Ocean Advocate Lewis Pugh Will Swim the Hudson River

Photo courtesy of The November Team, LLC.

The British endurance swimmer will embark on his statement swim down the Hudson River beginning August 13.

Lewis Pugh is a British-South African endurance swimmer and ocean activist whose current expedition is to swim down all 315 miles of the beloved Hudson River. On August 13, Pugh’s swim will commence at the source of the Hudson, Lake Tear of the Clouds, in the Adirondack Mountains and conclude on September 13 where the Hudson meets the Atlantic Ocean in Manhattan.

As the UN Patron of the Oceans, Pugh’s commitment to ocean preservation is unmatched. He stands out for his uniquely vulnerable approach to shedding light on climate issues.

“If you’re going to be an environmental diplomat, you have to be like a locksmith. If you want to get an area protected, you can’t keep going to the same closed door with the same set of keys. You have to try new things,” says Pugh.

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His record-breaking swims have not only gained ample media attention, but they have also urged countries to protect vulnerable areas and take the necessary steps to protect their oceans.

The Hudson River swim will conclude during The United Nations GA week, during which Pugh will have the opportunity to speak to ambassadors from all over the world.

Lewis Pugh
Lewis Pugh. Photo courtesy of The November Team, LLC.

“She’s the only river in the whole world where at the source there’s bears, vultures, and beavers and at the end is one of the greatest cities on this earth,” says Pugh.

After seeing and studying some of the cleanest and dirtiest rivers, Pugh hopes that this swim will bring awareness to the Hudson’s pollution, sewage, chemical, and plastic waste that get carried down to the ocean and spark a domino effect for similarly tainted rivers.

“This is the one river in the whole world I can tell a story about all rivers for two reasons: she ends in Manhattan, and that’s where the headquarters of the United Nations are, and this was a river that was used, misused, cared for, and so it gives hope that the story isn’t finished yet,” states Pugh.

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Although one of the prettiest rivers out there, the Hudson River has been through years of misuse, with companies like General Electric using the waters as its dumping grounds, not to mention the impact of human pollution. Pugh notes that healthy oceans start with healthy rivers and, although efforts have been made in recent years, there’s still a long way to go to achieve a sustainable waterway.

“The health of our planet is a very important issue, and we should all care about water,” says Pugh.

Lewis Pugh
Lewis Pugh. Photo courtesy of The November Team, LLC.

Pugh studied law at the University of Cape Town during a time of transition in South Africa. Many of his professors were the authors of South Africa’s new constitution. During his studies, Pugh was inspired by these great minds and worked as a maritime lawyer prior to becoming a full-time ocean activist.

“It was very clear that standing up for the defining issue of your generation was seen as an important thing in South Africa,” notes Pugh.

For over two decades, Pugh has stuck to his mission that each of his endurance swims will serve a purpose. Between swimming and Pugh’s ability to persuade, he has brought immense awareness to climate change and ocean crisis around the world.

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In 2017, Pugh swam across the Ross Sea – which was under threat from overfishing. After swimming in water that was minus 1.7°C and air temperature that was minus 37°C, Pugh was shuttled between America and Russia to help successfully persuade Russia to get the area protected. At the time, it was the largest protected area in the world – the size of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy combined.

“The health of our planet is a very important issue, and we should all care about water,” says Pugh.

Pugh notes that back in 1875, when swimming was invented, swimmers didn’t have the luxury of wet suits, dry suits, slippers, and so forth. This influences him to swim unassisted in only his Speedo, cap, and goggles. “I love it because I’m totally immersed in my environment,” says Pugh.

Lewis Pugh
Lewis Pugh. Photo courtesy of The November Team, LLC.

His swimming career began at 17 years old when overlooking Robben Island from his school classroom was grounds for inspiration.

“I never wanted to be held captive in a 50-meter chlorinated box. I wanted to be out in the sea,” he recalls.

After watching his friend complete the swim, Pugh’s desire grew stronger. He hired a swimming coach, trained up, and dove into the water surrounding Robben Island. He recalls the sheer joy that took over his body once his toes dug into the sand post-swim.

“I knew at that moment. There was something that just grabbed me about the sport,” he notes.

Pugh went on to become the first person to pioneer a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world. Each year – with the help of daily training – he embarks on an even more challenging, treacherous swim than the year prior. He swam in close proximity to oceanic whitetips during his swim across the Red Sea, near walruses, polar bears, and leopard seals in the North Pole, and through an ice tunnel in Antarctica.

In 2007, Pugh made his mark as the first person to swim across the North Pole, bearing the frigid temperatures in just his Speedo, cap, and goggles. Notably, that swim would not have been possible if not for the melting sea ice.

“I’m a saltwater animal,” says Pugh, who’s only done four river swims in his career. Three out of those four swims Pugh fell very ill. The one river swim during which he didn’t fall ill was in Antarctica, away from human pollution.

Pugh plans on swimming around five hours per day, marking his spot at the end of each day. In the Northern region where the river is a bit slimmer, he will camp on land, and when the river gets wider, he will sleep on a catamaran.

Swimming near the statue of liberty
Lewis Pugh. Photo courtesy of The November Team, LLC.

On this swim, Pugh anticipates that he will have the luxury to daydream and soak in his surroundings, rather than keeping an eye out for predators.

“I’m going to be breathing right looking at forest, breathing left looking at forest, sometimes doing backstrokes looking at turkey vultures and bald eagles. I can’t wait,” Pugh enthuses.

Follow along as Pugh takes on this challenging swim. He plans on making stops along the river, including a special appearance in Westchester County.

“A lot of work needs to be done to clean up this river but it’s a story I want a lot of people around the world to know about,” Pugh states.


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