Robben Island crossing teaches you how to 'vasbyt' - Extreme swimmer Ryan Stamrood completes 100th swim

2019-05-23 18:41 - Selene Brophy
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An extreme crossing like Robben Island not only takes physical stamina - but extreme mental agility too. 

In the case of extreme swimmer Ryan Stramrood, he has done this intense, world-renowned crossing a legendary 100 times. He is only the second person to achieve this.   

As an inspirational speaker and passionate campaigner for ocean conservation, Ryan completed the centenary swim in two hours 18 minutes, on Thursday 23 May.

He follows his late friend and swimming companion Theodore Yach, who made the swim an incredible 108 times.

Ryan dedicated his 7,4km swim to Theo, saying, “I trained with him often and swam a number of Robben Island crossings with him, including his 100th. Theo swam my 50th crossing with me in 2015 and would have joined me on my 100th today.”

He was elated to be on the beach, saying, "No Robben Island Swim is ever easy. Today was my 100th and I’ve made it. It was tough out there, it was cold and it got choppy, so I am very very happy.”.

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Ryan swam his first Robben Island crossing in 2003 and has completed a number of formidable swims, including the World First Official Ice Mile in Antarctica in -1C water temperature. 

 Extreme Swimmer Ryan Stramrood achieves 100 Robbe

(Photo: Caleb Bjergfelt)

  Extreme Swimmer Ryan Stramrood achieves 100 Robbe

(Photo: Caleb Bjergfelt) 

Fellow extreme swimmer and environmental campaigner Lewis Pugh accompanied Ryan in a support boat.

“It’s an incredible achievement to swim 100 Robben Islands. I have been swimming for 32 years and I have never done an easy Robben Island, never once, and he has now done 100,"says Lewis, 

"The thing about Robben Island is that it’s always unpredictable: you think you are going to do two hours and conditions change and it takes three hours; you think you will take 3 hours and it becomes 5 hours. It shows Ryan has got real mental fortitude and ‘vasbyt.’” 

The first crossing took place in 1909 and hundreds of swimmers have completed it since then. Ryan encourages those who are contemplating doing the swim, “The Robben Island swim is a fantastic personal goal to have and with regular training and the right attitude, anyone can do it. You simply have to set the goal, you have to overcome that ‘natural defence mechanism’ in your head that says ‘Too hard for me'."

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 Extreme Swimmer Ryan Stramrood achieves 100 Robbe

(Photo: Caleb Bjergfelt) 

 Extreme Swimmer Ryan Stramrood achieves 100 Robbe

(Photo: Caleb Bjergfelt) 

For the average Joe, as Ryan describes himself, swims like these require an incredible level of physical and mental fortitude. He now uses the insights gained to inspire others in his second career as a speaker, “I began to realise after my first Robben Island crossing just how unbelievably powerful the human mind is. It is set to a default function to protect us – to keep us safe – and I realised just how overprotective this powerful tool is. But we have the power to challenge it – in all aspects of life -  and unlock a certain magic that few will ever find.”

Andrew Chin, Chairperson of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association explains what happens in the background at a Robben Island crossing saying,  “There is a lot of behind the scenes stuff that happens. Boats need to be organised, seconds need to be found and permissions obtained. To be officially recognised by Cape Long Distance Swimming Association, swimmers need to adhere to certain rules. These include the right attire, speedo briefs (or similar) and a single cap, no assistance from the boat such as touching the boat, and having the correct boating procedures followed.”   

READ: Expedition Earth: One couple's journey to circumnavigate the earth by car

Environmental activism pushing past impossible

As a SASSI ambassador (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative), Ryan raises awareness of the dangers of single-use plastic landing up in our oceans.

“Plastic water bottles, individually wrapped fruit/muffins, branded plastic gimmicks for delegates to take home, this all has to end up somewhere and from my swims, I have seen my fair share of plastic waste that has landed in the ocean. 

Ryan has partnered with GRITT, a company that produces slip slops out of used car tyres by using the still viable tread as highly durable soles. To commemorate this 100th crossing, profits from the sale of the first 100 pairs of Ryan’s slip slops are being donated to a Arafat Gatabazi. As a refugee from the Congo, who hitchhiked to SA when he was 17 years old after fleeing his home during a raid - Gatabazi teaches Cape Town children from a street home and orphanage to swim, in an effort to encourage them off the streets - click here to purchase the slip slops.

Extreme adventures around SA -  Long swims not for the fainthearted: 

Dassen Island - Ysterfontein swim 11km

This is a similar route to Robben Island, yet it is a little longer, with a straight line to the coast. The island gets its name from the thousands of dassies that inhabit the tiny island along with the great number of African penguins. 

In total, the island is only 4km long and 2km wide. In May 1986, Barry Cutler became the first man to complete this swim in 3.56 hours. 

This route promises many curious companions like dolphins and whales and even a few pelicans overhead.  

Cape Point - various lengths

This demanding swim is for the experts only. Cape Point, in the southern-most point of the Cape Peninsula is the meeting place for the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. It is a wild and rocky swim with more sharks than landing points. 

The first time this swim was competed was in 1979 by Lynne Cox who swam eight kilometres from Diaz beach to Buffels Bay in under three hours. Carina Bruwer finished this swim in 2004 in 2:20 and also became the first South African to complete the swim. 

Danger Point swim 11km

This point is in Walker Bay near to Gansbaai, known as the Great White Shark diving capital. 

Carina Bruwer is the only person to complete this dangerous swim, on 11 January 2004. Luckily, no sharks were spotted but the bigger problems were jellyfish and the need to swim against the current. Bruwer swam from Romansbaai on the western side, around Danger Point to Kruismansbaai in a time of 3:16 says CLDSA.

Bruwer also held the female record for the fastest Straits of Gibraltar crossing for 5 years, the overall record for the fastest swim around Robben Island, and the female record for swimming across False Bay - another rather challenging swim at just over 11km.  

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