This article hardly does justice to all of the exploits and successes of Paul Blackbeard. Paul was born in Durban on the 19th February 1958. He attended Northwood High School in Durban, and swam with Australian coach Terry Gulliver, and he swam for the Queen's Park swimming club.
After school Paul completed B.Comm and MBA degrees at the University of Natal. He served in the South African Police before embarking on an international career that saw him become a director at Tetra Pak, retire at age 50.
He then sailed a yacht called the S/V Blackbeard half way around the world, and settled in Perth, where he continues to compete in aquatic sports. His business interests now include Argil, Zuberant Life and being chairman of the Board at ECHO Charity,
"I am a passionate WATERMAN and in 2015 was humbled to be named as one of the 50 greatest Watermen in Open Water Swimming History along with names like Lord Byron, Jonny Weissmuller (Tarzan), Duke Kahanamoku and Australians like Trevor Henry, Ky Hurst and Grant Kenny. I have been Number 1 in the world in 3 different water sports plus I’ve sailed 2/3rds of the world on my own catamaran called BLACKBEARD. "
Paul qualified for his first South African championships in 1972, and he continued to compete at nationals for Natal until 1983, when finished second in the 100 fly. The return of South Africa to the Olympic Games in 1992 even brought suggestions of a comeback.
1979 Springbok team
As captain of the Springbok swimming team, one of the letters from the team manager said “Thank you for the exemplary manner in which you carried out your duties as captain. You took a great deal of responsibility off my shoulders thus greatly adding to my personal enjoyment of the trip. I honestly feel that we were a happy team and much of the credit for this is due to you as captain. It has been my experience in the past that many leading swimmers make indifferent captains as they are so tied up in their own success or otherwise, but you certainly proved the exception and proved to be an ideal captain in every way.”
At 25 years of age, Paul started the Masters Swimming organisation in South Africa getting Paddy McDowell, the ex-President of Natal swimming to run as the President and Paul as his Vice-President. This then became the structure for the new national body. In 1990, 22 South Africans were able to join American Masters club's as second claim members so that we could attend and compete in the 3rd Fina World Masters Championship held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 4th world masters was in Indianapolis where Paul had once accepted (but declined due to his fathers health) a swimming scholarship with Doc Councilman who was at that time the top American Swim Coach. The 5th World Masters was in Montreal (the first Olympics he would have swam in if there was no South African sports boycott). At the10th Fina World Masters in Perth, Paul won the title of World Champion for the 100m Butterfly.
Masters has also been good to Paul in lifesaving. At the time of writing, he is the current World Surf Race Champion (50-54). He has previously won numerous national and international surf race titles. Paul is also the new Masters World Record holder for the 200m Obstacle race (a pool lifesaving event).This was an event where, 38 years earlier he had broken the open world record in Barcelona, Spain. He was awarded the State President’s Award for this result.
Paul never saw himself as a distance swimmer although at the peak of 'Hell Week' during December training he was doing 20km a day in the pool (over 100km in the week)! His first South African record at the age of 14 was in the 400m freestyle where he paced his old training partner Peter le Roux for 300m and then sprinted the last 100m, always preferring the sprint distances.
During his early years of swimming, there were two annual open water swimming events. The first was the Midmar Mile. An event that began in 1974 and is now recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest open water swimming event attracting nearly 20,000 swimmers. Paul won the event in 1977.
The second annual event was the 'Mainstay Swim'. This was a 3.5km swim from Pirates (his surf club) to South Beach with a compulsory stop at North Beach. Paul won this race numerous times.
Paul has also swan the Red House River Mile in Port Elizabeth (Africa's oldest open water swimming event) and the famous Robben Island swim. He was in the team that won the relay event, but it was extreme and not something to do again.
Paul’s first real experience of a long open water sea swim was The Rottnest Channel Swim in Perth. Rottnest Island was also used as a prison and although it was rumoured that some prisoners swam back to the mainland, there is no proof that any did. The Rottnest Swim is a 20km swim and this was the first time he had trained for long distance swimming with Shelley Taylor-Smith, the winner of seven consecutive FINA Marathon World Cups.
Paul’s first solo Rotto swim after months of training with Shelly began at 5.45am with the seeded males. Very dehydrated by the end, Paul finished in a credible 7th position at the age of 52. This race is the largest open sea swim in the world. The next year he won the overall duo category and the year after, won the mixed team category.
