• Marathon Swimming

Three generations of the Renford legacy

South Maroubra’s Michael Renford, the son of the King of the Channel, says he accidentally fell into marathon swimming and is enjoying sharing his hobby with his son.

Michael Renford joined the Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club 48 years ago thanks to his dad, Des Renford, the ‘King of the Channel’. Since then Mr Renford hasn’t looked back, finding a passion for surf lifesaving and open water swimming that continues to this day.

“My dad influenced me to join the surf club at a young age, so I joined the Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club back in 1975 and did my SRC,” said Mr Renford.

“I felt like I had to join the Maroubra club because it was my dad’s club and I would get to hang out with him but shortly after in 1976 I defected to South Maroubra because all of my mates were there.

“I thought my dad would have been angry with me for being in a different surf club than him, but when I spoke to him, he was just happy that I was in a surf club and involved in surf lifesaving.

“That was 47 years ago and since then I have been a consistent member of the South Maroubra and love every minute of it. I also got my kids involved and my son just loves anything to do with the ocean.”

While many people would look at Mr Renford’s surname and assume marathon swimming was in his blood, Mr Renford asserts you’d be wrong, he likes to say he “accidentally fell into marathon swimming”.

“I was always a board paddler, surfer and surf swimmer and never really had a great deal of interest in open water swimming until later in life during my early to mid-40s,” said Mr Renford.

“It wasn’t until my dad passed away in 1999 and a little after that in 2007 when I took redundancy from Qantas, that I was looking for a challenge and decided to give the English Channel a crack.

“So, to be honest I found marathon swimming by accident through my redundancy. But many people see my surname and just assume that because of my dad, it is in my blood. Although my dad was just dad to me, I loved him to death for being dad, not for being Des Renford the marathon swimmer.

“So you could say that I just found marathon swimming and open water swimming by accident and it quickly became a passion of mine.”

Unlike many others, Mr Renford had a relatively quick preparation for his English Channel Swim, deciding to swim it in January 2007 and achieving it seven months later in August.

“I had a very short period of time to prepare and almost feel I cheated a little because I went from deciding I wanted to swim the English Channel to achieving it within seven months,” said Mr Renford.

“Many people dream of conquering the English Channel their whole lives and I had only been thinking of it for seven months, so part of me did feel like I cheated it a little.

“While over there I met a wonderful lady named Anne Steele, she was from Tasmania and the first Tasmanian to swim the English Channel. It was quite funny she had been wanting to swim the English Channel since she was 10 years old and she was now 38 years old, so for 28 years this had been what she had dreamed of and here I was in August after making a decision to swim the Channel only back in January.

“So for many people, it’s a lifelong dream and my dad has been a big influence on a lot of them but for me, it was a very short and sharp decision to just jump in and do it.

“Prior to deciding to do the channel, I was very unfit only swimming casually, around six to nine kilometres a week but as soon as I committed to my decision I started to build up my swimming and worked my way up to 70 kilometres a week.”

After Mr Renford successfully conquered the English Channel he went on to conquer the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.

“I did the English Channel in 2007 and then after that, I decided that I wanted to go on and do the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim which I did in 2009, and then in 2011 I did the Catalina Channel,” said Mr Renford.

“I actually did the Catalina Channel on my 50th birthday and I say it was a present to myself rather than getting a red sports car.

“They were all very different swims with the Swim Around Manhattan being the easiest because the current pushed me around and I got to see the beautiful sights along the way.

“The Catalina Channel was definitely the most physically challenging swim. My boat captain didn’t want to take me out because he thought the swim wasn’t achievable in the rough conditions but I argued with him and made him overturn his decision. Little did I know what an idiot I was in doing that.

“Once getting out of the safety of the bay I was just getting thrown around and thought I can’t make this what am I doing? Why didn’t I listen to the boat captain? But I came up with what I thought was an acceptable failure and broke my swim down into that. I thought after three hours I’d give up and that would have been a good enough crack.

“I didn’t end up giving up and continued and it turned out to be the best thing I did because after five hours of hell and just as I was about the pull the pin, the sun came out and the seas turned flat, the next four hours of the swim were absolute heaven and as it turns out I was the third fastest swimmer of the season.

“While the English Channel wasn’t as physically challenging as the Catalina Channel it was definitely the most mentally demanding. I felt like because I was my father’s son there was a lot of pressure on me. On top of that, I was raising funds for the Victor Chang Cardiac Institute and Channel Nine was doing live crosses from the boat so it was a very public swim and if I would have failed it would have been a very public failure.

Mr Renford after becoming the 3rd Australian to complete the Triple Crown of Marathon Swimming (Catalina Channel) on his 50th birthday in 2011. With his support paddler Tony Johnston.

Since conquering the Catalina Channel, Mr Renford hasn’t done much marathon swimming rather taking on the role of a mentor to share his passion for open water swimming with others.

“I really only did those three big swims and that was the extent of my marathon swimming career and I am still dining out on it to this day,” said Mr Renford.

“While I haven’t done any marathon swimming since then, I have taken many people to the English Channel over the years and a few to Catalina and Manhattan.

“I really don’t call myself a coach but more of a mentor and I love nothing more than sharing my marathon swimming experiences and my viewpoints.

“I do always give a disclaimer that I am not a subject matter expert but rather someone that has been around the game for a fair while and watched my dad do many marathon swims.”

These days Mr Renford swims only a couple of times a week with his son Aidan alongside him and this weekend Aidan will be swimming in the South Maroubra Ocean Swim while Mr Renford MC’s from the beach.

“I only swim a little bit these days but my son Aidan is now in the same squad as me and we get up in the morning and head to the pool,” said Mr Renford.

“He does swim a lot more than I do, he swims around four times a week but when I go we are in the same squad and same lane and that is something I never thought would happen.

“He also has bragging rights over me now as in the last two ocean swims we have done together he has beaten me.

“It’s great to see him loving the ocean as much as I do and his grandfather did, he is really into surf lifesaving, open water swimming, pool swimming and surfing, he just loves being in the water, which I obviously also love.

“I truly believe that he is a better swimmer and surf lifesaver than myself or his grandad, my dad, Des Renford ever could have been, so I am excited to see how he goes this weekend on our home beach of South Maroubra.”

Mr Renford has been on the organising committee of the South Maroubra Ocean Swim since it first started out as the Clear Water Classic back in the 90s before a hiatus and the current South Maroubra Ocean Swim was born.

“We have come a long way since the Clear Water Classic all those years ago, but one thing is for sure we are still a swim that just wants to support the community,” said Mr Renford.

“We had 400 swimmers last year and our goal is to continue to grow the number of swimmers each year while promoting people to just enjoy ocean swimming and being in the ocean.

“This year we have a huge range of activities for swimmers to enjoy after their swim including entertainment on the beach, music, a BBQ, lots and lots of prizes and of course, the bar will be open for those who want a drink because after all, we are a very social club.

“I will be MCing on the beach with Emily Miers who is a fellow channel swimmer and also Grant Baldock. So between us, we will have a lot of open water experiences between us.

“I’m also really looking forward to seeing all the nippers in the 12 years and under 500m swim, as we have been encouraging nippers all the way from here at South Maroubra up to North Bondi to challenge themselves and get involved in the ocean swim and also get their parents involved in the 1km or 2.5km swims.”

Head to the South Maroubra Ocean Swim Listing to find out more and enter.

  • Written by Ocean Swims on 18 April 2023
  • (Updated on 3 August 2023)

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