New York Open Water (NYOW) was founded in 2016 by marathon swimmers David Barra and Rondi Davies and paddler Alex Arevalo. Its mission is to provide swimmers and kayakers with safe, challenging, and fulfilling open water adventures in and around the waters of New York City and New York State.
In 2011, Barra and Davies organized test swims of what would become 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, a 120 mile seven day, seven stage swim down the majestic Hudson River. An event that started with a handful swimmers has since grown to be recognized as one of the top marathon swims in the world, with many coming back every year to spend more time in the Hudson. Davies and Grace Van Der Byl were the first to complete the 120 mile distance in 2012. Unseasonably cold water temperatures in 2013 added to the challenge, but it did not stop Hannah Borgeson from completing Stages 2, 3 and 4. In 2014 Andrew Malinak became the first male and third swimmer to complete all seven stages. James Penrose also participated in all seven stages, but was not able to complete Stages 5 and 6 due to slower than normal currents. Lori King became the fourth swimmer to complete all seven stages in 2015. In 2016, the event expanded from 12 swimmers per stage to 20, with seven swimmers attempting the whole swim. Cheryl Reinke and Paige Christie became the fifth and sixth swimmers to complete all seven stages, with Cheryl breaking the woman’s record on Stage 4 by about 10 seconds.
With NYC Swim no longer running the 28.5 mile circumnavigation around Manhattan, a vacuum was created in the marathon swimming world. With the blessing of NYC Swim founder Morty Berger, NYOW took on the responsibility of running and sanctioning of the newly named 20 Bridges in 2016. This was an incredibly large undertaking, as the swim is part of the triple crown of marathon swimming, and holds a storied 100 year history. In its inaugural season, NYOW successfully brought 22 swimmers around the island on three separate days. In appreciation for the revival of the swim around Manhattan, NYOW was awarded the 2016 Streeter Award for Service by the Marathon Swimmers Federation, and David Barra was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
To give swimmers new to the sport a chance to get their feet wet, NYOW also organizes the 2 Bridges Under The Walkway Swim (2.5K and 5K) and the fast Sputyten Duyvil 10K. They also offer scholarships to younger swimmers in order to support the growth and longevity of the sport.