This past week I traveled down to Barbados for the Barbados Open Water Festival. With races now in all corners of the world, we at the Global Swim Series don’t get a chance to make it to all the fantastic races on the schedule, but we were fortunate enough to make it down this year for the Barbados Open Water Festival… and it was incredible! In four short years the Barbados Open Water Festival has turned into a major event on the open water swim circuit and now having experienced it, it is easy to see why!
Upon getting to Barbados, we took part in one of the four “guided swims” that take place on the four days prior to the main event. The guided swims are just very pleasant swims on four of the other beaches in Barbados. They aren’t timed and aren’t races, just a chance to have a nice leisurely swim in warm (hot?!) crystal clear waters with over 100 other like minded swimmers. I wanted to see some of the large sea turtles that everyone claimed were around, as I was really looking forward to that… but no luck. But I did meet a ton of people during the swim and then after when we all went to the local “fish fry” and street festival for dinner.
The next day was the 1.5k race, which is the largest race at BOWF. This year will go down as “the rainy year”! On Saturday it poured. Torrentially. The streets flooded. The beaches flooded. Everyone was soaked. As a race director myself, I know that no matter where you are hosting a race, bad weather is always a major concern. But the race went off without a hitch and nobody was bothered… we were all getting wet anyway!
I had to laugh when I was talking with one of the many kids from the local open water swim team, The Saltwater Swimmers, that were in the race. She said this was the most rain they had gotten all year and the coldest day! We’re from Canada and even standing around soaking wet it was fine, probably about 77F/25C. Although it was nice to go into the water to warm up a couple of times. The water was about 85F/30C!
As for the race, it was awesome. A single 1.5k loop along the shore with 350 of your closest friends! And this time I did see a turtle!
The next day was the 5k and 10k races. 3×1 mile loops and 6×1 mile loops of the same course. This was the first year of the 10k and there were an impressive 33 people in it. The 5k had an even more impressive 130 swimmers! It seems like if you were going to make the trip to Barbados you want to get in as much swimming as you could, or at least that was my rational so I did the 10k.
As a great representative race for the Global Swim Series, there were people from all over the world! I believe I heard from as far away as Australia and 14 other countries. I heard that in one of the races, I think the 5k, 80% were international swimmers!
There were swimmers of all types and abilities. From Olympian and former World Record holder, Alex Meyer and plenty of other fast swimmers, to my buddy Cam who completed his first 10k and getting in 30 seconds ahead of the 4 hour cut off time!
I even found someone my speed to race (Sue Ingram from Austin, Texas as I learned later) we raced the final 2 laps taking turns drafting off each other and then racing in the final half mile side by side and “sprinting” up the beach to the finish. I knew it was going to be close so I didn’t even turn to see where she was and I didn’t let up until I was a step away from the finish line timing mat… which is when I saw her leg step across in front of me! She beat me by a tenth of a second! What a great finish to a great race! Oh, and I did get to see more turtles in the 10k… about a dozen throughout the race. Not much better scenery than that on a 10k swim!
On the final day of our trip we went for another swim. One of the highlights for me was that an old swimming buddy from when we were little kids, and who I hadn’t seen in many years, was going back down for his 3rd time to the BOWF. He had brought his whole family down and they are all great swimmers (although I was able to keep some historical pride and edge him out in the 1.5k! haha). In fact his 2 sons both did their first 10k race and the younger one (15) won the 10k outright!
So after all the racing we all decided to go out for a fun swim in the sunken ships they have in the harbour. They are shallow enough that you can swim right down to them. We also ended up getting right up close to several sea turtles and can’t wait to see how the pictures my buddy took turned out (he’s there for another 2 weeks).
While we didn’t take part this year, our good friends at the “Freestyle Experience” hosted their swim camp in conjuction with the festival the week prior and by all accounts it was a huge hit, if a little bit challenging! The camp was coached by 2 former Olympic swimmers.
So there is my first hand experience of what the Barbados Open Water Festival was like. And if you are an avid swimmer like me and most people on this site… you might seriously want to be planning on doing this race next year!