14-Year-Old Maya Merhige Becomes Youngest Woman to Swim Across Catalina Channel

by Annika Johnson 4

September 16th, 2021 Club, National, News, Open Water

Fourteen-year-old Maya Merhige of The Streamliners in Berkeley, California swam 20.1 miles across the Catalina Channel on September 7, becoming the youngest female swimmer ever to cross it and doing so in record time.

She finished the route from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes, California with a time of 10 hours and 48 minutes, pending ratification.

This route is part of what ultramarathon swimmers called “The Ocean’s Seven,” the seven most difficult and dangerous open water swims:

  • The English Channel 
  • Tsugaru Channel
  • North Channel
  • Cook Straight
  • Molokai Channel
  • Catalina Channel
  • Strait of Gibraltar

Only 21 people have ever completed the seven swims. You can read a description of each here.

Merhige used this event to fundraise more than $14,000 for pediatric cancer research. The Swim Across America cap she wore during the race was signed by people who had been affected by cancer.

She called the water and weather conditions she swam in “fun,” according to the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation. Merhige swam through 68-70 degree Fahrenheit water and dealt with 5-knot to 10-knot winds and a 3-foot swell that made it a bumpy swim. She was met by a whale close to the end of the race and chose Ghiradelli chocolate as her last feed before turning on the jets for the last stretch.

On the motor back to port, Maya ate a breakfast, sipped on hot cocoa, contemplated water polo practice tomorrow,” the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation wrote on social media.

Fourteen-year-old Margaret Rivard also broke the Catalina Channel record two weeks before Merhige on August 26. She finished the swim with a time of 14 hours, 8 minutes, and 31 seconds.

Rivard also dealt with 5-10 knot winds alongside swelling in her mouth from the saltwater.

The two 14-year-olds cracked an age record that was half a century old, set by ​​Stacey Fresonke Juler of Seal Beach, California in 1971. She had crossed the channel at 14 years old with three teammates (Lynne Cox, Andy Taylor, and Dennis Sullivan) in 12 hours and 34 minutes.

Rivard was about one month younger than Fresonke Juler was when she swam it (14 years and about 3.3 months) while Merhige turned 14 years old just six weeks ago.

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2 months ago

A swim I am hoping to do! This lady has me beat by 13 years!

Liz Tung
2 months ago

Applause to these two tough, strong and brave young ladies! This is incredible!

2 months ago

This is a great swim by a very talented swimmer. Regarding the last sentence of the first paragraph, this was not “record time”. The women’s (and overall record) for Catalina is 7:15 set by Penny Dean in 1976. In open water words/claims mean things. Let’s celebrate these talented young swimmers without erasing great women from the past who really hold the records!

2 months ago

Very impressive! I only wish of being able to do this. My 3K a day, just is not enough training. I’d be very interested to know what it was like when the whale got near.