Chloë McCardel needs no introduction.
In the world of open water swimming, McCardel is Royalty.
She is ‘Queen of the English Channel’.
In October 2021, the Melbourne-raised Sydneysider broke the world record for the most successful crossings of the English Channel, with 44.
Having put her English Channel crossings to bed (for now), McCardel is now planning the next stage in her marathon swimming career.
In this feature, Suzie Ryan talks to McCardel about continuing on an Australian marathon swimming legacy, the Australian marathon swimming scene, and what’s next for her.
Continuing an Australian legacy
When McCardel arrived at Pointe de la Courte Dune in France to become the most successful Channel swimmer, she was “buzzing”.
“It’s been a really tough journey, but I’ve persisted,” she said at the time.
“Marathon swimming is a sport that is so incredible and enthralling. You’re out in nature, I just find it so compelling.”
“That record is really the most prestigious record and I’m just happy to have it now.”
Reflecting on the accomplishment as she heads into another busy year, McCardel is thrilled to be continuing on an Australian legacy in marathon swimming.
“It made me very proud to achieve the title because I have been working towards this since 2009 when I first swam the English Channel,” said McCardel.
“As an Australian, I am proud to achieve this too because Australia has a long and strong history of the English Channel.
“We had Des Renford from the 1970s and 1980s who did so well in the English Channel, swimming it nineteen times, so I feel like I am continuing on a legacy in Australia.
“I also feel like I am really showing the world what Aussies can do in open water, swimming the toughest marathon swim in the world forty-four times.”
The marathon swimming scene in Australia
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted open water swimming not only within Australia but worldwide and McCardel can see exciting times ahead for the Australian marathon swimming scene.
“I think we are in an exciting renaissance period where open water swimming has become much more popular,” said McCardel.
“Even before the pandemic, open water swimming was becoming more popular and there was high interest in it, but then because of COVID people couldn’t get into swimming pools so participation rates doubled.
“So I think we are in a very exciting time right now where more and more people are entering the sport.”
With Australia’s participation rates in open water swimming increasing we are also seeing more marathon swims become available here in our own backyard.
“We are seeing a lot more marathon swimming options here in Australia compared to a few years ago,” said McCardel.
“There’s the Derwent River Swim now, the Rottnest Channel Swim, Port to Pub and the Palm to Shelley. The Derwent River Swim only really became popular in the last eighteen months but has already become very popular among Australians, so that is a good sign.
“I do think that it is great that we have all these swims now and there is so much more opportunity to do longer swims than ever before in Australia and it is great because more people get to challenge themselves.
“I would say the best thing [about the Australian marathon swims] is that Aussies now have the option to do marathon swims on home soil with support from their family and friends instead of having to travel overseas which can become very expensive.”
A new adventure
This year McCardel is launching a new adventure, although this one is a little different to her previous English Channel swims.
McCardel is facilitating a 92km non-stop relay from Ramsgate, England, to Nieuwpoort, Belgium, across the cold, rough and gruelling waters of the North Channel.
“I am so excited about this relay and for the swimmers in it, no relay has ever officially been swum between England and Belgium before, so this is the inaugural year of it,” said McCardel.
“It really is the dawn of a new era in marathon relay swimming and I am coaching, coordinating and organising every aspect of the relay swims myself.
“The first one is going to start on July 5th and there are ten swimmers in each relay and they each swim for 30mins at a time, so it will likely take between thirty-five and forty-five hours to finish.”
McCardel has a wealth of knowledge in marathon swimming having coached more than 150 people to swim the English Channel and is excited to coach more keen marathon swimmers.
“I am getting a lot of previous swimmers wanting to come and join in on this relay as well as new marathon swimmers,” said Ms McCardel.
“I’m getting really excited because they are getting really excited to do the relay and it’s almost like a reunion for some because I get to reconnect and go on a new adventure with a lot of previous swimmers I’ve coached, which is super super special.
“We still have seven months until we start swimming the first relay and I’m already having the time of my life.
“I’m also really looking forward to not only the experience of seeing these swimmers complete the gruelling North Channel but also the celebration of it all at the end which will definitely include Belgium beer and chocolates.”
A busy 2022
While the England to Belgium relay is the primary focus for McCardel at the moment, she will also continue to run her open water swimming camps here in Australia.
“I’ll be running some cold water swimming camps this year in May and then again next year in 2023,” said McCardel.
“These camps will be a great opportunity to help my relay swimmers here in Australia get ready for the England to Belgium swim because it is a cold water swim.
“So I will have a lot of those swimmers come to them but it is open to any swimmer who would like to come along and join in.”
After such a big year of marathon swimming in 2021, McCardel is coy about what comes next for her personally.
“In terms of marathon swimming, it isn’t really my focus at the moment,” said McCardel.
“My focus is to train up my current relay swimmers and recruit new swimmers to go on all these crazy adventures with me.
“But I can say there may be something in terms of marathon swimming in the pipeline, so watch this space.”
Advice on getting into marathon swimming, from the Queen
When it comes to dishing out advice to aspiring marathon swimmers, McCardel’s is simple, “start small”.
“If you want to get into marathon swimming, give the smaller swims a go first,” said McCardel.
“Start with the 1km, 2km and 5km swims and then slowly build-up to the longer distances.
“I would also say to get a coach and find a squad to swim with so you can build up fitness and work on your technique
“Because if you have a good fitness base and get your technique looked after by a coach and do a few of the smaller swims you are really setting yourself up for a great 10km or longer marathon swim.”
If you would like more information on Chloe’s England to Belgium relay or open water camps head to her website.