On Sunday, May 27, Friends of Virgin Islands National Park will host its 9th annual Beach-to-Beach Power Swim.
The event was founded by the organization’s executive director, Joe Kessler, who came up with the idea during an outing to Francis Bay. While sitting on the beach, watching people swim, Kessler was inspired to create an athletic fundraising event which would “celebrate the island’s two best features — the beaches and the water.”
When Kessler’s idea first became a reality in 2004, the race included 120 swimmers, the majority of whom were local residents. Since then, the event has managed to both increase its popularity and widen its scope.
Over the years, the number of swimmers has nearly doubled — last year’s count was 230, a record which Kessler is confident will be broken this year — with some of them hailing from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, France, Spain, and Argentina. This year’s Power Swim already has one registered swimmer from Mexico, according to Kessler.
Also signed up to compete are two groups of Masters Swimmers from the states. While the Beach-to-Beach Power Swim is fast becoming a destination event for athletes from all over the world, however, Kessler wants all who are interested to feel welcome.
“We want this event to be as accessible as possible,” he said. “If you feel comfortable in the water, you can do [it].”
The race consists of several different courses and competitive categories, allowing swimmers to participate at their own skill level. The starting line for the event is Maho Bay; from there, swimmers can complete a short course to Cinnamon Bay (about one-mile long), an intermediate course to Trunk Bay (about two-and-a-quarter miles long), or a long course to Hawksnest Beach (about three-and-a-half miles long).
Participants can compete individually, or as part of a three-person relay team; swimmers also have the option of competing in an “assisted” category, using a snorkel and, or fins.
In addition to making sure that the Power Swim remains an accessible and all-inclusive event, Friends of VINP is also committed to ensuring that it’s a safe one. The organization has arranged for three main “lines of assistance” during the race. There will be stand-up paddlers and kayakers who will travel alongside swimmers, seven “support” powerboats which will be stationed intermittently along the race’s course, and, finally, a handful of St. John Rescue and V.I. National Park boats.
“Safety is of paramount importance,” Kessler said. “From the get-go, that’s something we’ve devoted a lot of attention to.”
Ultimately, the end goal of the Beach-to-Beach Power Swim is to raise money for VINP conservation and education programs. Funds generated by the event will first be put towards a Learn to Swim program, which VINP hosts for kids each summer at Trunk Bay. The remainder of the money will then be allocated to different projects throughout the year, as need dictates, explained Kessler.
The Power Swim relies on participants’ registration fees and sponsorships to raise money for these causes. While the deadline for early registration has already passed, there is still plenty of time — and plenty of opportunities — to sign up during the regular registration period.
Through May 25, participants who wish to sign up for the race can do so by calling Friends at 779-4940, online at www.friendsvinp.org/swim, or in person at both the Cruz Bay and Coral Bay Connections locations, or at the Friends of VINP office or store.
Registration is also possible on St. Thomas at the Caribbean Surf Company, or on St. Croix at Scuba St. Croix in Christiansted. The fee to sign up during the regular registration period is $50.
The last chance to sign up will be on Saturday, May 26, at the event’s mandatory pre-race meeting, which will be at Maho Bay Campgrounds at 5 p.m. The fee for signing up last-minute is $75.
Swimmers who want to raise even more money for the event — and potentially win a prize — can also participate in the Race for a Reason challenge by seeking outside sponsorships. For more information about the challenge, call Kessler at Friends at 779-4940.