Grand Bank athlete swims to St-Pierre in less than 7 hours

Josh Pennell
Published on August 11, 2014

While crews were rowing themselves to the point of exhaustion on Quidi Vidi Lake on Wednesday, Jordan Wood of Grand Bank was pushing himself well beyond that point.

The 36-year-old took to the water near Point May on the southern end of the Burin Peninsula and swam the St-Pierre channel until coming aground on that island owned by France. The more than 20-kilometre swim took him six hours and 50 minutes, unofficially.

“I was pretty tired, but I was kind of elated. It was great to have family and friends there.”

Last year, Jordan did half the channel in preparation of doing the whole thing this year. This year there was even a TV crew waiting for him on the French side.

“They were cheering us on flying the St-Pierre flag and the Newfoundland flag. So we got a little bit of a party scene,” he says.

It wasn’t the first route Jordan took on for the sport of open-water swimming. He’s lived in California for nine years now where he’s a high school swim coach. He’s swam the Golden Gate Bridge, has done the “Escape from Alcatraz” swim, and has swam around Manhattan and New York. He even swam the English Channel.

But it’s the potential of open-ocean Newfoundland swims he wants to draw attention to.

“A lot of people out there do these extreme swims all over the world,” he says.

When he tells people about the potential for ocean swims here, he sometimes first has to show them on a map where the province is.

“Last year was kind of proving that it was possible and getting the right people to help out, and this year I came back and did the whole thing.”

Having the boat support, safety crews, and the weather are all imperative, he says.

“The weather is the key component. Looking at the tides. The St-Pierre channel is notorious for pretty rough waters.”

Jordan had some pretty good company besides any oceanic life that may have been eyeing his progress across the channel.

His brother, Justin Wood, and another friend from Grand Bank joined him for part of the swim. His father, Graham Wood, was also part of the boat support crew. Graham was on the swimming team at MUN himself. His wife — Jordan’s mother —  is also a swim coach. Despite it being a family affair, there’s still some anxiety associated with seeing your son(s) plunge into the North Atlantic for hours at a time.

“All I can tell you is that initially it’s stressful, but I know his capabilities and I support him, you know, in all his endeavours, because he’s a bit of a challenger like that. Probably a little bit like his father,” says Graham.

For swims on the west coast, wet suits aren’t necessary because the water temperature is warm enough. Jordan says that he might not even have needed one for this swim either as the water temperature was up around 19 degrees Celsius, several degrees higher than normal. The swim is so exhausting though, that every 20 to 30 minutes, he and his swimming companions had to stop to eat some high-energy food. Graham says near the end they were doing that about every 15 minutes.

“That’s what took so long because it’s quite a long swim and you need to stop and kind of renourish the body,” says Graham. “They were all getting pretty tired after swimming 16 to 20 kilometres.”

But if Jordan’s goal was to draw attention to the potential of swimming the province’s oceanic waters, he’s had some success. Swimmers and rowers in Saint-Pierre are enthusiastic about the idea, he says, and are even talking about having a relay in the channel during one of their summer celebration events.

“That was the whole intention. Not to promote myself but to get the community (together) here and get people to come here and see it. So far so good,” he says.

For his next big dip, Jordan is looking at crossing the Strait of Belle Isle that separates the island portion of the province from Labrador next summer. He’s planning on heading up that way before returning to California to start the prep work.