Swirling currents, frigid ocean water and sea lions. Those are some of the challenges a group of students on Vancouver Island are voluntarily taking on as they end their year with a dramatic open-water swim.
On May 25, seven students from Pearson College plan to swim six kilometres through the choppy waters between the small island at Race Rocks Ecological Reserve and the dock in front of the school, located on Pedder Bay in Metchosin, B.C.
The idea was hatched when student Hayley Touchburn asked a teacher if anyone had ever swum from Race Rocks to the school. When she heard the answer was no, Touchburn thought it would be fun to try it as a personal challenge.
Soon some friends rallied around the idea and the Race Rocks Challenge was born.
"It's just a really beautiful experience," said Touchburn, who is from New Brunswick.
All of the students are strong swimmers. Their training has included laps in the school pool and test swims in the bay.
They will wear full-body wetsuits for the swim, but cold water immersion training was also needed to deal with the chilly spring water off Vancouver Island.
The swimmers also worked with Susan Simmons, a Victoria swimmer who has taken on numerous long open-water swims.
Pearson College is a pre-university school for students between the ages of 16 and 19. The unique location and course offerings draw youth from across the country and the world.
"You try to fight with yourself mentally and physically and try to achieve those long-distance swims, because it is cold," said Dvir Maimon from Israel, adding he's most worried about getting too close to the population of sea lions that call Race Rocks home.
A flotilla of people in kayaks and boats, along with marine search and rescue vessels, will accompany the swimmers to ensure they don't get into any trouble in the difficult currents Race Rocks is known for, said Corey Teramura, the seafront activity coordinator for Pearson College.
"We have that sorted out really well, so we are hoping for a really successful swim," he said.
But even with safety measures in place, the swim will still be dependent on weather and water conditions.
As for the sea lions that gather on Race Rocks?
"They are really inquisitive, they like to go see what is happening," Teramura said. "Once we are in the water, we will give them their space. We should be fine."