Flowers call on Steve’s passion

The Flowers Mile Sea Swim gets bigger and better every year and when it comes about next month it should rise above previous years once again because there are so many new extras to what is already a marvellous annual attraction.

Steve Munatones, Mr Open Water Swimming, was here last month for a variety of reasons but the main one was to swim across the channel from Cayman Brac to Little Cayman with another ultra-distance swimmer, Lexie Kelly.

They managed the 5.4 mile swim in record time and even had the energy to swim the 800 metres Cayman Brac event the next day. Kelly, from California, stayed on to be the swim coordinator for the Flowers Sea Swim on 18 June, hired by Frank Flowers and his daughter Dara Flowers-Burke.

They were also here to highlight the fact that the world renowned ultra-distance swimmer Penny Palfrey is coming over at the start of June to swim the 70-odd miles from Grand Cayman to Little Cayman, a feat that could take up to 40 hours.

Munatones wears lots of hats as an open water expert. Besides top competitor, he’s been an administrator, writer, promoter, race director and coach. He believes open water swimming is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and so enraptured has he been by the Flowers Sea Swim since first coming here last year, that it is already one of his favourites.

He first won a world championship at 20 in Lake Windermere, England in 1982 but was not inspired to do swims that hundreds or thousands of people had done before, like the English Channel. That’s when he started looking elsewhere for new challenges and got totally absorbed into the sport.

Munatones, 48, is based in Huntington Beach, California. Married with four children aged seven to 14, a short man, he jokes that none of them have the physique to be champion pool swimmers. “My size dictates that I didn’t give them the DNA to be Olympic champions,” he laughs. He funded his passion for discovering new swims around the globe from being a qualified engineer. For many years he was the sole Westerner of 6,500 employees working for Hitachi in Japan.

It was only two years ago that he was able to make the total plunge into promoting open water swimming, funded by advertising on his web site, memberships, newsletters and data collated over the past 28 years. There are no regrets.

“I see open water swimming now as triathlon was back in 1980,” he says. “Few people even knew what it was then but now there are literally thousands of people around the world in the sport making an honest living and enjoying themselves in it. And I think that open water swimming is 10 to 20 years behind triathlon.

“Every single week open water swimming is growing. Every day, even, there is a new race created. Look at the Brac to Little Cayman swim. It was first done around 1986 but it took 20-odd years for the next person to do it. Now I’ve done it the following year and 14 of us did it in total.

“A lot of those people have told everyone on Facebook, Twitter, by email and online for the Caymanian Compass. I guarantee that next year there will be 25 people and the year after that 100. And that’s the way our sport is growing.

“I keep records because I realise that people like recognition for what they do. I view world records unlike anybody else, by chronological age and gender. Lexie not only has the female record for the Brac swim but she also has the records for 24-year-olds. There should be a world record for 25-year-olds, 26-year-olds… and so on. All ages, both genders.

“Our sport isn’t like pool swimming or track and field where there is a set distance. There are all different ways. Eventually, somebody might swim from Brac to Little Cayman and back and I want to give recognition to all of them.”

Bridging the Cayman Islands will take place in the days leading up to the Flowers Sea Swim in June. Palfrey, 48, will attempt to make history yet again, adding this event to her amazing list of marathon swimming accomplishments.

Inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, she is a world record holder and pioneer in long-distance swimming. Her experience and knowledge of the sport will be essential for this massive endeavour.

Palfrey is unrivalled in her list of incredibly long and arduous swims, including being the first person to swim from Santa Barbara Island to Point Vincente on the Los Angeles coast and the first woman to swim the Alenuihaha Channel from Hawaii (Big Island) to Maui. The Australian has also made gigantic swims in Gibraltar, New Zealand and Tampa as well as many exhausting others.

Munatones, the USA swimming coach, says: “Penny is the most adventurous, successful and toughest marathon swimmer in the world today. If anyone can complete this swim, it’s Penny.”

Dara Flowers-Burke says: “Penny is going to try this swim without any shark cages for protection nor breaks. It’s for charity and will be done around 9 June, just before the Flowers One Mile Sea Swim. The Flowers Swim is going to be bigger and better than before.”

Frank says: “We want to help promote sports tourism here and the charity that will benefit will be Meals on Wheels. We’re also aware of the attention this will help bring to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman and help make the world know they exist.”

Palfrey will set off from East End to Little Cayman and will have a sonic wave shark repellent for protection as well as a safety crew to ensure she is totally looked after if in distress. She will also swim the One Mile event which promises to attract many more top level swimmers keen to beat the course record and win tens of thousands of dollars in prize money.

Last year’s race boasted over 700 competitors. Participants range in age from 8 to 80 years old and are novices and first-timers to gold medal Olympians and world championship open water specialists.

The race is the world’s richest open water event with over $100,000 in cash and random prizes and guaranteed 1-in-5 random prize odds for finishers. This year, giveaways include round trip tickets on Cayman Airways, Digicel phones, Red Sail Sports activities and restaurant vouchers.