Today Paul still swims and makes the headlines - finishing third in the 2014 Rottnest Channel swim - behind two under-30 year olds.
The Queens Park Amateur Swimming Club review included this about Paul:
‘The achievements of the Club's greatest son, Paul Blackbeard, have been so extraordinary, that we believe they deserve special mention over and above what has already been written. Paul joined Queen's Park as an 11 year old in 1969 and from the beginning played a very prominent part in the Club's revival during the early 70's.
Before he turned 14, he had broken on innumerable occasions all the Natal Juvenile records with the exception of the two breaststroke events. He later went on to rewrite the Natal record book for all the under 16 events, excepting the breaststroke and 800m freestyle, and then finally in senior competition he established Natal open records for 100, 200 and 400m freestyle, 100 and 200m butterfly, 200 and 400m individual medley, but in addition also created South African records over all these distances with the exception of 100m freestyle. In addition, there was one stage in his career when he held as many as thirteen South African Age Group records at one time, a feat unequalled by anyone else in South African swimming history.
At nationals at Ellis Park in Johannesburg in 1975, Paul won 9 gold medals!
Nearly all his records were accomplished without the aid of anti-ripple lanes and high starting blocks and, despite the ever improving standards of swimming at all levels, it has only been 10 years later that his records have started to fall. His name none-the-less still remains against several events in the record books but of even greater importance, he is still swimming for his Club and the province and he still continues to win titles- in this regard he won his first Natal Championship title in the Juvenile division in 1971 and since that time has won a massive number of 61 Natal titles and has taken his place in 37 Club relay teams to win championship events.
At a national level, he has won 38 gold medals at the South African Championships spread evenly between individual and team race events. To date he has swum in the Natal senior team on 40 occasions and for South Africa no less than 9 times (5 of them as team captain). Arising directly from his ability as a swimmer he has also represented South Africa at surf lifesaving and still-water lifesaving to become a triple Springbok, representing his country in 3 separate sports.
During the thirteen years Paul Blackbeard has been with Queen's Park he has accomplished many unique feats associated with swimming in this country, but throughout he has remained a good sport, absolutely dependable, well-mannered and above all else extremely loyal to his Club. In recognition of the immense honour he has brought to Queen's Park, the Club bestowed on him its most honoured award, that of honorary life membership, in 1975 and he thereby became the first member of the Club to receive such an award while still wholly involved in competitive swimming.’
Paul’s top result in the National Swim Titles was in Johannesburg in 1975 where he won 9 Gold Medals being the 100m and 200m freestyle, 100m and 200m butterfly, 200m and 400m individual medal and 3 relay gold’s in the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle and the 4x100m medley relay. Who knows if this could have been 11 medals as in 1975, the 50m races were not in the Nationals?
Natal team to the 1977 South African swimming, diving, synchronised swimming and water polo championships.
Some of Paul's newspaper headlines. A highly successful career in aquatic sports that began in the 1960's, and still going strong in 2018, has been the subject of numerous newspaper articles.
In date order, they read as follows:
· Blackbeard clips three more records
· A Special Breed – Paul and Sue
· Dedicated Paul Reaches for National Swim Titles
· Paul takes to the Surf
· Blackbeard Stars as Swim Records Tumble
· Splash! Paul Cracks National Record
· Paul robs Peter (this was the 400m freestyle SA Record)
· Paul provided the Swimming Treat
· Paul leads field as SA age group swim records fall
· Paul Blackbeard – a champion of the Future
· Paul Smashes Five Records
· Missing Class Wins Gold for Paul (15)
· Swim Successes for Paul
· Paul Strikes Top Form
· Blackbeard Shows How
· Paul is in line for two titles
· Paul in Superb Form
· Blackbeard is Supreme
· Paul in line for No. Four
· Sue, Simon and Paul… with the World at the feet
· Blackbeard murders old mark
· Paul was Natal’s Hero
· Bye Bye Blackbeard. Paul set for America
· Paul wins gruelling swim marathon
· Paul’s Place in History
· Paul’s World Record
· Blackbeard flies in from Europe for Queen’s gala
· Paul’s two Titles
· Paul Pips Simon
· Pirate Paul Conquers Surf
· Blackbeard Triumphs
· Blackbeard The Great
· Blackbeard Takes Five
· Blackbeard Makes it Six
· Paul’s Gold makes an Arab sheik envious
· Blackbeard and company confirm supremacy at National Championships
· It’s Blackbeard the Pirate
· Paul Sings His Way to Victory
· Paul won’t quit S.A.
