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INTERVIEW/Taiwanese swimmer eyes English Channel after Strait of Gibraltar swim

11/26/2023 07:57 PM
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Photo courtesy of Hsu Wen-erh
Photo courtesy of Hsu Wen-erh

Taipei, Nov. 26 (CNA) After swimming across the Strait of Gibraltar in mid-October, swimmer Hsu Wen-erh (許汶而) is now looking to become the first Taiwan national to solo swim the English Channel.

"My back tanned so much that it hasn't faded yet," Hsu joked when asked about what impressed her most about swimming from Europe to Africa.

The biggest challenge, Hsu said, was the cool water temperature in the strait, which remains as low as 15-16 degrees Celsius even in summer and led her to arrive in Spain three weeks earlier to adjust to the environment.

The 29-year-old Hsu was one of the three swimmers who challenged the Strait of Gibraltar on Oct. 15, but an Indian swimmer suffered from hypothermia and failed to complete the swim, while Hsu, who was at one point pushed off course by the current, swam three extra kilometers from Spain to Morocco.

In the end, Hsu finished the 16.2 km route in 6 hours and 2 minutes, earning her a certificate from the Strait of Gibraltar Swimming Association.

Swimmer Hsu Wen-erh takes an interview with CNA. CNA photo Nov. 26, 2023
Swimmer Hsu Wen-erh takes an interview with CNA. CNA photo Nov. 26, 2023

It is safe to say Hsu couldn't have imagined such an achievement when she chose not to join her high school swimming teams nearly two decades ago.

Recalling her days in the elementary school swimming team, Hsu, who started training as a third grader, told CNA that it was a painful experience.

"We trained twice a day, six days a week, there was no hot water for showers in the winter and we had to use cold water, not to mention the unfriendly environment for professional athletes in Taiwan, all of which made me reluctant to keep training," Hsu said, adding that she swam only recreationally for the next 10 years.

It was not until her fifth and sixth year at university studying a double major that Hsu really fell in love with water activities again.

In addition to serving as a lifeguard at swimming pools, Hsu also taught children to swim in her leisure time, through which she found herself still fond of swimming and interacting with people.

Hsu Wen-erh displays the scars after being stung by jellyfish on completing her swim across the Strait of Gibraltar. Photo courtesy of Hsu Wen-erh
Hsu Wen-erh displays the scars after being stung by jellyfish on completing her swim across the Strait of Gibraltar. Photo courtesy of Hsu Wen-erh

Rediscovering her earlier motivation, Hsu started a business as an open water swimming instructor after graduation.

Her eyes were further opened in 2018 when she participated in a 10-km open water swimming fair in Thailand, where she met many people with experience of open water swimming.

"Even though Taiwan is a country surrounded by sea, many of its people remain land-oriented, and that made me want to introduce some new ideas to the Taiwanese public," said Hsu, who has taught over 2,000 people how to swim in open water along the northeast coast of Taiwan.

Hsu started considering the possibility of swimming the Strait of Gibraltar last year, and her students' support saw her decide to take on the challenge this year ahead of her original schedule.

Hsu is now targeting the 33-km English Channel, considered the swimming task equivalent of that to climb Mount Everest, which has never been achieved by a single Taiwanese swimmer, said Hsu, who is planning to do the swim solo in 2025.

However, according to Hsu, the most challenging part is not the swim, but how to prepare over the next 20 months while striking a balance between training, working and taking time off.

Photo courtesy of Hsu Wen-erh
Photo courtesy of Hsu Wen-erh

The trip to Gibraltar cost her NT$400,000 (US$12,623), and swimming the English Channel will cost at least NT$1 million, a figure that has caused many of her acquaintances to question whether it is worthwhile, Hsu said.

However, Hsu considers the money to be an investment in the future and has zero regrets.

"After all, being the first one is always the hardest. I hope my know-how in taking on the challenge will be helpful for future challengers," Hsu said.

(By Li Chien-chung and Chao Yen-hsiang)

Enditem/AW

Photo courtesy of Hsu Wen-erh
Photo courtesy of Hsu Wen-erh
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