While holidaying in Bora Bora, most people enjoy swimming in the warm, tropical ocean. Few, however, would spend more than seven hours in the water while swimming around the entire island and end up breaking a world record.
However, that’s exactly what Aucklander Nick Edwards did during a trip to the French Polynesian island in November.
Edwards, a Brit who works in Auckland as the deputy principal at Ahutoetoe School, said he and his wife had gone to Bora Bora to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.
“My wife and I looked to book a treat for just ourselves (without our two young children), and decided that Bora Bora had been on our bucket list for too long,” he wrote in an account of the event.
As an ultra-marathoner, Edwards is what you would call an “active relaxer”, so he decided to research ways to “break up the relaxation” like hiking or e-biking. It was then he stumbled upon reports of people swimming around the entire island; a minimum distance of 23.3km, which Edwards said was the equivalent of running approximately 100km.
At the time, only one person had “officially” completed the swim in adherence with Marathon Swimming Federation rules: Tracey Messinger, who completed the gruelling feat in 9 hours, 52 minutes and 50 seconds.
“While this seemed a very good time to [cover] such a long distance in, I felt that I could beat that time,” Edwards said. On Monday, November 6, he did just that, and also became the first man and first British swimmer to officially do so, with a final distance of 25.9km.
Of course, Edwards didn’t simply wake up one morning and decide to swim for seven hours straight. In March, he swam the length of Lake Taupō (40.2km) in 13 hours and 12 seconds, a new British record.
Unsurprisingly, Edwards’ wife wasn’t thrilled to hear about his plan to spend their romantic trip gunning for a world record.
“My wife wasn’t overjoyed to hear of my plans, and I was acutely aware that this trip was to be centred around us and a celebration of our five years of marriage, not swimming around an island,” he admitted.
This is before considering the four months of training he undertook beforehand, which saw Edwards miss many family meals, bedtime routines and time with his wife as a couple.
“It wasn’t an easy choice to make, but then, nothing that’s worth having comes without cost,” he said, adding that it made him thankful for his wife’s sacrifice and support.
What it was like swimming around Bora Bora
Edwards said the swim itself was “quite a blur” given the immense effort it required - as well as a bout of heat stroke - but said it was an incredible experience.
At 6am, he entered the 28C water, wearing just swim shorts, goggles and a swim cap, as per the Marathon Swimming Federation rules. He wasn’t allowed to access a flotation device, boat or rest until he finished.
Seven hours is a long time to swim, but for the first hour, Edwards was swimming in 3m-deep water and was entertained by the incredible marine life.
“The shallow waters were decorated with a plethora of marine life, including vibrant coral and hundreds of tropical fish,” he said, as well as 20 manta rays.
Eventually, he hit deeper, darker waters, which Edwards said was unsettling, especially after he caught sight of a shark cruising along below.
“I simply carried on, not wanting to panic myself or it, but kept my eyes on it until it passed out of sight - but not out of mind,” he said. According to the support crew, it was likely an adult lemon shark, which can grow up to 3.5m long and (fortunately for Edwards) aren’t interested in humans.
The final 5km was the hardest for Edwards, who hit metre-deep waters and felt the temperature peak.
“I had to take my swim cap off to help me cool down, but it did little to help. The cramp and lactic acid began to worsen in my forearms, triceps and legs, and this added to the mental and physical uphill battle,” he recalled.
At this point, Edwards began to question why he took on such a challenge and said he just wanted the swim to end.
Fortunately, he found a burst of energy for the final stretch and completed the swim two and a half hours faster than the previous record.
Looking back, Edwards said he’d like to think his record will stand for “quite some time”, but he would also love to see people tackle the route faster than him.