At the heart of adventure swimming brand, Above Below, are two brothers - Will and Tom. Both keen swimmers with a passion for the outdoors, they joined us on our recent Sea Swim Microadventure, bringing with them their innovative piece of kit, the RuckRaft.
After the swim, we caught up with the brothers to find out more about what they call ‘Cross Country Swimming’ and how they created the RuckRaft to enable those adventures across both land and water.
Growing up in Yorkshire, we always loved adventuring across the landscape, over hills, through forests and and of course, swimming in rivers and lakes. For years, on hiking holidays in the Lake District and Scotland, we wished we could simply swim across the lakes and keep going instead of having to walk around them. On a holiday in France on the Ardeche Gorge we had the urge to jump in and swim with the flow from one campsite to the next. We always saw the water as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
This was how our idea of Cross Country Swimming and the RuckRaft was born. Could we swim and hike our way across the landscape and take all we needed with us?
As Roger Deakin and many others have pointed out - the UK has a myriad of stunning wild swimming opportunities, from the turquoise waters and bays of Cornwall to the Lochs of Scotland via the English Lake District. And it was here, against the breathtaking landscape of The Lakes, where the mountains are fantastic to hike and run over and it’s lakes and tarns are beautiful to swim across, that the idea for our RuckRaft started to take shape.
Early raft experiments photographed by Jason Evans:
We had been experimenting in swimming pools with ways to transport kit across water, clipping multiple drybags together, combining bits from hiking, swimming, sailing and surfing to make DIY ‘rafts’. And in 2016, we used luggage straps to tie large child’s swimming inflatables to waterproof rucksacks and surf board leashes to swim across lakes Windermere and Coniston on a journey between our two hostels. The trip felt epic – we were an ambitious, amphibious crew experimenting and improvising with a new sport, unlocking the landscape of the Lake District to new possibilities for true adventure. This was ‘alpine style’ swimming – carrying all our food, clothing and equipment and leaving no trace of passing. Cross Country Swimming was born.
We now look at maps in a different way – we’re looking for where that coastal path cuts inland and we can swim across the bay from headland to headland; that string of lakes between mountains; or river crossing that could open up a fun new trip. But what really fills us with huge pride and joy is to get emails from people from all over the world; in Holland, Germany, Sweden, France, Canada, USA and New Zealand all using the RuckRaft to discover and open up routes they have always wanted to try out. And as our mate Pete said “For the price of a night in a fairly crap hotel room a whole new world of swim adventures just opened up” - we couldn’t agree more. We’d much rather swim a beautiful coastline to find a secluded beach to camp for the night.
The list of possibilities is endless, and with the RuckRaft the adventures are limitless…
For more information on the RuckRaft, visit www.abovebelow.sc.
with Finisterre & Above Below:
Words by Will & Tom Watt