Long distance and extreme swimmer Lewis Pugh is willing to go to great lengths to support his cause. The fact that that cause is protecting the planet’s oceans just means that he might find himself taking the plunge in some unusual waters from time to time. Yesterday, that meant taking the plunge in the icy waters that surround South Georgia Island, a remote location deep in the Southern Ocean.
Wearing nothing more than a speedo, Pugh dove into the water and began a 1 km (.6 mile) long swim. The temperature of the ocean was just 35ºF/2ºC, which is enough to quickly cause hypothermia or even death. It took the British endurance athlete 19 minutes to cover that distance. 19 long minutes in nearly-freezing water wearing next to nothing.
Pugh told National Geographic that he actually hates swimming in ice cold water. He doesn’t have a particularly strong tolerance for such temperatures, but he does it to raise awareness of the growing threat to our planet’s oceans. His message isn’t simply one that warns against climate change or melting ice caps however, as he also warns against over fishing and the growing amount of pollution that is dumped into the ocean’s on a daily basis.
This is hardly the first time Pugh has jumped into remote waters. His journeys have taken him not only to South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula, but also the Maldives, the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, and of course the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans. He’s even swam 1 km across Lake Pumori in Nepal, which sits at 5200 meters (17,060 ft) in altitude.
I was lucky enough to visit South Georgia earlier this year and saw the exact spot that Pugh went swimming near the village of Grytviken. In March, when I visited the last vestiges of the austral summer were fleeting, and conditions were already starting to turn colder. At the time, I thought to myself I can’t imagine getting into that water. Now, six months later, it still brings chills just thinking about that cold water.
Hats off to Pugh for being able to overcome those challenges and complete the swim. And major props for his message of protecting the waters too.