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Orcas And Whirlpools Into The Maelstrom

Photo of Calum and Jack Hudson, courtesy of James Silson.

Photo of Calum Hudson, courtesy of Beth Harrison.

Photo of Robbie Hudson in the Saltstraumen, courtesy of Erlend Bodo Nu.

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Into the Maelstrom was an tandem swim by Jack Hudson, Calum Hudson and Robbie Hudson across the two most powerful whirlpools in the world: the Moskstraumen and Saltstraumen, both in Norway.

The two whirlpool swims – set above the Arctic Circle – were part of Into The Maelstrom that was nominated for the 2016 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year Award.

Eldest brother Robbie Hudson talked about these swims:

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What most worried you before your swims in each of the whirlpools?

Robbie Hudson: The cold, the currents and the Orcas. This was the first time any of us had ever swum in the Arctic, and the water was around 9°C (48°F), so this aspect of the swim definitely weighed on my mind before we travelled up to Norway. Prolonged exposure to the cold can begin to affect the way you think, generally for the worse, and it was so important that we stayed strong mentally if we wanted to make it through the two whirlpools. Four months of cold showers and acclimatisation paid off in the end.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What most worried you during your swims in each of the whirlpools?

Robbie Hudson: Definitely the currents. We knew they would be unpredictable, but there was also no guarantee that either whirlpool was even swimmable, because no one had ever done them before. If we had taken 20-30 seconds longer on our Saltstraumen crossing, then we would have been swept away for sure. The margin for error was so slight, but we trusted the professionals that we worked with and their experience with the water and powerful currents.

On the Moskstraumen, once we hit the 5 km mark, we were hit by an icy current that cut right through to the bone and began to sweep us off course. That was mentally tough for a while, but we powered through. It’s in moments like that when swimming as brothers can be a huge help. When I look left and see Jack, then lift my head to breathe on the right and see Calum, it’s a reminder that it’s a rare and special experience to swim across the world’s biggest whirlpool with your brothers by your side.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What safety precautions did you implement during your swims in each of the whirlpools?

Robbie Hudson: First and foremost, we respected the water. We worked with Knut Westvig of Stella Polaris in our crossing of the Saltstraumen, and Therese Amalie Holtan Larsen from Aqua Lofoten for the Moskstraumen. These individuals advised us on the best time to cross, and accompanied us in their boats. Both Therese and Knut visit these places daily and were aware of the dangers.

They both thought we were slightly mad, but understood why we wanted to do it. They were pragmatic and exceptionally helpful in sharing their expertise with us. We swam with tow floats and each brother had a spotter in the boat that looked out for us. Because the Moskstraumen was a longer 8 km point-to-point sea swim, we answered simple questions every half hour that were shouted down at us from the boat, just to make sure hypothermia wasn’t setting in because of the Arctic waters.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What contingency plans did you have for each of your swims in the whirlpools?

Robbie Hudson: With the Moskstraumen, there was a very real chance of seeing an Orca pod, as many of the animals had been spotted the previous day before we swam. In case they re-appeared, we were going to re-group by the boat and assess the situation. Secretly Calum, Jack and I knew we would want to continue, even in this scenario, but we would have listened to Theresa’s decision as to whether or not it would have been too dangerous to carry on.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Who was on your support team?

Robbie Hudson: The support team included Beth Harrison who is Jack’s girlfriend and spotter, a photographer and camerawomen, David Renton, our general spotter, cameraman, and underwater photographer, James Silson, Robbie’s Spotter, a drone pilot, and an underwater photographer, and Luke Palmer, a photographer, Calum’s spotter, and general inspirational figurehead who offered motivational words of encouragement when we were tired and threw bananas at us when we were hungry.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was most exciting about your swims?

Robbie Hudson: The feeling of setting out on an adventure to try something that had never been done before. It was both terrifying and exhilarating to plunge into the Arctic waters knowing that we were heading into an 8 km maelstrom.

We swam to raise awareness of the conservation work that is taking place around the Lofoten Islands and the potential damage that could be inflicted if large scale drilling takes place. It was exciting to feel that our swims could perhaps have some kind of wider and helpful context as well as being physical and psychological challenges.

Finally, it is always exciting to undertake these adventures with my brothers, there is no one else I would rather be swimming with.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What were some of the outcomes that you realized as a result of these swims?

Robbie Hudson: I think one of the main outcomes was the way that it helped us to re-assess the way that we perceive the limitations of what we are, and are not, capable of doing. I think generally that people are much more capable of overcoming challenges than they realise. Sometimes it takes a giant leap into the unknown to really test your own limits.

The other big lesson for me personally was the importance of being able to stay calm, relaxed and focused, no matter what the situation and environment. With both of these swims, if we ever started to panic then everything could have been over very quickly.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How in the world do you top this challenge?

Robbie Hudson: It isn’t really a question of trying to top the swims. We all feel very lucky to be able to take part in these adventures in such beautiful parts of the world. We have been swimming together since we were tiny kids, and I don’t see any reason for that to change, wherever we decide to go in the world.

The nominees for the 2016 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year Award include:

1. Toshio Tominaga (Japan) Tsugaru Channel Crossing
2. Craig Dietz (Kingdom Swim Marathon Swim)
3. Sarah Thomas (USA) Lake Powell Crossing
4. Jennifer Figge (USA) Bermuda Triangle Swim
5. Pieter Christian Jongeneel Anderica (Spain) Double Manhattan Circumnavigation
6. Dan Canta (Romania) Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming
7. Sean Conway (Great Britain) Swim Leg of the World’s Longest Triathlon
8. Hudson Brothers (Great Britain) Into the Maelstrom
9. Cristian Vergara (Chile) Easter Island Circumnavigation
10. Jarrod Poort (Australia) Olympic 10K Marathon Swim
11. Javier Mérida Prieto (Spain) Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming
12. Patrick McKnight (USA) Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming
13. Spyridon Gianniotis (Greece) Olympic 10K Marathon Swim
14. Malvinas/Falklands Islands Challenge by Matías Ola (Argentina) and Jackie Cobell (Great Britain)
15. Stephanie Hopson (USA) English Channel Crossing
16. Carol Schumacher Hayden (USA) Catalina Channel Crossing
17. Vasilly Mosin (Russia) Winter Swimming

To vote for the WOWSA Awards, visit here. Online voting continues until December 31st 2016.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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