Fahal Island Swim Challenge – Would You Swim From Shark Island?

April 29, 2018
Fahal Island Swim Challenge – Would You Swim From Shark Island?

Dear Explorer,

This passed weekend the founder of the adventure platform ub-cool, Medina Ilyassova, took on a whole new challenge and pushed herself to face her fears and take the plunge – literally!

The Fahal Swim Challenge

The 29th installment of this very popular annual challenge was set: Swim unassisted for a distance of 4.5km in open water from the Al Fahal Island, off the coast of Muscat Oman, to the white sandy beaches of the PDO club.
Sounds easy enough but with strong undercurrents and the island locally known as ‘Shark Island,’ this packs the pressure and terror onto the swimmers attempting the challenge.
We speak with Medina about her experience and then, for another perspective, I explain how the challenge unfolded from the eyes of the support kayak (me!).

Fahal Island

The infamous Fahal Island, locally known as ‘Shark Island’ | Photo Credit: Heather Duncan

Medina Ilyassova tells of sharks & the strong current!

“Self discovery comes when man measures himself against an obstacle…” – Antoine De Saint-Exupéry
ub-cool: How long have you been swimming for?
Medina: I learnt how to swim properly only 8 months ago, and in December one of my friends showed me photos and told me about Fahal Island Swim challenge. The idea just stuck in my head; life is very short… and I believe that we should try everything now – not “one day.” So, I decided to try.
The night before the challenge, I couldn’t sleep – I started panicking. We reached the location at 6:30 am and then the excitement and adrenaline did their job. I wasn’t scared anymore.

Fahal Island challenge start point

Ready to take the plunge? Time to dive in | Photo Credit: Heather Duncan

ub-cool: How was the swim itself? Did you face any difficulties?
Medina: We were badly bitten by jelly fish, and unfortunately one person had to withdraw because he was allergic to their stings. Fahal Island is also known to have a lot of sharks, and I saw a few of them myself. The poor sharks were more scared of us, than we were of them.
The current was pretty strong so unfortunately we couldn’t stay in one place and rest as it would immediately start taking us away from the beach. I was asking myself many times during the swim: “why am I doing this challenge…?!”
And then I understood something which can be implemented into our real lives:
“We shouldn’t be the same in our lives; being the same means going backwards. Every day we need to be a better version of ourselves and move forward. So, that was the lesson I learnt – we cant be the same or life’s current will take us backward…”
Fahal Challenge Medina swimming

Medina swimming at the Fahal Swim Challenge | Photo Credit: Heather Duncan

ub-cool: What got you through it? What were you thinking about while out there?
Medina: I don’t think I would have been able to complete the challenge without Heather’s smile. Every time I was badly bitten by jelly fish or swallowed the sea water, she was smiling and telling me: “Medina, you are doing well… there are people who already gave up… You are half way … Good job!”
 ub-cool: Will you compete in the 2019 Fahal Island Swim challenge?
Medina: Such challenges as the Fahal Island Swim are only vehicles to explore what we can really do. I came the 2nd last and my timing was 3 hour and 9 minutes, but it was an experience of a life time and I’m already thinking about next year’s challenge!

Fahal Challenge well done

The joy of the accomplishment joined by her son Mohammed | Photo Credit: Graham Speller

Heather Duncan explains what the “support crew” does during the Challenge

When Medina approached me and asked me to support her in her challenge and be her support kayaker, of course I agreed. Kayaking is already a hobby of mine so I knew that I was competent; but, as Medina and myself have already worked together on many projects, I also knew that we make a good team.


Early Morning Start

After a busy few weeks in the world of ub-cool, the race day fast approached. With an early start our boat was loaded with kayaks and departing from Al Mouj Marina at 6.10 am headed for Fahal Island.
The sun was just rising casting a beautiful golden glow across the horizon. My fellow eaarly risers and I discussed how thankful we were for calm waters, despite the humidity; it should be a good day for our swimmers to attempt the challenge!

Fahal Island sunrise

Sunrise over Al Mouj Marina, Muscat | Photo Credit: Heather Duncan

Fahal Island – also known as, “Shark Island”

As we reached the large chunk of rock dominating the ocean, we transferred from the comfort of the boat into our kayaks and paddled towards the meeting area marked by large orange buoys. The atmosphere was jovial and chatty as kayakers recognised each other from a distance.
Shortly before the start time of 7.30 am the mayhem began as the boats from the shore carrying the competing swimmers powered towards us. The swimmers were hollering and shouting for attention so that their support teams can find them.

You have to follow the rules!

In the rule book, every swimmer must have a support member in a kayak or on a SUP board by their side or else they will be disqualified. For those competing seriously it was very important that they find their support quickly! The competitors were jumping up and down on the boats and waving their arms to be seen – the atmosphere was charged and tense.
As I paddled through the chaos of coloured kayaks and shouting men in Speedos, I found Medina by chance still on board her boat making her last preparations. All swimmers took up their starting position on the beach of Al Fahal Island and awaited their starting orders. The kayaks parted to form a free swimming channel in the middle to give the competing swimmers a clear path and the best start.

Fahal Island challenge kayakers

Support kayakers eagerly await their swimmers | Photo Credit: Heather Duncan

Ready, Set, Go!

