Article image

by Amy Reinink

November 13, 2012

10 great USMS-sanctioned open water swims

Whether you live for fighting swells, whitecaps, and currents or you’re getting ready to leave the safety of lane lines for the first time, it’s hard to beat the allure and challenge of open water swimming. And with new open water swims popping up across the country, there’s a perfect swim out there for everyone. Here are 10 that are sure to tempt newbies and seasoned pros alike.

Daiquiri Deck Tropical Splash

Dr. Beach, a Florida professor who releases an annual ranking of the country’s beaches, consistently ranks Siesta Key, Fla., as one of the top beaches in the country, touting its fine white sand and clear, clean Gulf of Mexico water. That means you can pair this low-key, local race, which offers 1K, 2.5K and 5K options, with a killer beach vacation. Make sure to try the multi-colored frozen drinks from the race’s title sponsor after you finish. More information.

8 Bridges Hudson River Swim

Does every open water swim leave you hungry for the next one? Then the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, a seven-stage, seven-day swim that covers 120 miles of the Hudson River each June, is the race for you. The swim begins at one bridge and goes to the next each day, taking swimmers from the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in the Catskills to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York City. With daily distances ranging from 13.2 to 19.8 miles, it’s not for the faint of heart. Saner swimmers can opt to participate in just one stage. More information.

Santa Barbara Semana Nautica 6-mile Swim

This swim caters to the serious open water swimmer, as evidenced by its “experienced swimmers only” warning, and by the following rule: “As in the tradition of open water swimming, the use of wet-suits or other non-porous attire, kickboards, gold chains, booties, paddles, swim buoys, body suits, triathlon suits, fins, gloves, or other wimpy contraband will not be allowed.”  Adding to the challenge: water temperatures can remain in the 50s in July. Part of the Semana Nautica Summer Sports Festival. More information.

Chicago Masters' Big Shoulders Open Water Swim Classic

Swimmers enjoy views of the Chicago skyline in the 2.5K and 5K Big Shoulders swims. Unpredictable conditions in Lake Michigan add challenge to the urban beauty. More information.

Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim

This event, which offers 1- and 2-mile cable swims is held in a lovely, low-key public park lake near the rolling hills of Charlottesville, Va., the home of the University of Virginia. The swim is a favorite for top swimmers looking to break national long distance records. More information.

Lake Berryessa Swim

A wine country vacation, anyone? The stellar location of the Lake Berryessa Open Water Swim in Napa, Calif., draws competitors from across the country. And with more than 1,000 swimmers competing in the 1-mile and 2-mile races, it's one of the largest events of its kind in the west. More information.

Pennock Island Challenge

Combine swimming, adventure and altruism in this 8.2-mile race in Alaska's Tongass Narrows, near the city of Ketchikan. Water temperatures are usually in the mid-50s to low-60s during the August event. But the route around the island is mostly protected from large surf, and is often current-assisted. Plus, the several thousand dollars it raises annually for the American Diabetes Association will give participants a warm feeling in their hearts, if not in their extremities. More information.

Great Salt Lake Open Water Marathon Swim

It’s called the Great Salt Lake for a reason—the average salinity of the water is about 12 percent, much saltier than the ocean. Swimmers are actually advised to bring mouthwash to this 8-mile swim (or the easier 1-miler) to rinse out the salty taste mid-race. The good news: Extra salt means extra buoyancy. And swimmers enjoy views of snow-capped mountains in the distance. More information.

Ed Gaw Amelia Island Open Water Challenge

Located in historic Fernandina Beach, Fla., this swim in the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville, Fla., offers both 1-mile and 5K options. Perfect for Southern swimmers seeking slightly rougher water than the usually placid Gulf of Mexico. More information.

Coney Island Triple Dip

Swimmers who travel to this Brooklyn, N.Y., race from elsewhere are often surprised at the beauty of Coney Island’s clean, wide beach and cool, clean Atlantic water. Post-race, head to the iconic boardwalk. Offers 1-mile, 5K and 10K options. 2.5K and 5K options. More information.


  • Open Water
  • Events


  • Open Water