Jono at Hobbie Point. Photo / @SamoaSwim
Jonathan “Jono” Ridler
Age, 31 years
Grew up in Lynfield, Auckland
School, Hebron Christian College, and one year at Auckland Grammar
Work, Client Operations Manager, Fliway
Every time Jono’s phone rings in the next few days, it could be the call from his boat crew to get himself to Invercargill for his swim across Foveaux Strait. Within forty-eight hours of getting that call, Jono will be in the water swimming.
He is on full alert and soon he will take on the most feared ocean swim in New Zealand. When he crosses the finish line, he will complete the NZ Triple Crown of Marathon Swimming, inside two years. That in itself is a remarkable feat.
Jono swam Cook Strait in February 2019, twelve months later on the 29th of Feb 2020 he swam Lake Taupo. And now, he is on the cusp of adding Foveaux Strait to his impressive list of achievements.
The Foveaux Strait Swim (28km) forms the big three of open water swims in NZ that includes Cook Strait (22km) and Lake Taupo (40.2km), and yet, whereas 130 swimmers have crossed Cook Strait, only eight swimmers have swum Foveaux.
The Strait is not for bunnies, you have to be next-level off the boil, or beyond the boil to take it on. Even Jono himself outright rejected the idea of swimming it when a friend dropped a hint, as friends do.
That was his immediate and emphatic reaction to the suggestion.
“Foveaux scared me, at the time it really scared me because of the cold, that was the big factor. It scares me less now. But I have always leaned toward things that I feared and that has led to Foveaux.”
“You can count on two hands the number of people who have swum Foveaux, that speaks to a couple things. One, it’s a hard swim, second, there isn’t a lot of infrastructure around the swim, you can’t just call someone up anyone and say you want to do that swim in a couple of years. All the logistics need to be put together from scratch.”
The suggestion to swim Foveaux was made after his crossing of Cook Strait. Jono has one of the fastest swim times for the Strait finishing the swim at 6hrs22mins01sec. That is the 8th fastest time since the first crossing in 1962 (Barry Davenport).
When he was preparing for the swim, Jono found out that he wasn’t the first family member to cross Cook Strait. His dad Gordon had rowed across it with the Muriwai Surf Life Saving Club in 1969 long before Jono was born.
After Cook Strait, Jono set his mind on the next challenge and that was swimming the 40.2km of Lake Taupo. He did that in a time of 12hrs22mins, again, one of the faster times for Taupo.
Jono started to think more about Foveaux after Taupo and set out to piece it all together. He has put in some serious training for the swim.
Over the last two months, he has been alternating between sixty and twenty-five km per week. He calls it bulking week and the recovery week, in the bulking week he “smashes the KMS” then bring it down the next week to give the body a chance to recover. The aim was to double the distance of Foveaux Strait on the peak weeks.
Now that he has built up the miles, the next goal is to think about the time he is targeting for the swim.
“It’s always so hard to say because it really is dependent on conditions on the day. I would love to give the time record a go, but anything can happen on the day, but at the moment I’m targeting the record.”
That record belongs to Chloe Harris of Christchurch who swam Foveaux in February 2016 in 8hrs30mins. The other standout point of Chloe’s swim is Foveaux was her first swim of the Triple Crown, Cook Strait, and Taupo came later.
That is the type of challenge that captures Jono’s attention and Chloe’s swim time is one thing he can focus on.
“I want to give it everything I’ve got and do it as quickly as I can, that’s what my training has been geared around to hold a consistent pace and working on my top-level speed as well as my endurance speed in training which will impact my overall speed.”
The biggest factor will be the water temperature which will sit around 14 degrees Celsius. Jono has left nothing to chance. As well as swimming through the winter he built his own chest freezer ice-bath where he put silicon around the edges and added a digital temperature controller and a water filter. He has three sessions a week in the ice-bath for an hour at a time. On the day we met, he was planning on a ninety-minute session later that morning with the temperature set at 7 degrees Celsius.
For this session, he set up his TV to watch a movie, and every five minutes he will immerse his head in the water to get a sense of what that feels like.
“I think that will really help. Through the winter I did a tremendous amount of training in the cold, it was really tough, culminating in a 5-hour swim at about 13 degrees C. I was pretty happy about that at the time.”
