Courtney Atkinson’s top 5 triathlon swims

The Red Bull triathlete has tackled more bodies of water than most. Here are his favourites.
Ready to rip, Burleigh Heads © Red Bull Content Pool
By Courtney Atkinson

Competing in triathlon and ironman events across the globe, you don’t get the luxury of being fussy over the courses. The course is the course – and you have to complete it. That’s that.

For the running and cycling legs, it’s usually much of a muchness. The landscapes might be different and the track slightly rougher, smoother, steeper or mellower, but it’s still a track. With the swimming leg, however, it’s different.

I’ve spent my fair share of time in some of the most disgusting bodies of water you can possibly imagine. But I’ve also been lucky enough to compete in places that completely blew my mind. Here are my five favourite swims of my career…so far.

1. Cebu 70.3 Ironman, Philippines

Crystal clear, Cebu © Courtney Atkinson

This one was special. We swam in front of the Cebu Shangri La. Even though it was only a couple of metres offshore, we were swimming over coral reef and some of the most beautiful fish I’d ever seen. It was like swimming in a giant, open-air aquarium. It was a stunning summer’s day too, and the water was nice and warm. There are definitely worst places to put your body to the test!

2. Escape from Alcatraz, San Francisco, USA

The Escape from Alcatraz © Courtney Atkinson

Escape from Alcatraz is a real a bucket list triathlon. It’s so popular that most people need to enter a lottery to even get a shot at gaining entry. They loaded all of us competitors onto a ferry and, when we were right next to Alcatraz Prison, we dived off and started the race. From there, it was a beast of a swim – retracing the harrowing efforts of all those prisoners who tried to escape for real over the years.

The water temperature was in the single digits and the current was strong – we had to battle it over 2.2km to get back to the Golden Gate Bridge. It might sound hellacious…but it was an awesome struggle.

Courtney training on the Gold Coast © Red Bull Content Pool

3. Rhodes ITU World Cup, Greek Islands, Greece

Back in 2007, the international triathlon union held a world cup in the waters in front of the old Greek city of Rhodes. The water clarity, for a start, was like nothing I’d ever seen before. A beautiful rocky outcrop surrounded us and the water was teeming with fish. I realised then why the Greek Islands are such a popular holiday getaway for so many people!

4. Hamilton Island Triathlon, Queensland, Australia

Not a bad spot for a dip © Courtney Atkinson

The Hamilton Island Triathlon is small race with a limit of just a few hundred competitors. The swim itself took us through and over some incredible Australian reef. The water was warm and the coral was beautiful. Looking down, I could spot the rays and sharks as I went. We swam 750m across the bay and then got to ride the cycle leg on the airport runway, which the event organisers had shut down especially. That was pretty cool too.

5. World Triathlon Championships Arrowtown, New Zealand

Lake Hayes, Queenstown, New Zealand © eGuide Travel

Queenstown is known for its mountains, but in 2007 the ITU World Championship Triathlon champs were held at nearby Lake Hayes. It was the middle of summer but the water was so cold that we still needed wetsuits. It sounds intense, but once we were in the middle of the lake we had 360 degree views of the snow covered mountains. It felt like swimming in the middle of a volcano.

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