Henley Classic Swim Celebrates 20 Years

As most people in Henley were still in bed early last last Sunday in the calm before Regatta week, several hundred swimmers were grabbing their goggles, squeezing themselves into wetsuits and making their way quietly down to Temple Island Meadows and the start of the Henley Royal Regatta course.

They’d got up in the very small hours of the morning to swim the Selkie Henley Classic – a now well known swim that takes place annually in June on the 2.1km Regatta course. Swimmers start as the sun rises, and get to experience this world-renowned stretch of the Thames in the calm before dawn.

Greeting them as they came over the hill to face the Thames, a green laser lit up the river past all the famous landmarks – the Barn Bar, Phyllis Court and the Members’ Grandstand, all the way up to the church and bridge in Henley.

This dawn swim tradition began 20 years ago in 2004 when two rowers – Tom Kean and Jeremy Laming ditched their boat for a wetsuit, and had to make it early to avoid the busy boat traffic of the days preceding the Regatta.

Numbers have swelled over the years, the event has become official, and now hundreds make the dawn pilgrimage to swim this iconic stretch of the river each year. Henley Swim now has three other swimming events on its annual calendar, attracting swimmers both locally and internationally, has won prestigious awards and raises thousands of pounds for charity each year.

One swimmer said: “This was my first time and it was a wonderful experience! Throughout the event all the staff and volunteers were extremely friendly and helpful, and overall there was a lovely welcoming atmosphere. I’m already looking forward to returning in the future!”

Another remarked: ‘My 7th time. A quintessential English tradition married with the wildness and braveness of swimmers of all ages. A lovely atmosphere and super-pleasant swim. An experience I will repeat year on year until I can’t swim anymore.”

Teams competing included swim clubs, schools and individuals. The fastest female up the course was Vicky Cunningham, taking the trophy for the 6th year in a time of 32.32 minutes. The fastest male was Matthew Breckon, completing the 2.1km in 26.4 minutes.

Henley Swim’s next event is the Outdoor Swimmer Henley Swim Festival on 13-14 July at Temple Island Meadows. It’s free all weekend, with plenty to do whether you’re swimming or not. Two nights of camping, a retail village, wellness area, zorb zone, live music, entertainment and food and drink will all be going on alongside swims of all distances.

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