There may be a silver lining, one of his skippers told him last week that he has seen some bluefin tuna in the Strait. It’s a good sign because the fish apparently only appear when the water reaches 16 degrees. The skipper said that he had recorded some spots in Foveaux recently at that temperature.
Jono is not concerned about what the temperature will be on the day of the swim.
“You can’t control what the weather is doing, but you focus on the controllables like training, adaptation to the cold, pulling together your team and crew.’
He has put together a great crew. The pilot and boat crew is a father-son duo who fish in the area. The son has 30 years of experience and the father 50 years of local knowledge, they know the Strait well. The Oreti Surf Club is providing an IRB. On the boat as the neutral observer for the swim – a requirement in ultra-marathon swimming – will be Simon Olliver who swam the Strait in February 2017.
The swim direction is unknown at this stage but is likely to be south to north, leaving off Saddle Point on the northeast part of Stewart Island and finishing on the back of Bluff hill. That was the same direction and starting point for Simon and Chloe. The reason for the S-N course is because there has been very good success in navigating the tides in that direction.
Jono is a regular participant at O Swim events
Jono has done his research, “If you time the tide right, I will start the swim in the last two hours of the flood tide, then in the middle of the Strait it’s flowing east to west with no real tidal advantage or disadvantage, it's more how you point yourself at that stage. The final stage is trying to find a suitable and safe landing point on the shore. At that stage, I will probably be towards the end of the second tide, the last of the ebb tide.”
It will be the successful end of ten months of careful planning. The measure of success for Jono will be achieving a personal challenge that also brings rewards.
“You have to put in the yards in training to get your body in shape, but you have to be really tough in your mind as well. There’s that part of it; the other part is there is a crossover with swimming and other areas of life. It gives you a lot of self-confidence to take on other challenges. There’s a lot of parallels that I find now with other things like business or relationships with what I’m doing now. Lastly, and more importantly, I’ve seen as a result of things that I’ve taken on has inspired other people to take on similar challenges. That’s been really cool to be able to see that what I’m doing is having an impact and being able to guide others from my experience. That is very rewarding for me.”
Swimming wasn’t Jono’s first love. He grew up playing tennis and football and dabbled in running. He was training for a marathon in 2014 when he got a nasty case of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) that developed into other injuries. That’s when he retired from football and gave up running and started to focus on swimming.
In 2016 he swam his first 10km distance. Jono came to like swimming long distances and he began to wonder what he could do next. That led to a chat with Philip Rush, and Jono soon signed up to swim Cook Strait. From there, everything fell into place.
"I always wanted to do distance endurance stuff. I thought it would be running but it was not to be."
We wish Jono well on the swim. We will talk with him again after Foveaux and we look forward to bringing that report.
Caitlin is a regular swimmer at Samoa Swims & Events in Auckland. She met with us at the
Orewa Estuary for a chat and photos.
Age, 16 years
Lives in Waitoki, Rodney
In less than two weeks, on or about the 19th of February, sixteen-year-old Caitlin O’Reilly of Waitoki will swim Foveaux Strait, all 28 km of the treacherous pass between the Bluff and Stewart Island. The swim is timed for the lowest tide cycle in the Strait this month.
To those in the know, there is no doubting that Caitlin will achieve this goal just like she did when she swam Cook Strait in 2017 when she was only twelve years old. Then two years later, Caitlin swam 40.2km across Lake Taupo. The three swims form the sacred Triple Crown (TC) of NZ open water swimming. The Cook Strait swim makes up one of the world's Ocean 7 swims, the pinnacle of this global sport.
Caitlin’s focus was on completing Ocean 7 before turning twenty, but COVID19 got in the way. Last year, she was due to swim the Catalina Strait (USA) and the Tsugaru Strait (Japan). The other four swims the Molokai Channel (Hawai’i), English Channel (England to France), North Channel (Ireland to Scotland), and the Gibraltar Strait swim (Europe to Africa) were to follow. These swims will now have to wait until the world is well again.
The COVID19 interruption turned Caitlin's attention to challenges closer to home, and there is no none bigger than the NZ Triple Crown of Cook Strait, Lake Taupo, and Foveaux Strait.
