Lars Simonsen is a Danish adventurer, public speaker and author. He is well known for his previous adventures, including travelling from Copenhagen to Istanbul by kayak, canoeing across Alaska and cycling through Australia. On Sunday the 15th of September 2019, he completed his most recent and daunting challenge – swimming around the entire perimeter of Denmark. He would experience some of Denmark’s roughest waters and jellyfish encounters on his way to completing the epic 1370km journey. Read about Lars’ experience below:
“Having previously done many expeditions across the world, I knew that I wanted to try and have an adventure that was equally as exciting and challenging but focused completely around my home country of Denmark. We don’t have any particularly large mountains or rivers, so the ocean surrounding us is our wilderness. As a non-swimmer who could previously only swim 200m in open water, the idea of swimming around the perimeter was a huge undertaking and just the challenge I needed to complete.
Nobody had ever even dreamed of completing this before, and nobody really swims down the western coast of Denmark because of the conditions. I had people saying to me that “it was impossible, you can’t do it. The west coast is just too tough.” That’s when I knew that this was the next challenge I wanted to attempt.
I also knew that I wanted this challenge to involve the Danish people fully, so at every opportunity, I welcomed people to swim beside me. It was because of this reason that we decided to hug the coastline as closely as possible so that we could be seen from shore and wouldn’t sleep on a support boat out at sea. I invited my parents to come alongside me to share in the experience. My mother was beside me on a kayak or on the beach every day throughout the adventure to help me through the good and bad times, and my father was supporting me from land.
Every day I set out with a 10km target to achieve within the day. Anything further would be a bonus, and any day I swam less would mean that I had a really tough day – bear this in mind for later! This would mean that every swim session would be about 4-5 hours long, and I set myself a target of swimming for at least 3 hours continuously every day.
Given that the west coast was going to be the most challenging and unchartered stretch of water, I decided to take this on at the beginning of the swim. This would mean that the first 467km would be the toughest stretch of swimming for me to overcome. One of the hardest days came in June along the shore of the west coast, where the water was only 13 degrees, the current was incredibly strong, and the high winds were creating huge waves. I focused my mind on completing the bare minimum of 3 hours, without a care in the world on how far I had travelled. My entire body was numb with tiredness and I was being thrown around the ocean like a ragdoll by the waves and currents. When I finally got out of the water, freezing cold, I checked my watch and saw that I’d swam a total of 3.7km in over 3 hours. This was almost three times as slow as I would normally have swum. However rather than get disheartened by this, this gave me strength! Determined not to let this get the better of me, I realised that it didn’t matter what conditions were sent my way and how hard I had to fight, I knew I had the mental fortitude to push forward and continue.
I knew that if I stopped before the end of the first 100km section along the west coast, all the previous doubters would be proved right. I was determined not to let that happen.
Once the first 100km of the 467km down the West Coast was completed, my endurance and fitness levels were beginning to rapidly improve with each stroke I made, meaning I was able to complete the 10km target for the days that followed. This, however, wasn’t plain sailing by any stretch. Although the Eastern Coast of Denmark is a lot calmer and flatter than the West Coast, this brought about its’ own issues, including swarms of jellyfish that were impossible to avoid. Although my Zone3 Aspire wetsuit, neoprene boots and gloves and swim cap helped combat the cold waters and brought with it a layer of protection, my face would often still be exposed, and I battled constant jellyfish stings and burns on my face. This is where the support of my family was most crucial. On days where we had to travel through these jellyfish blooms, my mother would kayak alongside me, offering me words of support and where possible navigate me through the swarm of jellyfish. It was impossible to avoid being stung, so once my swim session had finished for the day, she would apply ointment to the jellyfish stings on my face and remain a calming presence on me for the duration of the trip, on days that she was able to support me.
The long crossings between the islands of Denmark also made parts of the journey incredibly tough. There are 406 islands in Denmark, and some of the gaps between these can reach up to 40km. The longest individual swim I did was during one of these crossings, taking on a 24.7km stretch of water which was a 7-and-a-half-hour constant mental battle.
I felt as though I was beginning to question myself, with a consistent thought of ‘should I start again but from the other side?’ and ‘had I done enough training?’. These thoughts when you’re out in the sea and battling quite a distance can be hard to overcome. It took a lot of mental strength to push these feelings aside and carry on.
It wasn’t until I passed Copenhagen Harbour that I finally felt like I was really going to complete the adventure, as I had no idea of whether it would be logistically possible to get past one of the busiest shipping harbours in Scandinavia. If I had to get out of the water and travel past the harbour on land I would have been devastated, and everything building up to that moment would have been for nothing. Luckily, we managed to get accompanied by a very good support boat and rounded the harbour with no issues at all.
Finishing the challenge last Sunday was an incredible feeling. It was a day with great weather and there was an amazing crowd of people to see me reach the shore. I was overcome with emotion, and still haven’t quite been able to process it and realise that it’s real yet! I’ve been overwhelmed with support and requests for media interviews recently, but once this has passed, I can’t wait to look ahead to my next big challenge!”