· Blackbeard the Great
· Paul in Line for Award
· Paul goes out in fine Style
· Paul gets then going
· Paul goes for 3 swim titles
· All eyes on Blackbeard
· Paul pulls off a real thriller
· Final Gold’s for Paul
· Double Gold for Blackbeard
· Paul display’s early form
· Blackbeard inches in as records fall
· Paul Blackbeard Eclipsed
· No Luck for Paul
· Blackbeard leads SA Swim side
· Blackbeard drama sequel
· Paul Leads Swimming’s Gold Brigade
· Challenges aim for Blackbeard’s title
· Have we been fair to the champ?
· I was Lucky – Blackbeard
· Now Paul swims for the enjoyment
· Paul wins a record seventh time
· Paul faces stiff task
· Record bid by Bok Blackbeard
· Northerns ready to swoop on Blackbeard
· Paul Blackbeard set the pace…and a new record
· Police Sportsman of the year – Paul Blackbeard
· Bye, Bye Paul
· It’s Paul yet again
· Paul Back in action
· Blackbeard nearing peak
· Butterfly Paul to swim again
· Paul has more time to train
· Blackbeard shows ‘em
· Blackbeard’s back and the records are tumbling
· Paul back on top
· Two-Tile Paul; proves he’s Tops
· ‘There’s no one to replace him’
· Veteran Paul still a winner
· A record for Blackbeard in 50m dash
· Fly-Away Paul Brings ‘em Home
· Paul Blackbeard – a gruelling road to Victory
· It’s Paul and Pat, and a very strong team
· Paul Blackbeard – a sad year for SA swimming as this evergreen retires
· Blackbeard joins ‘Masters’ ranks
· Splash! Training about to start for Bok’s water baby (birth of Bianca)
· They’re back in the swim. Blackbeard, Harker turn back the clock
· Blackbeard back with a bang
· Blackbeard is the man to watch
· Evan Sim edges out Blackbeard
· Blackbeard is back for Natal
· Blackbeard’s objective: to sink Transvaal
· Paul and Bev line up for Masters
· Blackbeard: SA lagging behind
· Blackbeard on Top
· Blackbeard back in the swim
· Paul wants team title back
· Paul congratulates Mark Bowler after he clips his 19-year-old Natal u14 100m freestyle record by 0,01 second
· Blackbeard campaign begins
· Paul captains big swim team
· Win for Blackbeard (13th time in 20 years!)
· Former SA swimming champion Paul Blackbeard, once ranked 14th in the world, swimming his way back into the record books at the age of 34.
· Paul Blackbeard, Northwood Circle of Valour winner
· Blackbeard to present petition
· Like father like son (picture in the water with Lance)
1974 - Paul Blackbeard in the Springbok surf lifesaving team - Occupation - Policeman (age 22) - Member of the Pirates Surf Living Club. Triple Springbok - earned National Colours for Surf Lifesaving, Stillwater swimming and Lifesaving. Holder of numerous South African swimming records and world record holder for Stillwater Lifesaving event. Undefeated individual Surf Swim Champion from 1975 - 1979. South African Belt Swim Champion 1975, and Victor Ludorum in 1979. Toured USA in 1979 with Springbok team.
In 1974, while the Springbok still water lifesaving team was competing in Europe, Paul Blackbeard broke the world record in 200m obstacle race.
Posted by Paul in FaceBook : A few weeks ago I was the swimmer of the meet at the state champs. This week 5 golds (all new PanPacific records) and 2 silvers. The 5km surf swim tomorrow. Overall winner of the PanPacs 5km ocean swim in tough conditions. Also in the race was Trent Grimsby, the English Channel record holder (which he did in 6 hours and 55 minutes!). Perth’s Paul Blackbeard receives some tips from his coach before the ocean swim at Mermaid Beach
The first swimmer to cross the finish line overall in the 5km race was 58-year-old Paul Blackbeard from Perth. Having grown up in South Africa, Paul is a veteran of the surf and also a former South African national (pool) swimming champion.
“This is my first games and it looks a bit rough out there but we’re all in the same boat and I’m used to swimming in the surf,” he said.
Paul considers the ocean swim at JPPMG a fun training session to start the season and is enjoying catching up with friends at the games.
