On the brink of ÖTILLÖ’s 13th season of swimrun events, and as we are about to embark upon our 38th and 39th ÖTILLÖ race production, I can’t help but take a look in the rear view mirror.
Things sure have changed. In 2006, we had no name for what we were doing, let alone a presence on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Now #swimrun has been tagged over 100,000 times. But this is a just a superficial element of the sport’s development.
In 2006, we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into, and this picture of Jonas Colting and Pasi Salonen from that year well illustrates how swimrun has evolved.
The two of them were about to get into the water, and with them they had a boogie board onto which they had strapped two backpacks; they had taken off their shoes and they were wearing life jackets on top of their tri wetsuits.
No wonder they never finished the course! It took them 20 minutes at every transition in and out of the water to just organise their stuff.
It’s remarkable that Johan Hasselmark and Martin Salmén managed to complete that first course in 2006 in 14 hours and 30 minutes. They didn’t have a clue either about what they’d gotten themselves into, as evidenced by Johan Hasselmark, who as he crossed the finish line said, “This race is like a huge, mental kick in the balls!” (That, on the other hand, has not changed.)
It took them 20 minutes at every transition in and out of the water to just organise their stuff.
After 2006 we reduced the size of permitted flotation devices so teams could no longer use air mattresses and the following year, wearing a lifejacket was no longer a rule. Since then, and with more than 400 races around the world, we all still use basically the same rules. Amazing!
In terms of equipment, the sport of swimrun is beginning to generate a bit of a buzz in the sporting goods market. All major wetsuit brands worldwide now have swimrun-specific wetsuits, with HEAD still offering the biggest range for both men and women. Swimrun shoes are beginning to evolve with several brands now making types of swimrun-specific footwear, although Vivobarefoot are the ones leading the way with some great new products coming this year.
Hand paddles, pullbuoys, tow lines, whistles, first aid kits, warm coats, gloves, caps, compression socks, phone cases, the Garmin Swimrun App – these are just some of the swimrun accessories that are rapidly developing based on the growing number of people interested in the sport.
Following swimrun’s evolution over the last twelve years, its equipment development and growth is absolutely mind-boggling for us, especially to think that it all stems from our determination, together with the perseverance of all the teams, to keep going and try to finish the “impossible” course.
However, for Mats and I, it’s so important to hold on to our passion for putting on great events and to raise awareness about what is important to us. To do this, we need to always ask ourselves questions, and try to find new ways of creating sustainable growth with little environmental impact.
The races and results are not really important; what matters is that we can open up new dimensions to activity in nature and new dimensions in exploring our own boundaries so that we become aware of where we are, what we do and how we affect others.
The sport of swimrun has become bigger than any one of us, but it’s up to each of us to make sure that we keep this warm and respectful community where we all have a place.
Together, we are all Guardians of the Spirit of Swimrun, whose motto has always been: to be respectful of each other, to be respectful of our practice and to be respectful of nature.
You can hear more about the past, present and future of ÖTILLÖ and the sport of swimrun on the Swimrunpodden Podcast (Episode 98, in English). I am grateful for this interview and for what they are doing to spread swimrun to a broader audience.
2018 will be a great year with many new announcements from us, which will not only, we hope, challenge you but also open up this sport to make it available to more people.
We very much look forward to getting the show on the road! ÖTILLÖ Hvar is soon upon us. See you there or see you LIVE online.
Michael & Mats
Race Directors ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Series
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue #6 (March 2018)