Christian Jongeneel, who was born in Rincón de La Victoria in 1974, refers to kilometres way out to sea as if he were going to take a walk through his local district. He is unique even in Spanish swimming, which has accustomed us to so many epic
physical and sporting feats that they almost seem normal.
One day Christian crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and, as it didn't seem very far, he swam back again. He has also crossed the Channel from Britain to France, the Cook Strait (New Zealand), did the Al-Assad crossing of Syria, swam the shark-infested Santa Catalina Channel (California), the Gateway of India (Mumbai), gone twice round Manhattan Island in New York (93 kilometres) and even swum from Tenerife to Gran Canaria, 70 kilometres in 16 hours. Best of all, he has done all this for charity, swimming for the Brazadas Solidarias association to raise funds for the Vicente Ferrer Foundation, which is doing great work with the underprivileged in India.
He now wants to raise money to install water treatment equipment in schools in one of the poorest areas of the country, where the children have no drinking water. They contract all types of illness, and some die, as a result. To raise as much money as possible, he is going to do one of the most dangerous crossings so far. In September, he plans to swim between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Molokai, about 55 kilometres in one of the most unpredictable seas on the world because of its huge waves and marine fauna. It has a long tradition in Hawaii, but the participants normally row across and very rarely attempt to swim.
Jongeneel analyses this challenge with a cool head, which is surprising after the challenges he has faced in recent years.
"You never know what your limits are. When I went to New York I had never swum 93 kilometres before and I didn't know whether I would be able to do it. You can't wonder about things, though. You just have to try. When I was about to swim twice around Manhatten Island, the contact I had there shook my hand and said "See you tomorrow". That's when it hit me that I was going to be in the water for a whole day. It's often better not to think about things, because if you do it puts you off".
The Hawaiian islands, halfway in the Pacific, are famous for having the biggest and most powerful waves in the world. They are a paradise for surfers and other aquatic sports, but not for swimming out in the open sea. This will be a major handicap for the swimmer from Malaga, and so will be the wind, but the large population of tiger sharks and white sharks, the most dangerous in existence, could be the biggest problem.
Mentally, he sees these risks as relative. "I have been very lucky in the past not to come across masses of jellyfish, because if that happens you are forced to give up. Once the boat which was accompanying me lost sight of me during the night, and because of that we increased our security measures and in Hawaii I will carry a radio beacon in case I get lost," he says.
How to train?
Jongeneel has already begun to prepare physically for the forthcoming challenge, although he is doing it in his own way. At a time when most amateurs and professionals use advanced techniques and technology for training, his answer is surprisingly normal when asked how many kilometres he will be swimming to train for September.
"My way of preparing is just to swim a lot and try to find as much time to do so. Until now I have been swimming in the pool, but now I'll start to swim in the sea in the mornings and evenings. Every two weeks I do a five-hour long session. I don't know how many kilometres I'll do. I know people use those watches that tell you everything but I'm very old-fashioned and I'm guided by the buildings along Rincón de la Victoria seafront, the Mercadona tower in Chilches and so on. I don't count the metres. I know sometimes people love to use training apps, and publicise their speed and distance, but I wear the cheapest watch you can buy from Decathlon...I've never been any good at that sort of thing. My way is undoubtedly not the best, but it suits me," he explains.
Last August Jorge Crivillés took 18 hours to complete this same challenge, also for charity, and he gave Jongeneel the idea. "He told me Hawaii was fantastic. The nature is almost virgin and the water is crystal clear. That also poses a risk, because the marine fauna is dangerous. There are a lot of sharks and they come close to swimmers," he says. To minimise the risks, he is thinking of wearing a wristband that repels sharks and equipping the support boat with a similar, more powerful system, although he hasn't decided yet because he fears it might have the opposite effect and attract them.
Jongeneel has already begun the campaign to raise funds for the water treatment plants that the Vicente Ferrer Foundation wants to install in schools in India. Businesses and institutions in Malaga have already shown an interest, but he is also hoping for small individual donations before and during his Oahu-Molokai attempt. "I'm so grateful that people I don't know take part in these projects, and now they can follow them in real time. When you're swimming and you are vomiting and dizzy, the fact that it is for charity makes sense of what you're doing, but so also do these people who collaborate with this campaign. We need lots of people to support challenges of this type."