When she finally lands on dry ground at the end of her swim in two weeks, Caitlin will have completed this rare feat even amongst some of the big names of ultra-marathon swimmers in this country. That list includes legends of the sport such as Phillip Rush (multiple crossings of Cook Strait, English Channel, and Lake Taupo), Meda McKenzie (Cook Strait, first NZ woman), Sandra Blewett (NZ Triple Crown), Barry Davenport (first to cross Cook Strait), Perry Cameron (Cook Strait), John Coutts (multiple swims) and Keith Hancox (second person to swim Cook Strait) to name a few. And of that list, only Sandra Blewett has completed the NZ TC, along with four others. Caitlin will be the sixth Kiwi to complete all three swims and by far the youngest.
The evolution of Caitlin O’Reilly is remarkable, it is based on a foundation of self-belief that belies her years. She is instilled with an abundance of quiet confidence that makes her an outstanding example for young Kiwis to follow.
Caitlin was only eleven years old when she decided to swim Cook Strait. At that time, she was coached by John Gatfield, himself a legend of the Cook Strait Swim. The year was 2004, and Gatfield was only 13 years old, and he swam Cook Strait becoming the youngest swimmer in the world to do so (8h 8mins).
Gatfield’s coaching and example made an impression on 11-year old Caitlin.
“Yep, I decided there and then to swim Cook Strait,” she said.
The next twelve months was spent preparing for the big swim. She wasn’t daunted or fazed by the prospect, nor were her parents Mike and Courtney when Caitlin told them she wanted to swim the Strait.
“My parents are wonderful people. They are in full support of what I do. I am very lucky to have supportive parents.”
“None of this would happen without them. When I come up with a goal, they don’t question it or ask whether I was sure I wanted to do these things.”
Caitlin admits that she didn’t fully understand what she was getting herself into. She knew Cook Strait was long, and it was going to be hard, but just how hard?
On the day, her swim started at 2 pm to fit in with the tide. It was all going well until it got dark.
“I cried. Phil told me I had 10 km to go, and I underestimated how long that would actually take me, and it looked like I wasn’t moving. And it was getting dark, and I had never swum in the dark before, so I cried.”
Caitlin kept swimming, then her concerns subsided when she was told there was only 2 km to go. She finished the swim after 9 pm well into the dark in a time of 7hrs 19mins 56secs. Her time is in the top 10 percent of times for Cook Strait (130 swimmers since 1962), even beating her coach by 48 mins.
The Taupo swim was a mere formality of lake swimming. She completed that in 13 hours.
For Foveaux Strait, Caitlin is planning on a swim time of around 9 hours. Phillip Rush will again captain the swim, dad Mike will be on the boat, and mum Courtney will be on the beach to welcome her at the finish.
The direction of the swim is not yet known, north to south or south to north. It will depend on the weather and tidal flow on the day, that bit of information will be known two days out, and the decision will be made for the final swim plan.
Caitlin says she is not concerned about things she cannot control, such as the weather and the direction of the swim or how cold it will be. The water temperature is expected to be 14 degrees Celsius, and she will swim without a wetsuit in keeping with the rules of international marathon swimming.
She will be in control of her approach to the swim, which includes a bit more speed than she employed in the first two swims. She will stop every half-hour to take on food and nourishment and then keep swimming until she reaches the finish.
“I’m not concerned with the swims on the day, but it’s leading up to the swims that is a real challenge, having to go to training when some mornings I just don’t want to go.”
Caitlin will keep the training up to within two days of the swim. She is currently putting in 40-kilometer weeks, and there was a 60-kilometer week recently. That has been the norm since May, a nine-month stretch of training.
With two weeks to go, she is super ready to take on Foveaux Strait, and we wish her well.
NZ Triple Crown Swimmers
It seems the Triple Crown challenge comes in pairs with the exception of Sandra Blewett in 1988. Belinda Shields and Michael Quinlivan completed the TC a year apart in 1984 and 1985, and Chloe Harris and Simon Olliver completed their Triple Crown in 2017. This time, Caitlin and Jonathan “Jono” Ridler from Massey, Auckland are swimming Foveaux Strait in the same tide window in two weeks to complete their Triple Crown. We hope to bring you Jono’s story next week.
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