Epic swims a test of endurance


Word thanks to Peter Gibbs

Photos Steve Knowles

Open water swimming is enjoying the sort of success that marathon running did back in the 1970s and 80s.

Selection of photos, no particular order

The Banana Boat Ocean Swim Series of seven swims is perhaps the most well known, but throughout the country there are well-attended swim events, from Auckland Masters in the north to the Ruby Swims in Central Otago, via local races such as the 5 Bridges in Hamilton, regular weekday series in most main centres and a host of other individual events.

Non-competitive events are also coming into the mix, with adventure swimming down rivers and the March 40km Abel Tasman Swim Adventure a sellout in days when the plan was launched last October.

The Epic swims in Lake Taupo last weekend drew swimmers from all over the country. The organiser is Swimming NZ and a host of distances were on offer, from 2.5km to 10km.

Here's an outsider's guide to how this sometimes confusing weekend works. 

There are two main threads.

Members of affiliated clubs, mainly teenagers, compete in NZ Open Water Championship races over 2.5km, 5km, 7.5km and 10km, with different age group titles up for grabs. Swimmers in these races swam without wetsuits due to the warm water cutoff.

The Epic swims over 2.5km, 5km and 10km are open to all swimmers and wetsuits may be worn. Competitors brave enough to complete all three of these races are put into the Epic Epic category.

For any particular distance, the male Swimming NZ competitors' wave will go off first, followed by the female field and finally the Epic swimmers.This, of course, results in a fine mix of swimmers from all categories mingling throughout the race.

For swimmers like Axel Wohlfarth, this can result in navigating a course through dozens of swimmers over the course of a longer race.

In The Epic 10km, the first event on Saturday, Wohlfarth finished in 2hr 12min 7sec, ahead of Donal Barry (2:22:43). That means Wohlfarth caught half of the Swimming NZ field, which was dominated by Joseph Stewart (2.07.35) of Pirates Club and Nelson South's Oxford Bayley (2.12.23).

Top of the Swimming NZ women's field was Ruby Heath of Wellington in 2.14.51, followed by Banana Boat champion Abbey Smale (2.22.19) of the Tasman club in Nelson.

In the Epic 10km for women, teenager Hayley Sharpe came in ahead of Claire Morgan (F40-49) and Christina Harris (F50-59).

Later in the day, Epic swimmers went on to the 2.5km event, with Wohlfarth dominating again, this time from Jaxyn Mihaka. In the women's field, many fresh teenagers were on the start line, with young limbs pushing Sharpe, Morgan and Harris back in the field.

In the Swimming NZ 2.5km race, Zac Dell and Ikko Shibuya took the top spots, with Talitha Mcewan and Tasman's Brooke Swan leading the women's field.

The Epic swimmers were back on Sunday in the 5km race.


Again it was Wohlfarth (1.04.17) first across the line, followed by Colin Coombs, more than three minutes back. 

Teenager Jordyn Williams (1.12.12) was the first Epic woman, ahead of Morgan.

In the Swimming NZ race over the 5km distance, Stewart (1.02.12) scored again, ahead of another swimmer from the Nelson region, this time Tasman’s Alec Swan (1.02.33).

The top female finishers in the Swimming NZ field were Heath and Smale, repeating their 10km placings.

Swimming NZ competitors also raced over 7.5km.

Top finishers were Alex Dunkley and Jayden Collins in the men’s field and Talitha Mcewan and Sarah Cummings.

Swimmers finished the day with relays. In Swimming NZ races, St Peters teams took both male and mixed races, with St Pauls on top in the female event.

In the open relay, Oxford Bayley and Nic Hall from Nelson teamed up with Joseph Stewart and Eligh Ashby of Wellington to dominate, each swimmer in the team swimming the fastest lap.

At the end of the weekend, it was Wohlfarth who absolutely dominated the Epic Epic field, winning every race.

In his wake were evergreen Steve Prescott and teenager Matthew Croft.

In the women’s field, the top three were Sharpe, Morgan and Harris.

Full results at epicswim.co.nz.

See a selection of sportzhub photos here