American Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad is Important  
  5. Dr Jega: The Fastest Man in Asia Learns that Life Works in Mysterious Ways
  6. Duke Kahanamoku Part 1: Surfing’s Johnny Appleseed Inspires Australia’s Pioneering Surfers and an Entire Sports Culture
  7. Japanese Face Off in Australia on the 15th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor
  8. Ken Sitzberger and Jeanne Collier: Diving’s Power Couple in 1964
  9. The Pain and Joy of Pain: Dick Roth and the Gold that Almost Wasn’t
  10. The Perfectionist’s Dilemma: The All-or-Nothing Life of Hurdler Ikuko Yoda
  11. Rare Canadian Gold in Tokyo: George Hungerford and Roger Jackson Win the Coxless Pairs
  12. The Record-Setting Row2Rio Team: Following in the Footsteps (Sea legs?) of Christopher Columbus
  13. Remembering the 3.11 Earthquake and Tsunami, My Ancestors, and the Tokyo Olympic Cauldron
  14. Sazae-san Part 3: Suicides and The Pressure Cooker of Japanese Education
  15. Simple is Best: Finally, The New Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Logos
  16. Singaporean Cyclist Hamid Supaat and the Big Chill: Competing on the World Stage
  17. The “Six-Million-Dollar-Man” and “Real Steel” Scenarios: Science and Technology Blurring the Lines and Creating New Ones  
  18. Tommy Kono: Out of an Internment Camp Rises Arguably the Greatest Weightlifter of All Time    
  19. Unbroken: The Truly Epic Story of Louis Zamperini Finally Shown in Japan
  20. Worrying Willy and Paradise Pete: How the US Army Prepped Recruits for Japan in the 1950s

Click here for my favorite posts from 2015! Again, many thanks for all your support!

Row2Rio Foursome

Two men and two women are currently rowing their way from Portugal to Brazil. Susannah Cass, Jake Heath, Mel Parker and Luke Richmond have been rowing over six-weeks to shine the spotlight on the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, as well as raise funds to fight cancer.

This Row2Rio team is close to becoming the first four-man crew to row from Europe to South America, mainland to mainland. Think about it – four people in the middle of the Atlantic, rowing essentially 24/7, living off of food and water stored inside their 8.6 meter long boat.

While they are the first to make this particular journey across the Atlantic by rowing, the first to actually make this trip was famed explorer, Christopher Columbus. The Italian discoverer, sponsored by Spanish resources, had already found fame and glory in two prior voyages. While Columbus was looking for a westward path to Asia, he famously “discovered” America in his first voyage, naming the locals “Indians” thinking initially that he had made it to India.

It was in Columbus’ third voyage that he sailed from Europe to mainland South America in 1498, the first to do so. Columbus had three ships and a large crew, and it took him about two-and-a-half months to sail from Spain to Paria Peninsula, which is in present-day Venezuela.

The Row2Rio crew is trying to do it in less time, and they are close to completing the 3,600 mile ocean journey. Here is an excerpt from a Row2Rio blog post from Luke Richmond, explaining the travails as they approach their port of call, Refice, Brazil.

Luke Richmond
Luke Richmond

Mother Nature giveth and Mother Nature taketh away. Just as we had a shining light of hope for a fast easier finish to this adventure it all changed within the hour to a grinding slog throughout the night. I’ve adjusted my mindset to just accept whatever the next 8 days will throw at us, the greater the struggle the greater the glory.

The battle line has been drawn. We are currently 600 Nautical Miles from our final destination of Recife in Brazil. If you can imagine a line drawn from our current position to Recife, this is now a line we cannot cross. We must stay south of this line while moving south south west. If we go above it for too long we might not be able to land in Recife and will have to change our final harbour to one of the northern towns. The waves [are]trying to push us north, the wind is trying to push us north west and the current is pulling us west. It’s up to ourselves to fight to stay below our cut off line and get as far south as we can in case we get very bad weather. It’s going to be a fine line all the way to the end. It’s tough rowing but our bodies have been conditioned for it over the past weeks and now this is our final test.

Once they make it to Recife, they complete their journey to Rio by cycling down the Eastern coast of Brazil over 4 weeks, to bookend their journey, which started when the biked from London to Lagos, Portugal. What awaits them are family, friends and the festive atmosphere of Rio on the verge of its biggest party ever.

Christoper Columbus in his Third Voyage
Christopher Columbus upon hitting land in his Third Journey to “Asia”

 

Columbus was not so lucky. After staying at Paria Peninsula for only a week, he set sail

australia surf brands

Surfing is as Australian as vegemite. Champion surfers from Australia are commonplace. The image of an Aussie lifeguard on his surfboard to the rescue is now clichéd. Some of the biggest brands in surfing wear – Quicksilver and Billabong – are Australian. And even though the UGG Australia is an American brand, the company was started by an Australian surfer.

Australia is over 5,600 miles away from Hawaii. But when Duke Kahanamoku came to Australia in 1914, the locals must have thought he was from another planet. Kahanamoku was world famous, which is saying a lot for that time. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, a natural on the water, Kahanamoku was such an amazing swimmer that he got on the US Olympic team and won a gold medal in the 100 meters, and a silver in a relay race at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

Duke Kahanamoku surfing in Australia
Duke Kahanamoku, Cronulla Beach Australia, 7th February 1915

Thanks to the stunning photos of Kahanamoku standing erect on his board while riding the waves in Hawaii, and his accomplishments at the Olympic Games, Kahanamoku was invited to compete in swimming events in Australia and New Zealand. He had heard that surfing on the beaches of Australia was illegal, so he didn’t bring his board. But when he arrived and was told that surfing was in fact legal, he said he would build a board himself. According to author David Davis in his wonderful biography of Kahanamoku, Waterman, Kahanamoku went to a lumberyard, got the wood he wanted, and shaped an eight-and-a-half foot “round-nosed, square-tailed board”.

Kahanamoku wowed them. Davis quotes The Sunday Times (Sydney), from December 27, 1914:

Duke Kahanamoku in Australia
Duke Kahanamoku at the Freshwater Clubhouse, Australia, with the board he made on arrival

“Kahanamoku was the ‘human motor boat,’ wrote one observer. ‘So lightning like was the movement that all one could see was a dark figure – it might have been a post for all that the spectators knew – flying through space. We had known him only by repute; we had seen him in pictures in one of his famous attitudes – standing on his surf board, being borne shorewards on the crest of a wave, a smile on his dusky countenance, and there were a lot of us who imagined the poster to be grossly exaggerated; too theatrical, in fact. But we are wrong. The man on the poster is the Duke all right, but the picture errs on the side of modesty.'”

It is legend that Kahanamoku was the first to surf on Australian shores. But that is not the case. Brothers, William and Tommy Walker of Australia appear to have purchased a surfboard in Hawaii and brought it back to Sydney before Duke was on the scene. But there is no doubt that Kahanamoku, his presence, demeanor and skill, made him and surfing a phenomenon.

“Kahanamoku was the first expert to surf in Australian waters,” wrote Davis. “And, as he had done previously in places like Atlantic City and Southern California, his skill at ‘walking on water’ inspired numerous followers. At least three of the young people whom he directly touched on the 1914-1915 trip – Claude West, “Snow” McAlister, and Isabel Letham – grew up to become influential figures in Australian circles. Once