World’s Longest Swim
June 15, 2017
Words: Helene Ravlich/
Photos: The Longest Swim and LifeProof
Ben Lecomte, architect and long distance swimmer.
Inspiring and inspired, the amazing Ben Lecomte was the first person to swim across the Atlantic Ocean without a kickboard in 1998. Originally from France but based in Austin, Texas for more than 20 years, he completed the 3,700-mile swim in a brutal 73 days, five of which he swam whilst being followed by a shark. His latest challenge dwarfs even that feat, however. And it comes with a passion and a purpose that drives the 49-year-old father to get up and train at all hours and every day, on top of his day job as a successful architect.
This Northern Hemisphere spring Lecomte will swim across the Pacific — for eight hours a day, for six months — accompanied by just a support sailboat and his crew. Leaving from Tokyo, he will need to swim 5,500 miles to make it to San Francisco, his chosen destination. The journey officially known as “The Longest Swim” will be punishing and his preparation intense, but for Lecomte the journey is about so much more than just an attempt at breaking a world record.
“I’m not an Olympic swimmer… I’m an adventurer who likes to swim.”
“I am passionate about open ocean swimming… but without the goal of raising awareness behind this swim, it really doesn’t mean much at all.”
His original swim was in support of cancer research as a tribute to his father, and the upcoming Longest Swim will once again be so much more than just an athletic accomplishment. It will actually be the first expedition of its kind, raising awareness of our oceans and the impact that we as human beings are having on them. Strong but also refreshingly self-deprecating when it comes to his achievements, Lecomte has an enthusiasm for the possibilities that his upcoming swim presents that is almost palpable. Throughout the journey Ben and his crew will conduct medical and oceanic research using equipment provided by such renowned institutions as NASA and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, handing over their findings to a team of oceanographers on their return.“For me the swims I have done have always been about a bigger picture,” he says, “they are really just to bring the world’s attention to other things that in my mind, are much more important than one man swimming a long distance.” In the grand scheme of things, the latest swim enables Ben to open a dialogue with a wide audience around global environmental issues, and to be a catalyst for sustainability and oceanic research. “I’ve been doing open-water swims for a very long time and I have seen the changes in the ocean, the environment,” Lecomte says. “I see more plastic, less fish, and every time I swim with my kids I always think about what type of world I am going to leave behind for them. It became very clear to me that the only way to go forward was to use my passion to bring attention to an issue that affects us all.”
Lecomte chose Tokyo as the starting point for his journey so he could take advantage of the Kuroshio Current, which will effectively “push” the swimmer and his crew towards the US. He says there is no denying that it will be tough going at times, but that his “love/hate” relationship with the ocean has seen him experience some amazing things alongside the terrifying. “Having dolphins swimming alongside you and checking if you are following them is an incredible feeling,” says Lecomte, “even spotting a shark nearby can be an amazing moment, if a little scary.” Jellyfish are less attractive a proposition, “and sometimes the elements feel like they are deliberately working against you. You try and anticipate as best you can what will happen but really, you can never really know what to expect.” Living in Austin for the purposes of his work and also his wife’s career, he says that wishes he could see more of the coast, but that his training regime doesn’t actually involve as much time in the water as people imagine. “There are a lot of lakes and rivers around Austin, and places that are perfect for all kinds of outdoor activity,” he explains, making it perfect for his training regime, most of which is spent out of the water. “I am doing a lot of running and cycling but I actually try not to swim too much,” says Lecomte with a smile, “I want to keep the pleasure element intact for when I finally get into the ocean.”
He is excited about the swim, and wants the world to share in his journey by signing up for updates at thelongestswim.com. “I really want to encourage people to follow our journey, not just to see how it ends,” he says, “but to track what we are finding along the way in terms of marine life, and what kind of impact we can see taking place.”
He says it can often feel like “everyone is as aware as we are about what is happening to the ocean, but sadly a lot of the world still has no idea about things like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch".
We've just launched our project THE LONGEST SWIM on GoFundMe! This crowdfunding campaign will help us complete our budget before the swim’s launch in Tokyo.
How can you help?
By donating today on the GoFundMe page, and/or by sharing the campaign with your friends and colleagues. You can also leave a comment on the page to show your support.