The swim is expected to take 70 hours. | Kurt Arrigo


In June this year, Neil Agius is going to attempt to break the current non-stop, unassisted, current neutral sea swim world record. Neil is an Olympian swimmer, ocean activist, the founder of Wave of Change, and the 125 km swim world record holder (swimming nonstop for 52 hours). His new attempt will be to swim 100 miles (160 km) from Mallorca around the west coast of Ibiza touching land on the eastern coast of Ibiza. The swim is expected to take 70 hours. In order for him to get the new record it must be a non-stop unassisted swim, with no wetsuit, no wearables and no resting on the boat.

It sounds like a long way to swim! Why are you doing this?

To raise awareness about the issues around sustainability and the environment, we all need to be acting in a more sustainable way than we are actually being at the moment. My swimming attempts get attention and then it is up to me how I use that five minutes of attention, which message do I want to send? And as time goes by, and the years go on, those five minutes are becoming more and more precious, because it’s harder to get people’s attention. So sharing that message, and also the message that we have a lot of perseverance, and that we are all strong, we’re much stronger than we actually think. And we have a lot of power and how to access it, how to access this physical and mental power when they need it most. I think since COVID, a lot of us have had a little bit of a slump with our confidence and well being. It is good to remember we have the power to get ourselves out of that tough place, and I’m here to show them that we have the power and how to access it.

What would you like to inspire people to do?

I’d love to see them take on the challenge we have which is called “Change for Change”. And everyone picks one of the pillars which is: eat for change, dress for change, or live for change. By taking on a challenge to eat less meat, then taking on a challenge to buy more sustainable clothes, and maybe do a clothes swap. And also the way they live: switch off the lights when they leave the house for example. Now summer is coming. I know some people leave their Aircon on to have their office cool in the morning when they get there, these little changes can make a big impact overall.

Have you got a long history of being a good swimmer?

Yes. I was chucked in a pool from a very young age. So when you notice when you’re young, you kind of like it when you’re good at something. So I took it up as a sport and eventually represented Malta on several occasions, including the Olympic Games in Athens in 400 metres freestyle, but I also competed in 800 and 1500 metres as well.

It’s quite a big difference between 400 metres and 160 kilometres. So how are you training for this?

It’s completely different, really, to just give you an idea how I got into it, it’s because I kind of thought my career was over in swimming in 2018. I thought it would be cool to swim around my own country. It was one of the hardest swims I have done, because I prepared myself physically, but not really, mentally.

I really didn’t know what the Open Ultra Distance needed. And while I was swimming, it was just me being hard headed with myself that I was going to finish what I started, and telling myself I’m never doing another swim. But after that I really understood the processes and it really got me interested in the possibilities of what I could do if I practiced and trained my mindset for all those things that I hated that happen to understand what I need to do in those moments.

In 2019 I swam around the sister island of Malta, which is Gozo, which is 37 kilometres, so not too long. And then the year after that, I crossed from Sicily to Malta, which was 100 metres. And the year after that I crossed from Lenovo to Gozo which was 125.

How much time are you spending in the water leading up to the attempt?

So last week I swam six times a week and during the week I’d swim in the pool for around two hours. And then this weekend, I swam eight hours on Saturday and eight hours on Sunday.

How do you train for being awake for such a long time?

It’s not something that is trainable. So it’s not a muscle that you can say, Okay, I’m gonna not sleep for the next three days and practice. But everyone’s baseline is kind of different. I’ve already stayed awake for 52 hours. My last swim I swam 125 kilometres and it took me 52 hours. So we’re gonna see if I can push that envelope a little bit further. I do stop every 28 and a half minutes, but it’s treading water whilst I’m passed my water that is in a bottle tied to a rope. And my food is passed in aTupperware box stuck to a broomstick. It’s mostly liquid foods, and then also some solid foods, which are important because my metabolism needs to work to generate heat. So it’s not really resting. It’s an active rest, because I’m eating and keeping myself hydrated.

Do you have any concerns or worries about doing this swim?

Not really, I mean, I feel very connected to the sea and all the kinds of creatures that it has, and they understand what I’m doing. And I’m sharing the message that they left for me to kind of make everyone more aware about how much value the sea gives us, again, both on the physical and the mental level, it’s cleans the air we breathe it, we eat, the food we eat from it, but also just looking at the seeds in five minutes, your mental health is significantly improved. So it’s important, I think the way to be able to spread this message is to get people to fall in love with the sea.

Because once they do fall in love with the sea, and it’s very easy to fall in love, but you just need to just be there and be present when you’re in the sea or not going for barbecues and going and drinking and and understand what you’re receiving from it. And then I think everyone will automatically want to live a more sustainable life and want to make little changes to reduce their carbon footprint, it will be a no brainer. It’s just we’re privileged to understand what the sea gives us, but not everyone is. So we need to kind of give them a little helping hand.

What are the rules that you have to follow in order to set this record?

So it is kind of extreme. No wetsuits are allowed, just a normal swimsuit, a swimming cap and goggles, I’m at no point allowed to touch the boat.

At no point am I allowed to be given a flotation device to rest on it. And I cannot swim in a body of water that has a constant flow of current in one direction.

Who do you have supporting you?

We’re a team of 22 people. We use three sailing boats, and a support rib that would be close to me.
The rib follows the navigation boat that’s in the front. There’s a team of doctors, motivators, feeders, people documenting every moment of the swim as well. So it’s all recorded.

So if you pick up the documentation, you don’t know anything about it, and you read it, you’re going to feel part of the stream and you get to know exactly what happened moment by moment.

Are you looking for support in Mallorca?

We are looking for a sailing boat and a rib that would like to be part of the attempt. The weather window is 25th of June to the 17th of July. If anyone would like to be part of the challenge then we’d love to hear from them.

How do you talk yourself out of quitting?

I kind of have these tools and I kind of like a little arsenal of tools that I’ve created to kind of use during these situations. It’s very important that I remain focused and try not to get any thoughts that shouldn’t be there. So like, I’m on my shoulders too tired, because as soon as you give your mind that second weakness, it kind of jumps on top of you. And then it sits on you and starts getting heavier and heavier and heavier until it kind of breaks you down. So discipline to remain focused. And my team also has things as well that they need to put in place once I’m in these positions because it does happen. It will be unrealistic for me to think that they’re not going to happen. It’s always kind of looking for the light and always trying to get that little light that’s very far away that you feel is not something that is attainable. Just a little bit closer each time a little bit closer, until you’re kind of back in that space where you’re comfortable and happy.

You can find more about Neil and how you can get involved on his website

The Wave of Change is building a movement of people who are involved and acting for the improvement of our environment and our own well-being. The aim of the Wave of Change campaigns will ultimately lead to motivating people to change their behaviour and their mindset – to live a more sustainable lifestyle in line with nature. Eventually, things like picking up plastic will not be needed, as we will all stop littering, overusing plastic and damaging our nature and our sea. Full stop. This is no small feat, but as you’ve witnessed in the past – no challenge is insurmountable for the Wave of Change.