Former USA National Team-er and Stanford alum Alex Kostich completed a swim around the remote Pitcairn Island on May 4, making him the first to do so.
“You know, it’s weird. It hasn’t really hit me yet. I was swimming this morning on in my usual a pool workout and I was like thinking about it like, ‘Oh wow, you’re the first person to do something on the planet,'” Kostich told SwimSwam. “And on the one hand, I don’t think it hit me like how cool that is. But on the other hand I’m just sort of like, ‘Okay, well I did that. What’s next?'”
Kostich, 49, decided to target the swim in his recovery from shoulder surgery last September. Located in the southern Pacific Ocean, the approximately 50-person island had been an interest of his as far back as elementary school. He already had a trip planned for May and decided to give himself a “brass ring” to look forward to in recovery.
The 10-kilometer swim took 2 hours and 37 minutes in extremely rough conditions. The attempt began in Bounty Bay, named for the famous shipwreck that took place there 1790, with the remains discovered in the 1950s.
“It went by really fast. I think a lot of that has to do with the adrenaline and just the fear, I’ll admit, in launching the start of the race.” Kostich said. “So I was mostly concerned about getting out into the high surf to be able to start circumnavigating. So the first 200 meters just to get out into the open ocean were really stressful and scary because there were huge waves barreling down on me. And if I got tumbled, I could have been pushed into all the rocks that were on either side. So like the first 200 meters were kind of a sprint just to get out there.”
From there, things got worse before they got better.
“And then when I got to the open ocean, it was super like a washing machine. I was just tossed and turned because the wind was blowing in every direction and the waves were just coming at me from the left and the right, the front and back, sun was in my eyes,” Kostich said. “I couldn’t see the kayaker. I lost sight of the support boat. So I was kind of on my own for a little bit and that was intimidating. But then the rest of the swim, it just kind of happened. It unfolded, you know?”
Kostich was able to “recover” during a shady hour of the swim and regain sight of his kayakers. Things got rough again near the end, however.
“When I rounded the south part of the island to do the finish, like the last maybe mile of the course, it turned ugly again because I was on the sunny side and the waves kicked up again,” Kostich said. “I was swimming against the current, and the last half hour was probably harder even in the first half hour, but at least I was close to being done.”
And despite being in typically shark-infested waters, Kostich did not have any close encounters.
“Thankfully, I didn’t see a single shark, but to be honest, I didn’t see hardly any fish. And I think the surface was so rough that the fish just went to deeper water,” Kostich said. “I was swimming over coral reefs and they were really, really healthy reefs. There wasn’t any coral bleaching, which was nice to see. But like the reefs were in full bloom and usually when you have a reef, you have fish, and when you have fish, you have sharks. So I was prepared to see anything, and I had a shark repellent bracelet, which I decided not to wear, but rather hang on the kayaks.”
Immediately after completing the swim, Kostich had a chance to interact with the island’s residents. He finished at 10:45 a.m. and rushed to make it to a church service 15 minutes later.
“The pastor had done a prayer circle for me before the swim and he invited me to the service if I was finished in time. So I felt like this odd pressure to finish the swim in under three hours so that I could make the church service at 11,” Kostich said. “So I raced up the hill to go to church and he made an announcement when he saw me walk in the back, and it was really nice.”
Kostich, who during his National Team tenure competed at the Pan American and Pan Pacific Games, received words of encouragement before and after the swim from the likes of Brooke Bennett, Kristy Kowal, Dave Berkoff, Katrina Radke, Tracey McFarlane, Carrie Steinseifer-Bates, and Bob Bowman. While this experience is not going to turn into a new career – he is perfectly happy working in Los Angeles in marketing at Participant Media (the production company behind Best Picture winner Green Book) – there might be a couple more unique swims in his future.
“The travel company that I worked with to get there, Lupine Travel, posted a couple pictures and an update on their website. And as a result of that, Sierra Leone contacted them … and they said, ‘hey, we’ve got an island, it’s called Banana Island, and maybe Alex would want to swim around that,'” Kostich said. “I don’t want to make a habit out of it, but if the water’s warm and there aren’t any alligators, I would be interested in maybe pursuing that.”