Not only is the Beach to Beach Power Swim one of the best organized competitive open-water swims in the Caribbean, it’s attracted swimmers from age six to 74, as well as serious swimmers from throughout the Caribbean and the U.S., and from as far away as Spain.
The swim, an annual fundraiser for the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, features six separate races swam simultaneously and averages around 200 competitors each year. Sound like pandemonium’ It’s actually nowhere near the chaos you might imagine.
All swimmers begin at Maho Beach on St. John’s north shore early in the morning on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. There’s a one mile-long short course to Cinnamon Bay, a two and a quarter mile-long course to Trunk Bay, and a three and a half mile-long course to Hawksnest Beach. Each course can be swam unassisted (goggles only) or assisted with a mask, snorkel and fins, and swimmers compete as individuals or as part of a three-person relay team.
The course is well marked, and if the thought of swimming in open water makes your heart skip a beat, you can relax: there are safety precautions upon safety precautions throughout the course. You’ll find anywhere from 25-30 kayaks accompanying competitors during the swim, backed up by half a dozen power boats, which themselves are backed up by National Park Service patrol boats and the St. John Rescue boat should medical assistance be required (in the race’s eight years, no one has needed medical care).
If you’re the competitive type, you’ll be happy to know that the conditions are incredibly conducive to a good swim. Winds generally come out of the east, gently pushing swimmers onward as they travel west, carving their way through the picturesque turquoise waters.
Or if you’re just along for the ride, don your mask, snorkel and fins and take in the breathtaking scenery that is St. John’s north shore. The waters are pristine, and it’s not uncommon to see reef fish, turtles, stingrays, squid, nurse sharks (they don’t bite!) and more as you hug the shoreline. Pick your head up out of the water every now and then to gaze upon the famed north shore beaches: lush green hills sloping down to where strips of pure, powdery white sand meet the astonishingly blue waters.
No matter which course you choose to swim, you can count on locals awaiting you at the finish line, cheering you on as you complete the race. St. John residents love a chance to party, the Power Swim is no exception. Hang on the beach for a while, gather your breath, and then head over to Oppenheimer — yet another of those renowned north shore beaches — for a barbecue in honor of swimmers, volunteers, and anybody else who happens to show up looking for a good time. Tons of awards are given out at the party, so it’s likely you won’t go home empty-handed.
The highly lauded management of the race plus the fun aspect has assured that the Power Swim continues to grow each year. It’s been featured in several national magazines, and it attracts a certain subculture of people who travel the world looking for different open-water swims in which to compete. Swimmers are coming back year after year, and bringing their friends with them, too.
There’s also a huge local component, with about one-third of the swimmers coming from St. John. It’s become a fun annual event for families and other residents who want to test themselves, discovering what they’re really capable of.
As if the scenery and the party aren’t incentive enough to join the Power Swim, you’ll also be racing for a good cause. The fundraiser benefits the Friends of the VINP’s Learn to Swim program, and other activities for kids in the national park. A beautiful swim with a good cause followed by a kickass beach party. How could you say no’