Open Water Swimming

The Midmar Mile is the world's largest open water race, held annually near Pietermaritzburg. The oldest existing race in South Africa is the Redhouse SC River Mile, which has been run since in 1924. Mile races was previously held in various locations, like the the Buffalo river in East London and the Vaal River, with new mile races now being introduced every year. Since 2008 a standard 10km open water event to the Olympic Games programme, as it became a standrad FINA event with its own World Cup series of races around the world.

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Open water swimming is about racing, and it has always a part of competitive swimming, before any suitable pools for racing were built. Races were held in rivers an dams, and the ocean. Marathon or long distance swims like the False Bay and Robben Island crossings were undertaken as challanges - swimers against the elements, although at one time these swims were also undertaken as organized races, such as the 1926 Cape Argus sponsored Robben Island race won by Peggy Duncan. Rhodesian swimming held races across the crocodile invested waters of lake Kariba.

Open water racing has become standardised Olympic 10km event, under the auspices of FINA. South Africa has an open water national championships, (click the link for 2014 results) which includes events up to the Olympic distance of 10km as well  as shorter 7,5 and 3 km events for age groups and disabled swimmers. The Open Water Swim Challenge Series and the Eastern Cape Challenge Series act as qualifying events for the South African Championships, and the Midmar Mile

There are numerous websites dedicated to open water swimming - including the Openwaterpedia, and H2Open magazine. Tom Cottrell wrote The Swimmers Guide to South African open water swimming, which is a comprehensive database of information.  

The Gentry Cup Mile race was held in False Bay.


The mile race was part of the competitive swimming calendar long before it became an Olympic event. Today it is a 1500m or 1650 yards event swum a swimming pool, although it was initially swum in open water. In 1926 Gordon's Swimming club in Cape Town held a Mile race in Table Bay harbour, and at one time there was a South African mile and half mile championship in the Vaal river. 

This tradition continues tody, with mile races such as the Red House River Mile event which began on the Swartkops river near Port Elizabeth in 1924, and is today the oldest existing Open water event in South Africa. The Gentry Cup was another open water event, introduced in 1925 and held in False Bay until WW2. Other open water events included the Buffalo River Mile in East London and the 5 mile Enduro Race in the lower reaches of the Swartkops river. The Midmar Mile was started in 1974 and has grown into the biggest open water race event in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

11 December 1926 - start of the Gordons SC 2 mile race - off the Pierhead in Table Bay harbour

Many other Open Water events have sprung up around the country as local organisers seek to develop their sport and cash in. There are also new open water races held in the ocean - or even the enclosed waters or Marina Martinique in Jeffreys Bay.

Click here to see the venues of many open water races in held southern Africa today, including lake Kariba and Troutbeck in Zimbabwe and as well as the Pupkewitz Jetty Mile at Swakopmund and the Lake Oanob in Namibia, which dates from 2008. 

The complete list of over 60 events is too numerous to list here. Click here to see a website dedicated to these events.


Swimmers in the 1926 Cape Argus race from Robben Island which was won by Peggy Duncan.

Chad Ho, Natalie du Toit win at Hazelmere

 19 January 2008

Chad Ho and Natalie du Toit produced solid performances to secure comfortable victories in the 10km event at the Hazelmere Dam near Durban on Saturday in the final event of The Swim Challenge Series 2007-2008

A quality field comprising of some of South Africa’s best marathon swimmers took up the challenge at the picturesque KZN venue in the final 10km “hit-out” before the forthcoming SA National Open Water Championships that will be held at the Mofam River Lodge in Elgin on February 2-3.

The race was a closely contested affair with the leading group working off each other throughout the race and as a result the first five finishers completed the six lap course within a minute of the eventual winner, Chad Ho.

With all athletes competing for a place on the Team SA squad that will compete at the 5th FINA World Open Water Championships in Seville, Spain, in May, it was evident that the discipline has undergone rapid maturity domestically which certainly augers well for the future.

From the gun it was clear that Mark de Swart, Charlton Lawson, Natalie du Toit, Velia Janse van Rensburg and AJ Logan had their sights on Ho who was content to head the pack for long periods of the race. While the eventual time was disappointing, what was interesting was the manner in which the athletes shared the workload.

Ho claimed victory comfortably from Mark de Swart while Lawson had to settle for the minor placing on the day. In the ladies race, it was Natalie du Toit who won comfortably with Velia Janse van Rensburg taking the silver. AJ Logan, who dropped off the pace at the 7km mark, did well to claim the bronze on the day.

The event at Hazelmere Dam concludes on Sunday with the 5km and 3km events which are followed by the 1km Halfway Telkom Midmar Mile seeding events.

Meanwhile in Gauteng, the 10th Telkom Resolution Rhoode 1000 takes place at Baja Bay at the Bronkhorstbaai Dam on Sunday morning. The event will be dedicated to the late Kenneth Smith who was tragically lost to the sport last year. Indications are that this well organised event is set for a record entry.

South Africa Introduces Open Water Series

22 September 2006

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, September 22. SOUTH AFRICA’S premier Open Water Swimming Series, The Swim Challenge Series 2006-2007 was officially launched at a well attended function at the Johannesburg Stadium on Tuesday.

The Swim Challenge Series 2006-2007 has grown in stature since being introduced in 2004 and besides being the official seeding events for the world famous Halfway Telkom Midmar Mile, has now taken on greater significance for those athletes with international Open Water Swimming aspirations.

With the discipline being accepted by the International Olympic Committee in October 2005 as a new event in the Olympic program, the stature of The Swim Challenge Series 2006-2007 is greatly enhanced with the introduction of the 10km and 3km events to complement the popular 5km event which has been the mainstay of Swimming South Africa’s Open Water Swimming Strategy.

The Swim Challenge Series 2006-2007 races are also the official qualifying events for the Telkom SA National Aquatic Championships 5km event, the SA “B” National Swimming Championship 3km event and consideration for the SSA National Senior and Junior Open water Swimming squads. Only squad members will be considered for national team selection and international participation.

The Swim Challenge Series 2006-2007 will consist of twelve events throughout South Africa and will follow the well established and popular format of four 1km events that begin at 9:30 a.m. at 45 minute intervals and a 500m fun swim that concludes matters at 12:30 p.m. In the past, a 5km event has started proceedings at 7:00 a.m. This will change for the forthcoming series with half of all events being replaced with a 10km event starting at 7:00 a.m. and a 3km event starting at 8:00 a.m.

“This format will afford our elite open water swimmers the opportunity to compete in the Olympic Marathon Swimming distance domestically, thereby gaining valuable racing experience while the 3km event will allow our junior and masters athletes the opportunity to maintain racing fitness,” said Neville Smith, the Coordinator of Open Water Swimming at Swimming South Africa.

With a number of international open water swimming competitions earmarked in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing summer Olympics, Smith felt that it was in the interest of the sport to increase the pool of athletes that the Federation can draw upon.

“It is imperative that we nurture our National Open Water Swimming squads over the next few years and support those athletes that are committed to the discipline by affording them the opportunity to compete internationally. However we must be correctly prepared and The Swim Challenge Series is an ideal competition that provides tough and competitive conditions.” Smith said.

The series kicks off on Oct. 8 at the Hazelmere Dam in Canelands, north of Durban, Kwa Zulu Natal and concludes on Jan. 27, 2007 at the Blue Rock Dam in Somerset West, Western Cape.