NEW CLDSA life member: Eddy Cassar
New CLDSA life member, swim legend Eddy Cassar reminisces about the early days of the CLDSA
When he was 30, Eventing and PR specialist Eddy Cassar remembers training in Sea Point Pavilion pool, praying to God that he’d still be swimming when he was 40. When he was 40, he remembers praying that he’d still be swimming when he was 50. Same at 50. Same at 60. Eddy turns 70 next January, and he plans to do another Robben Island crossing – his eighth, he thinks (I’ve gotten out more times than I’ve actually finished, he jokes) – on his 70th birthday. It’s gonna be huge!
Eddy Cassar, a true old-school gentleman of the sea, was one of the founding members of the CLDSA back in the 1980s, along with Peter Bales, Hugh Tucker, Tony Scalabrino, Selwyn Davidowitz and Barry Cutler. These six men, and their long-suffering spouses, deserve ultimate recognition for their part in catapulting open-water swimming from an obscure, decidedly kooky fringe hobby to the worldwide aquatic status it currently enjoys.
And it all started, says Eddy, when his long-distance running mate Barry broke his ankle bouncing on a trampoline with his kids. “I saw Barry when he was fresh out of plaster and he told me that his running days were over. Now he was going to start swimming. In fact, he wanted to swim Robben Island.”
Eddy, who was a strong swimmer, as well as the western Cape spokesman for the lifesaving community, says he was gobsmacked that anyone could even imagine trying to swim that 7.4km stretch of water. But Barry invited him to come have a look-see, and the rest is history.
Eddy did his first Robben Island in 1986. He was the 49th person ever to swim back to Blouberg. When he followed that up with a Three Anchor Bay crossing, he became the 19th person to do that beautiful, but tough 12km route – a route Eddy says he’d like to see return in popularity.
He accompanied climate activist Lewis Pugh’s first Robben Island swim, as a paddle skier. “Barry and I had a bet that Lewis would pull out after 45 minutes. Well, he didn’t. He did start moaning about the cold at 45 minutes, and he didn’t stop moaning the whole way home. Poor guy didn’t have an ounce of fat on his body!”
Eddy says the dynamics between the five men were remarkable. “Tony Scalabrino always used to say that if we five had gone into business together, it would have been really something. The energy was so fantastic. There was no politics, we all just worked so hard to get things done.”
One of the main issues was publicity, and to that end Eddy managed to lever sponsorship from Spur for the inaugural Three Anchor Bay – Robben Island and back relay, in 1989. It caught the public attention and elevated sea swimming onto international headlines.
A UK team was invited out, including the legendary Kevin Murphy, the first man ever to do a triple English Channel. Kevin had actually fallen asleep during his first attempt at this triple swim, after 51 hours in the water, and had to be pulled out!
“It was a magical, magical, magical time,” says Eddy. “Open-water swimming is such a lovely sport, and Robben Island holds such a personal challenge for so many people for so many different reasons.”
Eddy says he has never seen a successful Robben Island swimmer fail in life. “It takes hard work. There has to be discipline and there are no short cuts. The cold cuts into every aspect of the swim, and you are all on your own. It is all amplified in the water. Take a Comrades runner. The last five km of the run, he is carried along by the crowd. There is none of that in the water. And these characteristics are what you need to succeed in life!”
Eddy says he is thrilled at the growth in popularity of open-water swimming, and the direction that the modern CLDSA is taking. “Hats off to the new chair. It’s such a pleasure to see how this sport is growing. Like that old saying goes, ‘It’s only impossible until you do it!’”