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The White Knight Of NEKOWSA

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Celebrating 10 Years of Swimming the Kingdom
80 Swims – 764.8 Miles
As 2018 comes to a close, we are celebrating 10 years of organized, supported, amateur, open water swimming in the legendary lakes of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

We started with the 1, 3, and 10-mile distances at Kingdom Swim in 2009. Some folks said we’d be lucky to get 10 swimmers that first year. But, with some earnest internet sleuthing and stalking in the wee morning hours before work, we stumbled on Ned Denison in Cork, Ireland and Leslie Thomas of San Francisco, California who offered their help. The very first to sign up was Greg O’Connor. David Barra, Rondi Davies, Lisa Neidrauer, John Humenik, George Hunihan, Dennis Dressel, Sidney Didier, Eli Falcon, Ali Hall and many more all joined him. Kiwi, Charlotte Brynn, helped with the youth sanctioning and showed up for the 3-mile swim in a wet suit. The EastSide Restaurant and Tony Pomerleau donated $1,000 each so we could buy buoys. The City of Newport and Vermont’s North Country Chamber of Commerce threw a Pet and Swimmers Aquafest Parade. Swimmers brought their state and national flags for the parade. 100 swimmers hit the water that first year, starting from a “line in the sand” at Prouty Beach.

The next January, on one of those days where the temperature stood at -30 F all day long and the winds out of the northwest ran a steady 20 to 25 MPH, I got an e-mail from a swimmer saying that he’d like to swim Willoughby and asked whether I would support him. I replied that I would be happy to, and added. did he want any company. He said. yes. I put together an e-mail invitation to the 100 swimmers who had joined us at Kingdom Swim. Before the day was done, 34 swimmers had responded positively. The next day it was just as cold and windy. Too nasty to even go outside for more wood. I reported on the response, picked a day for the first Willoughby Swim, and asked whether folks wanted to form a casual Northeast Kingdom Open Water Swimming Association. There would be: No Dues. No Duties. Just Privilges. By the end of the day, we had a couple dozen members. I reported on the birth of NEKOWSA and, on January 11, 2010, Steve Munatones published an article in the Daily News of Open Water Swimming, entitled Northeast Kingdom Open Water Swimming Association.

Since then swimming in The Kingdom has grown each year, driven by the passion, camaraderie and support of the growing open water swimming community, and the hearty willingness of yackers, boaters volunteers and sponsors to join the journey. A shared mission and love of adventure.

Major events along the way were:

The start of In Search of Memphre in 2011 with Elaine Kornbau Howley leading the way and the support of Barbara Malloy, Vermont’s First Lady Dracontologist. This 25-mile international swim between Newport, Vermont and Magog, Quebec has re-opened the border to international swimming after it had appeared to have closed in 2002.

Sarah Thomas’s historic 50-mile double cross of Lake Memphremagog in the feistiest of conditions in 2013

The 2013 start of the NEK Swim Week including 8 lakes over 9 days covering 46 miles.

The 2013 official opening of The Clubhous to open water swimmers as a place to stay, to swim, and to hang.

The establishment in 2013 of Kingdom Games to continue to organize, promote, and support open water swimming in The Kingdom.

The addition in 2014 of the Border Buster to Kingdom Swim – a 15 mile and then 25 km swim into Canada and wide around Province Island.

In 2015, the beginning of solo, individual swims the length of Lake Memphremagog, or around Ile Ronde, or to Skinner Island and Smugglers Cave, or to Balancing Rock on Ile Longue or on Lake Willoughby.

In 2017 and 2018 the addition of Willoughby and Massawippi double crosses as part of NEK Swim Week

In 2018 the addition of a second expeditionary swim In Search of Memphre in July. During this swim Vera Rivard, at age 14, became the youngest person to swim the 25-mile length of the lake, and she did so in the face of fierce headwinds for the first 15 miles.

In 2018, Son of a Swim moved to The Clubhous, using the islands of Derby Bay as our buoys, becoming a 10-mile international swim in its own right.

Over the course of these 10 years, NEKOWSA has hosted 80 organized swims. Taking the longest option in each of these swims together, they collectively total 764.8 miles. They have drawn thousands of swimmers to The Kingdom, an almost equal number of yackers, and countless friends and family members from over 40 states and Canadian provinces as well as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, India, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Latvia, Finland, and Russia.

Since the border was “re-opened” in 2011 (with the assistance of border officials in the US and Canada) In Search of Memphre, Son of a Swim, Kingdom Swim, and The Clubhous swim have allowed hundreds of swimmers to participate in international swims across the border.

During this decade, working with fellow mischief makers, Kingdom Games and NEKOWSA have also,

Helped initiate the Vampire Swim in 2015 in venues around Canada, the US, Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain. Entry Fee is a donation of blood. It has become an international blood drive by open water swimmers that steadily grows each year.

In 2015, hosted the first Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival with the first ever US Winter Swimming Championships. Every year since, we have constructed the ONLY 25-meter, two-lane pool cut in the ice in all of North America. The Festival is now heading into its fifth season, filled to capacity.

For our full schedule of NEKOWSA swims in 2019 CLICK HERE

As we celebrate the first 10 years, we’d like to encourage swimmers, yackers, boaters, beach support, to reflect on this journey and send your thoughts, stories and your favorite pictures to us at What has all of this meant to you? Even a relatively small insight, funny story, connection, “life experience.” We want to collect these in a digital “Decennial Album.”

No Lanes – No Lines – No Limits

Phil White, Director
Kingdom Games and NEKOWSA

Grand Adventure – Great Tribe – Some Kind of Fun – Epic Shit
Some YouTube Videos:

Kingdom Swim 2009

Kingdom Swim 2010

In Search of Memphre

NEK Swim Week

Vampire Swim

Winter Swim
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