Thoughts on Diana Nyad, the Controversy, and Conflict Within ‘Wild Swimming’

The controversy over Diana Nyad‘s famous (or infamous) swim from Cuba to Florida has been reignited by an upcoming Netflix biopic on the topic, dragging the sport back into a controversy that rears its head every couple of years. This has brought two of wild swimming’s monoliths into a seeming conflict – though that conflict, despite its aggressive portrayal, might not actually leave the two sides that far apart.

The validity of any record is dependent on the people and organizations who are most qualified to confirm those records establishing a set of standards that are uniform, and then ‘everybody else’ sort of accepting that those standards make sense. Then ‘everybody else’ talks about and refers to those records until they become normalized.

We saw this play heavily in pool swimming, where the FINA/AQUA standards didn’t make sense to most of the public, so you would hear things like “the real World Junior Record”, which discounted the FINA-recognized World Junior Records.

I *think* that both WOWSA and Evan Morrison, who sit near the top of the list of most qualified individuals/orgs to create these uniform standards, generally agree that Nyad’s swim did not meet the best set of standards that would be applied today to this swim.

I *think* they’d also like their sport to move past this controversy (though objectively, it brings more attention to it, even if it’s annoying attention).

Where they conflict is in what to do about it.

WOWSA wants to reject ratification to put it to rest (which won’t work). Morrison wants to ratify in some special category that MSF currently doesn’t have (which won’t work if Nyad doesn’t accept that asterisk).

Probably neither works with the movie coming out.

Morrison thinks it’s unfair to apply a standard that didn’t exist at the time of Nyad’s swim, which I think is a reasonable take; but most people looking at the data and information available would probably conclude the same as the reasonability standard being applied by WOWSA – that there’s not enough evidence available that the swim happened unassisted. So we’re left in this weird wormhole where these two orgs agree and disagree in the same way.

And so the controversy will continue – and neither will get the thing that they both want.

All this is happening while Andreas Waschburger is awaiting ratification on a new English Channel record, which might itself be facing an uphill battle for ratification. The world’s most famous open water swim has more than one ratifying organization, including the Channel Swimming Association, which states that “the costume may not extend on to the Upper Leg below the level of the crotch.” It appears that Waschberger’s suit does extend beyond the “Upper leg below the level of the crotch,” and so shouldn’t be ratified by the Channel Swimming Association’s rules (which doesn’t recognize a wetsuit category). The Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation, however, does allow textile suits to the knee, saying that the swim was approved in advance as being within their rules.

While the Channel Swimming Association is an accepted authority on English Channel swims, Waschberger tagged his posts on social media #guinessworldrecords, and Guinness, which has become eponymous with record setting of all types, has their own standards. Guinness, by the way, has removed Nyad’s records after the WOWSA ratification rejection, as they often rely on more specific experts of a topic for their own ratification standards. If the CS&P ratifies it, it is likely that Guinness will as well, even if the CSA does not.

Nothing has ever been easy in open water swimming, one of the most grueling sports in existence, and the caretakers of that sport are a passionate bunch who believe deeply in a certain ethos that is unique among sport. For all of their conflicts, that is something that will continue to unite them.

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Happy Slappy
7 days ago

There is such a small group that cares about this.

10 days ago

Comparing wild swimming to marathon swimming is like equating a casual game of catch in the park to professional baseball. Both involve a ball, but the intent and level of competition are worlds apart

Free Thinker
10 days ago

ok so I get that there are official rules around ratifying a swim, but like, i don’t care if she had wetsuit – its impressive regardless and I don’t really care if some ding bats approve it. Also, some people think that she got a boat full of observers to lie about her crossing is nuts to me. Why would they do that? Whats in it for them? You know what groups of people are exceptionally bad at? Keeping secrets.

Reply to  Free Thinker
10 days ago

Yeah then she didn’t have to falsify her documents and backdate them and make up associations out of thin air when she submitted for her ratification. Oh, and there is that little issue where three crew tell completely different stories for the same hours. Let’s not even go to where her observer disappeared to for 9 hrs. Does anyone read details anymore?

10 days ago

There are many good people in this incredible sport but also some who may not have the athletes interest at heart. Sadly many of our “caretakers” are self appointed. It is interesting to me that much of the media sees the community of open water swimmers being united over how they feel about Nyad. I would suggest that is far from the case, and in many ways, because of the excessive bullying, her story as divided and already fractured community.

John Culhane
10 days ago

I wish I knew more about this. But from what I’m reading here, it seems like the issue with Nyad’s swim is that of insufficient evidence, rather than affirmative evidence of a rules violation — even a negligent one. I’d give her the benefit of the doubt, given the benefit to the sport and the undoubted magnitude of the accomplishment. But I’m open to further discussion showing why I’m wrong.

Reply to  John Culhane
10 days ago

She knew the swim would be scrutinized and she intentionally picked unqualified friends to be observers oh and then there is her history of lying

Reply to  Taa
9 days ago

Then there are her own words:

“Am I embarrassed to have inflated my own record when my record is pretty good on its own? Yes, it makes me cringe,” Nyad said. “Some of those statements are 45 years old — there wasn’t even an internet then. But I’m human and I like to think that I’ve lived a life that now makes me proud of who I am.”

Nick B
Reply to  John Culhane
10 days ago

Here is WOWSA’s offical take on her swim: for more information.

Regarding Waschburger (spelling corrected), unlike Grimsey, Stoychev, Kudinov, & Vitek (and others), he wore more than a jammer, but within the rules of CS&PF.

Christof Wandratsch, the record holder prior to Stoychev, wore a similar suit in his swim, but without jammer level leggings, as was the case with Waschburger.

The CSA record goes all the way back to 1994, with Chad Hundeby’s 7:17.

Diddo Clark
Reply to  Nick B
10 days ago

What’s a jammer? Thanks. Bonita Belle, California distance swimmer

Becky D
Reply to  John Culhane
10 days ago

If you seriously want to break a Guinness world record, you figure out what is required. It’s not enough to tell them, “Well, there’s no evidence that I cheated, right?”

Nick B
10 days ago

CSA is not the only ratifying body for English Channel Swims. CS&PF is the other ratifying body, which has a different set of rules, which includes jammers extending up to the knee level.

Here is their statement regarding Waschberger’s swim:

Prior to Waschberger’s swim, the record was held by Trent Grimsey, who wore a jammer:

Prior To Grimsey, the record was held by Petar Stoychev, who wore a jammer:

Amongst the fastest times in English Channel history, Yuri Kudinov (7:05 on the same day Stoychev went 6:57), wore a jammer:

Rostislav Vitek, another very fast English Channel swimmer, went 7:16 in 2009, also in a jammer:

All of these swims were ratified by CS&PF.

Reply to  Nick B
10 days ago

Thanks, very informative!

Reply to  Nick B
9 days ago

Are there rules about not being too close to the boat?

10 days ago

Let’s just stop talking about her and maybe she’ll go away!

help me out here
Reply to  ByeGurl!
10 days ago

I’m a bit behind on this story, why should Diana go away? thanks:)

Reply to  help me out here
9 days ago

She’s just a big attention seeker and is only doing these things for attention. She realized early on that if she embellished a little it makes her look better and thought nobody knows…now it’s snowballed into her making up huge lies to chase fame

Climate Change Hysteria!
10 days ago

“If you can’t sleep at night, it isn’t the coffee— it’s the bunk.”

HT: the 1940 Preston Sturges film: “Christmas in July.”

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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