Theodore Yach

Click here to see an an autobiography by Derek Yach on his swimming career.

Theodore is long distance swimmer from Cape Town. His brother Dr. Derek Yach swam for Western Province at nationals in 1972, has an equally impressive open water CV -completing 1.0 mile in 26 minutes 38 seconds at the 2014 the Cold Water Classic is both a 1.2 km ocean swim on Mona Vale Beach NSF in Sydney, Australia

The Openwaterpedia website says this about Theodore:

Theodore Yach is successful business from Cape Town, South Africa. He is also a highly successful extreme swimmer who specializes in cold-water swimming in South Africa with many world open water swimming records including a 7 hour 3 minute 27 km ocean swim from Llandudno Beach to Robben Island together with Martin Goodman. He is the King of Robben Island with 79 successful solo channel crossings from Robben Island and the mainland of South Africa and was named one of the 101 Movers And Shakers In The Open Water Swimming World by the Daily News of Open Water Swimming.

Theodore posted this article on the Vineyard SC website:

So, after 29 years covering 56 Robben Island to Mainland crossings which includes many record swims along the way, an English Channel crossing, various other open water swims including the SA 25km Champs at Quaggaskloof Dam many years ago and now an attempt on the coldest open water swim in Africa on Saturday 19 July in Fraserburg, I am asked what drives me, why I keep going, what preparation goes into each attempt and what I think about whilst I am swimming, especially in waters where sharks also swim…

I reckon that the best place to start is at the beginning. My late father, Solly, represented SA at the Helsinki Olympics 1952 for water polo and was also one of SA’s top freestylers for many years. My sister, Dianna, reached WP senior level and then promptly gave up. My older brother, Derek, had a long WP butterfly career and was also considered as SA’s best long distance sea swimmer in the 1980’s and held various records including being the fastest African to cross the English Channel and I had a junior and senior WP swimming and water polo career from 1967 through 1981.

I am a firm believer in generational achievement and, to that end, my younger son, Daniel, is currently in the WP U19 Water Polo team so my theory seems to work. I love history and believe that each person has a unique ability to create their own piece of unique history, part of the “why?”

Genetics aside, one has to put in the work and it was only after I had stopped playing provincial water polo in 1981 at the age of 23 that the concept of work=success really kicked in so you could say that I was a late developer as far as recognizing the benefits of serious training are concerned and it is that recognition that drives me and keeps me going still today. Talent is all well and fine but many, many folk have talent and I have realised that it is their capacity for work that separates the OK from the FANTASTIC!

I am constantly training and we can explore my training methodologies in the future. Karoly von Toros (the master of “over swims”) and Kevin Fialkov (probably one of the canniest psychological coaches I have ever interacted with) jointly prepared me for my 1996 English Channel crossing as I had failed in a 1989 attempt. I love training –even at the age of 52– and in summer train 6 days/week in the water and in winter swim 3 days and gym 3 days. I am happy to share my training methodologies in a future article.

The final question to answer for now, I suppose, is what do I think about whilst I am swimming across the ocean? In the 1980’s I failed a swim and almost failed several others by losing focus in the last 400 metres to the degree that I became so disorientated that the only way Tony Scalabrino –my pilot/coach/mentor for most of my swims– could keep me in the water and not panicking was to smack on the back with a wooden paddle on one memorable swim! I kid you not! It took me many swims to develop a methodology that I now follow religiously no matter how long the swim distance is:

  1. I do not ask how much time I have been in the water. The challenge is to swim from A to B, time taken is irrelevant;
  2. I count each and every stroke and repeat every 1000 strokes till my hands hit the shore;
  3. The cold is “locked” into a small box in my mind during the swim;
  4. I have long conversations with myself –and arguments which I don’t always win so work that one out!– about whatever I am having to deal with at the time. Anything to distract myself from the long hours ahead. The last 800m of the 34km of the English Channel in 1996 took me over 4 hours as the conditions turned dramatically against me when I could see Calais lighthouse right in front of me. I can still remember myself having a raging argument –with myself– to get through it to the degree that when I eventually hit the shore in France it was almost anticlimactic!

I think that’s it for now. There are several topics that I can still cover: hypothermia, sharks, the team plus the items that I alluded to in the discussion above.

More later…



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