Forget Coral Reefs, These Snorkelers Prefer Soggy Bogs - Atlas Obscura
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Forget Coral Reefs, These Snorkelers Prefer Soggy Bogs

Bog Snorkeling is exactly what it sounds like. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Kelly)

When you think of snorkeling, you probably think about sunny, sandy shorelines, colorful tropical fish, and warm cerulean waters. Somewhere like Florida. Or Tahiti. 

What you probably don’t think about is the tiny town of Llanwrtyd Wells, in the middle of Wales. For some intrepid snorkelers, the ocean is just too mundane. Swapping coral reefs for sulphuric swamps, beaches and clear waters for turbid mud, and teeming biodiversity for questionable microscopic organisms, the Bog Snorkeling World Championships has been happening in Llanwrtyd Wells annually since 1976. This year’s competition is scheduled for August 30.

I mean, it is a bog. Definitely wash your hands. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Kelly)

The strange sport is helping to put rural Wales on the adventure tourism map, injecting much needed attention, and cash flow, to a region that needs it. At the championship, competitors must swim two lengths in a 60-yard trench dug into the bog substrate, for a total of 120 yards. But conventional swimming strokes are disallowed. The snorkelers must use flipper power alone, and are only permitted to surface a few times during the swim. Wetsuits are optional, though many opt to wear one—the water is frigid. 

Bog snorkeling is way harder than it looks. According to a reporter at the Irish Examiner who attempted the sport, “[t]he main problem was breathing. Snorkels are designed for the gentle sea, thundering up the bog leaves you gasping for more air than the tube can provide. Panic sets in, and you have to fight the urge to surface like a submarine and gasp for oxygen.”

Kermit getting after it in his natural habitat. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Kelly)

Now in its 30th year, the world championships attract over 150 competitors. There are different sections of the championship, the fan favorite being the very British-sounding “fancy dress” section, where competitors don ridiculous costumes, often giving themselves a hydrodynamic disadvantage. According to a press release from Green Events—the self-styled organizer of “madcap activities”—the most labor-intensive costumes of the 2014 event were a pantomime horse, and a man who wore an ironing board on his back as a nod to another zany event: the Extreme Ironing Championships

In between saving the world from various supervillains, Superman likes to bog snorkel. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Kelly)

All this theater, however, doesn’t mean the competition isn’t serious. Last year, Kirsty Johnson shaved 1.5 seconds off of the 2013 world record, completing the 120-yard swim in the absurdly fast time of one minute and 22 seconds to claim the overall championship—for both men and women.

Definitely takes the cake as the most inefficient costume of 2014. Balloon lady in the bog. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Kelly)

After 30 years of peat snorkeling, the town of Llantwrtyd Wells, which claims to be the tiniest town in the entire United Kingdom, is now going even further in its chasing of the bog dollar. If a 120 yard swim through the marsh isn’t hardcore enough for you, you can really push your limits at the Bog Triathlon, which includes an eight-mile run (through the bog of course), coupled with the 120-yard swim, and finishes with a 12-mile mountain bike ride.

A more serious competitor charges to the finish. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Kelly)

Bog-based sports are not the only extreme athletic endeavors afoot in Llantwrtyd Wells—you can try ”wife carrying,” where competitors must carry their wives (or their husbands) on their backs over a half-mile course. The winner gets the equivalent of the person’s weight they carried in Welsh beer. There’s also the man-versus-horse challenge, in which runners race horses over hilly terrain. This sport was allegedly founded in order to settle a drunken debate about who was better at long distance running: man or horse. 

Of course, Llantwrtyd Wells is also a place where you can kick back and be pampered. After exerting yourself to the brink of exhaustion during one of these unconventional sports, you’re invited to relax with a soothing dip in a “bog jacuzzi.”