Interview with English Chanel Swimmer Emily Epp

Kelowna Aquajets swimmer, Emily Epp, recently completed her swim across the English Channel to raise money for Canuck Place. We recently got the opportunity to talk with her about her swim and reasons for doing it.

Where are you from and how long have you been swimming?

I was born in Kelowna and still live there. I started swimming with the Kelowna Aquajets in approximately 2009.

What got you into swimming?

When I was a 1.5 years old, I was playing in the sand on a beach in Tofino, and a wave went over my head. I was terrified of water after that!  My parents really wanted me to be comfortable in the water because we live by a lake, but I refused to try to swim! I had the chance to do swimming lessons through school, and for whatever reason this time I was ok with it. I ended up completing all the lesson levels by the time I was 9.  My parents didn't want me to get scared of the water again, so they enrolled me in swim club!

What inspired you to do this swim? And what made you decide on conquering the English Channel?

I heard Brent Hobbs speak at a year end Aquajets banquet in 2009 or 2010. That night, I told my parents that I was going to swim the Channel one day as well. I'm not sure why it appealed to me back then, but it sounded like such an amazing thing to do.  Because I had just started swimming, no one took me too seriously! I started doing the 2.1km Across the Lake Swim when I was 12, and then the 7km Rattlesnake Island swim when I was 13. I began to notice that I didn't really feel tired after the distance swims, and that  is how I started loving open water swimming! My mom works with Brent's wife and I had also kept in touch with Brent over the years. A few years ago we finally decided to make my English Channel dream a reality.   

Would you consider Brent to be a mentor/coach in your life? Has he supported you or given you tips at all for your training/preparation for your swim?

Brent has definitely been a mentor to me! I have always had such respect for him because of all of the things he has accomplished. Since he has been my open water coach for the last 2.5 years, I’ve gotten to know him even better! He has been my primary open water coach for my English Channel training (Emil Dmitrov is my Kelowna Aquajets coach, and I've still been training competitively with my team). Brent knows how to push me to be better, but he always makes swimming fun by doing things like jumping off docks, diving down for golf balls, and chatting with people on the beach as we swim by. He's even somehow managed to get me to do a Aquathlon, in spite of the fact that I hate running! I also have been coached by English Channel relay swimmers Mike Stamhuis and Phred Martin, and Rod Craig (English Channel solo swimmer from West Vancouver who swims with me in the ocean when I'm at the coast). I have had a lot of great people helping me!

Tell us about your recent swim around Bowen Island and what you thought about it.

My Bowen Island swim was a good learning experience for me. When I was on the ferry I could see the island but I couldn't really take in how big it was at the time! I was nervous about how it was going to go since I hadn't done more than 6.5 hours of continuous swimming before, or faced all of the ocean challenges for that long of a time period. Brent and Mike swam with me for some periods of time, so it was great to have company on such a long swim! I swam the first half of the island in about 4.5 hrs and then we came around the south west corner of the island, Cape Roger Curtis. The wind and waves picked up, and after swimming in those conditions I became quite nauseated (as did some of the people on my support boat!). I was unable to drink much of anything, including my of my Hammer Perpetuem drink for about 2 hours… so that wasn’t fun! Because I hadn't been able to take in any calories at the hardest point in my swim, my energy level was quite low and my swimming became pretty slow at that point! Thankfully the water began to smooth out after a few hours, and I was able to push through my nausea and finish the swim in just under 11 hours. It was fun to swim with some seals peeking at me, and a porpoise came close to us, too.  

Have you had any other major supporters for your swim?

I’ve had Brent Hobbs, Mike Stamhuis, Phred Martin, Jennifer Leach-Trask, Rod Craig, and several others. All of whom have given me hours of their time to swim with me during long, cold swims (even during a 5 hour night swim)! Hammer Nutrition Canada has recently started supplying me with their products that I use for my nutrition when I swim. Fresh Air Experience, a local sports store in Kelowna, has also been a great supporter of mine.

What made you decide to raise money for Canuck place?

I have two younger sisters, Elan and Erin. When Elan was about 18 months old, she had a demyelinating episode following a viral infection. The combination of these events caused her to lose her motor control. She became completely dependent for all of her care needs. My mom was expecting my youngest sister at the time, and I was only 3 years old, so this was a really difficult period of time for our family.  Elan spent a lot of time in the hospital.  Around 6 years ago she needed some major surgeries and she had complications afterwards that made her really sick. At that time we were accepted into the Canuck Place program for pain and symptom management. Elan was in constant pain, cried almost constantly and vomited numerous times per day. The doctors at Canuck Place were able to help her feel better, and this was life changing for my family. It is a tradition for English Channel swimmers to fundraise for a charity, so without hesitation I chose Canuck Place. I am happy to be able to raise money for them so they can continue to help other families who are going through what we did.

Where did you start from and finish at, and how long was the race?

I started from Shakespeare beach in Dover and finished a little south of Cap Gris Nez. It was 32km but because of the currents I got pushed around a bit making it 40km.

What was the highlight of your swim? Anything interesting happen that you'll remember forever?

I'll remember the jellyfish because there were so many of them! I had heard that there was a small stretch in the middle of the Channel full of them; however, they were spread out over the whole swim. I got seasick for a good 5 hours of my swim since I wasn't used to swimming in swells so I ate M&Ms and ginger ale to settle my stomach. The last 5 hours of my swim were in the dark. That was fun because in France it was Bastille Day so we got to see fireworks.

How was the water? You mentioned swells and sea sickness, did you wear a suit that made the water a little less cold?

The water was very salty. I couldn't see my hand past about a foot in the water because of the salt. The temperature was quite warm for the Channel, at about 17ºC.  I wasn't allowed to wear a wetsuit, so I trained in the cold over the past few years. I did most of my training in the Okanagan Lake, so I never experienced the same kind of swells before. Bowen island showed me that I get motion sick but I wasn't expecting to get as sick as I did.

Do you know how much money you raised for the Canuck place?

At this time, we have $46,000 without the match. So $92,000 all together!

Did you enjoy your time in England and France?

I did! We went to Vimy Ridge and Dieppe. When we were in Paris we went to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. After on the way back we made a stop at where I had finished my swim. In England we saw Big Ben and Tower Bridge, as well as The Phantom Of The Opera. We also stopped at some small towns and markets. It was a trip I will never forget!

How did you prepare for the race in the UK? Did you have any special meals or any training there?

It was more of a race for time because of the tides but it wasn't really a race. I trained for a few hours a day then took the day off before the swim. I didn't eat anything particular, I just had to eat good big meals.

Tell us about the White Horse Pub.

It's a tradition that Chanel Swimmers do after a successful attempt. They sign the walls at the White Horse Pub in Dover, UK. 


Congratulations on your inspiring swim, Emily, and best of luck with the rest of your fundraising! We are all amazed of your accomplishments. If you would like to donate to Emily’s cause, see the link below.

Link to Emily’s Fundraising page for Canuck Place: