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Which Famous Literary Figure Originated the Sport of Open Water Swimming?

Lord Byron, the illustrious Romantic poet, pioneered open water swimming as a sport when he famously swam across the Hellespont in 1810. His poetic spirit and adventurous nature transformed swimming into a pursuit of personal challenge and poetic inspiration. How might Byron's aquatic escapades inspire your own adventures? Join us as we navigate the waves of history and sport.

The English poet Lord Byron once said that the "great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain." Perhaps to prove his point, on May 3, 1810, Byron swam across the Hellespont (now better known as the Dardanelles or the Strait of Gallipoli) in Turkey. In doing so, Byron not only proved that the mythical Leander's identical swim was possible, but also unknowingly inaugurated the sport of open water swimming.

Known as something of a wild man, Byron was only 22 when, during a lengthy European vacation, he decided to attempt the swim that most people didn't believe could be done. Historians disagree on the exact distance Byron swam, as the tumultuous strait connecting Europe and Asia varies from a mile to roughly four miles across, but there's agreement on one fact: It took a lot of guts to try. Today, open water swimming is growing in popularity, with swimmers of all ages taking to oceans, lakes, and rivers. In 2008, the triathlon at the Olympics Games included a 10km open water swim.

That brave Byron:

  • After finding the remains of monks at Newstead Abbey, Byron used their skulls as drinking cups, even serving them to guests.

  • Byron lived such a wild young life that his debts forced him to flee England and never return; he died at 36.

  • Lord Byron's only legitimate daughter, Ada Lovelace, was a mathematician who helped work on Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, and is thus regarded as the world's first computer programmer.

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    • The Romantic poet Lord Byron inaugurated the sport of open water swimming by crossing the Dardanelles in Turkey.
      By: Eugenio Hansen, OFS
      The Romantic poet Lord Byron inaugurated the sport of open water swimming by crossing the Dardanelles in Turkey.