Blackbeard to share his mastery of all swimming
15th december, 2015
PAUL Blackbeard, one of the greats of South African swimming and the superstar of the sport in the country in the 1970s, will be journeying from Australia to swim the aQuellé Midmar Mile in February.
During the 70s, his name stood out head and shoulders above all other South African swimmers, and in 1975 he won an unmatched nine titles at the South African National Championships.
He was also a world class surifesaver, and although Blackbeard competed mostly over shorter distances in the pool, his heavy training regimen and time spent in the sea prepared him for the Midmar Mile.
He was a gold medal winner at the World Championships in surifesaving for South Africa in 1974. He remains heavily involved in the sport and is still racking up titles.
“I am a life member of Pirates Surifesaving club and represented South Africa a number of times. “I am still actively involved in masters’ surifesaving and was recently the world surf race champion.
I also won three gold medals at this year’s Aussie Masters Surifesaving Champs, ” Blackbeard said.
Blackbeard won the fourth Midmar Mile in 1977. “It was my sprint at the end that allowed me to win. Maybe this was the start of me getting into long distance swimming?” he suggested. “The event was a great ‘outing’ for our swimming club Queens Park.
Our swimming squad from Durban made it a camping weekend at Midmar, ” he recalled. “It was a great experience for me to win because at that stage I was a sprint swimmer and did not swim distance events.”
Looking ahead to 2016’s edition of the world’s largest open water swimming event, Blackbeard said: “It was a real pleasure to be invited by Wayne Riddin to return for the race nearly 40 years later and to help celebrate his retirement after 25 years of organising the event. “It was Wayne (a good swimming friend of mine) that I beat in 1977 after he had previously won in 1975 and 1976.”
Blackbeard left South Africa for Sweden in 1994, on a twoyear contract with Tetra Pak. From there he moved to London for ve years, followed by stops in Italy and the U.S., before he returned to Cape Town in 2005.
He retired at the age of 50 and in 2008 built his own catamaran “and went sailing for a few years before ending up in Perth” , where his eldest sister had been living for 25 years, and his mother and youngest sister for 15 years.
More family members have since joined him in the Western Australian capital where he now runs a lifestyle consulting business. Swimming though, remains a huge part of Blackbeard’s life. He is ranked in the world top 10 for seven masters’ swimming events and holds many Australian records.
He is the current world champion in the surf race, world record holder in the 200m lifesaving event, won nine golds at this year’s Australian Masters Swimming Championships and three golds in the lifesaving championships.
In open water competition, Blackbeard has swum the Maui Channel and Waikiki rough water swims in Hawaii,finishing 14th overall in the latter and rst in his age group ahead of two former American Olympians.
His other achievements in long distance swimming include nishing third overall in the Rottnest Island swim, which covers 20km from Perth to Rottnest Island. The combined ages of the two men who beat him were less than his age.
When a goto website for anything to do with open water swimming published a list of the Greatest Watermen in Open Water Swimming History in May, Blackbeard’s name was among them, as was Riddin’s.
It described Blackbeard as follows: “World class pool swimmer, ocean swimmer, and lifesaver. He skilfully represented his country in three dierent sports and always served as a humble ambassador of aquatic athletic pursuits.”
Blackbeard will again be taking part in the Rottnest Island Swim in 2016. “I am again planning to do a duo in the inviteonly ‘Champions of the Channel’ Rottnest Island swim event, ” he said. “My duo partner is 14yearold and I plan to mentor him, as it is his rst time. This swim, two weeks after the Midmar Mile swim, is on 27 February. I will be 58 and our team is called ‘Ageless’.”
On 19 March 2008 the yacht Blackbeard set sail from Cape Town on its way to Antigua. Read more about Paul and Linda's cruise in their trip website.
The yacht should reach Antigua at the end of April and on the 3rd of May the owner, Paul Blackbeard and his wife Linda will take over from the delivery crew. They will be accompanied by 4 friends on a journey of a lifetime.
Linda and Paul Blackbeard averaged an impressive 6.2 knots point-to-point crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They sailed trade wind routes, so generally had quartering seas. In lighter winds their speed was boosted with the optional gennaker.
We all love sailing, the thrill of crossing an ocean appeals to us and the adventure of arriving at another port on another continent.
The fulfillment of a dream - the S/V Blackbeard, a Leopard 40 luxuary catamaran built in Cape Town, being launched on Paul's 50th birthday - 19th February 2008.