This Man Wants to Swim From Tokyo to San Francisco

Ben Lecomte will soon begin a swimming journey across the Pacific Ocean; find out why he's doing it.
© Ben Garrett
By Romuald Clariond

French-born long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte loves a challenge. In 1998 he became the first man to swim across the Atlantic Ocean without a kick board, and later this year, he plans to swim across the Pacific from Tokyo to San Francisco. That's 5,500 miles, swimming eight hours a day from July until December.

The obvious question is: Why? That's what we wanted to find out ... So you're planning to swim from Tokyo to San Francisco?

Ben Lecomte: Yes, that's the plan! This should take five months. A boat is going to be there all along the swim. I will swim eight hours a day, and the rest of the time I will be on the boat to eat and sleep.

We’re going from Tokyo to San Francisco because of the currents — the Kuroshio and then the North Pacific — that push toward the United States. There will also be a team of routers on the continent who will analyze satellite pictures and tell us exactly where the current is, the kind of weather we’ll have and so on. So it’s not only one person swimming alone — there’s a whole team around.

We've heard that your boat is a bit special as well.

Yes, it’s a little over 78 feet long, built back in 1940. All made of wood, that was initially built for fishing and has been reconditioned for different kinds of use. Its story is in the spirit of what we defend, which is recycling to use things cleverly.

Why take on such a challenge?

I've swum in rivers or lakes or sea since I was very young. The first swim I did was to collect funds for research against cancer, as my dad died of cancer. When he was suffering, I realized that I could regret not following my dreams. Somehow, seeing my father suffering kicked my ass to go beyond my limits and make my dreams come true.

How do you keep swimming for so long?

I’ve always been swimming. I love it. But as I want to keep the taste for it, I also do a lot of running and cycling in my training, for endurance. But the big difference [from] pool swimmers, for example, is that I don’t swim fast.

I have a suit, flippers and snorkel, so I don’t have to turn my head all the time to breathe. Neither to see where the boat is, as it pulls a line under water with different colors that let me know if I’m forward of [the boat] or backward. So I don’t have to put my head up, which would already consume a lot of energy. And swimming with flippers multiplies the force of the biggest muscles of the body that are in legs. When you swim without these, it all has to come from shoulders and arms.

What would a week's worth of training for you look like?

I’m training three to five hours a day, five to six days a week. It depends on whether I have to travel and my schedule, but it’s generally what I do.

But in this kind of thing, what is even more important than physical condition is mental condition. When I swim, if you consider the speed, I wouldn’t be a runner but someone who walks very fast. But the difficulty is to repeat this for hours, days and months. When you look at very long things that have been done, the people are around 40 or even 50 years old. Because when you get older, you lose power and speed, but you don’t lose that much endurance. And on the psychological and mental side of things, you become better. It’s a lot about mental strength.

What's your goal with this challenge?

Today, I am a father. I have two children and their future is very important to me. So I try to use my passion to make people realize how important it is to change our daily life habits to save the environment and our planet.

So you swim to save the planet?

The swim itself is not the goal. The guy swimming from Tokyo to San Francisco is not the goal. My goal is to bring the maximum amount of people to follow the event to understand the negative impact we have on our oceans.

Sounds great; how can we follow you?

We’re going to have a live stream, and we’ll discuss and interact with the followers from the boat as it happens. Not only us on the boat, but also experts on several continents will take part in the talks.

Follow and support Lecomte's journey here.

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