As the klaxon sounded the mayhem really began!
The competent swimmers furiously powered their way through the open water and through the channel; the kayakers keen to catch them by the required 400m point were hot on their heels. The throng of paddlers and swimmers became confusing and fast paced with shout. I located Medina in the middle of the pack and we set off on our challenge.
During the arduous challenge, support boats approached us a few times checking on our progress and our health; we were doing well so declined their assistance. By the 3km mark Medina was fatigued from swimming hard against the undercurrent which was still sweeping us off path. The support boats asked that she come on board and they would drive her ashore. She flatly refused and told them that she could do this. This is one tough lady!


Down to the Wire!

The cut off time of 10.45 am was fast approaching and I feared that we may not make it in time. I shouted encouragement to Medina to keep her going. That combined with something in her head seemed to do the trick and, on the homestretch, she really focused on the task and technique and made up good time.
With family members, her kids on the beach and others wearing their ub-cool shirts, Medina stepped ashore on the beach to a cheering crowd. It was a lovely moment to witness from the water and know that I got her there safely. Reaching the beach at 10.39 am, 6 minutes before the cut off time, she achieved her goal.

Fahal Island challenge kayak

Anyone need a support team? I’ll be ready! | Photo Credit: Graham Speller

We at ub-cool lead by example

Swimming in open water looks horrendous to me and not fun at all. The fact that she even started the race was impressive to me. But having the the determination and will power to keep going, now thats something pretty impressive!
And, one thing that is very cool about being involved in ub-cool, we lead by example. We also take on adventures, challenges, and push each other to achieve more.

Feature Photo Credit: Graham Speller

Tell us about your recent challenge in the comments below.

Where in the world is the ub-cool flag
Where in the World is the ub-cool Flag?

Dear Explorer, The world is your oyster!  You’ve heard that one before, eh? Well, it definitely is our motto at ub-cool. We are conquering the world one country at a time with our flag! The world is truly a small place now that we have the ease of air transport. Long gone are the days of sailing weeks across the rough-gut-wrenching seas, watching your suitcases (or, trunks!) slide across the room and almost squash your legs, just to get from one continent to another. Now, you can do that in 12 hours or less. Where in the World is the ub-cool Flag? Come along with us on our journey as the ub-cool team and friends carry our flag across the globe. We will update this page with new additions from the coolest places on Earth! If you want to be part of the journey, email us for a copy of our flag and then submit your photo and we will add it here! Spread the word and check back to see all the new cool places we have been! Turkey September 2018: Balloons in Cappadocia! Exploring the “fairy chimney” rock formations in Turkey,  brought along the ub-cool flag for the stunning sights! Ukraine August 2018: Cycling through the Carpathian Mountains Cycling enthusiasts, Kate Pakhomov and Fimm, carried the ub-cool flag through Ukraine! South Africa July 2018: Fun at Lion & Safari Park Devan Kupferman and Laura Symmonds watching lion cubs playing with the ub-cool flag! Arctic Circle June 2018: The Ultimate North! The ub-cool flag reached the Arctic Circle in our founder Medina Ilyassova’s backpack! Kenya June 2018: Hiking in Kwale County! Zarian Sohrab hiked with the ub-cool flag to find some spectacular views!   Oman May 2018: Waters around Muscat 10 meters deep in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Muscat, Oman, these passionate freedivers pose with the ub-cool flag! From left to right: Yousuf Al Mukaini, Sele Al Mabsali, and Omar Al Ghailani. Scotland May 2018: Dunottar Castle The ub-cool flag made its way to North East Scotland with our Adventure Girl, Heather Duncan! Ireland May 2018: Southern Irish Coast Our Adventure Girl, Heather Duncan, high above the beautiful cliffs of Ballycotton in County Cork. Nepal April 2018: Mount Everest Base Camp After 7 days of hiking, our Adventure Girl, Heather Duncan, reached Everest Base Camp! Along for the journey was her friend and Jonathan Shubert, ub-cool Explorer and world-record endurance cyclist. Read more about Heather’s journey to Mount Everest Base camp here. Peru April 2018: Machu Picchu The iconic peak of Peru’s famous mountains rise behind ub-cool friend, Hussein Sajwani. He made the gruelling journey to the peak by the most difficult route… Then he made his way to Vinicuna, the Rainbow Mountain, to handstand in the Andes Mountain range. Georgia April 2018: Caucasus Mountains Enjoying her first visit to the beautiful country of Georgia, Medina Ilyassova returned with memories of paragliding over the stunning scenery, exploring castles, and dining on delicious cuisine. If you’re planning a trip to Georgia, discover awesome Georgia tours here. Hawaii April 2018: Koko Crater After a steep climb ub-cool friend, Anshul Bhatnagar, enjoys the view of a cloudy Honolulu! Kazakhstan  September 2017  ub-cool’s Medina Ilyassova hangs out in the mountains with family and friends. There is nothing better than fresh mountain air! Bulgaria September 2017 ub-cool friend, Hussein Sajwani, making his way through Bulgaria with the our flag in tow! Tanzania May 2017: Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano – “Mountain of God” Perched at the top of this active volcano, seen as the “Mountain of God” by the Maasai community, our ub-cool founder, Medina Ilyassova, waves our flag with exciting at her accomplishment. The climb was intense to say the least. Imagine climbing at an incline of more than 70 degrees! Not to mention, starting earlier in the dark with headlights to avoid roasting under the African sun! Read about Medina’s climb up Ol Doniyo Lengai Volcano here. Last Updated: 21st May 2018 Watch this space for regular updates! Email us for a copy of our flag and we’ll add your submission to this post!

Best Photos
Best Photos of the Web | April 2018

Dear Explorer, We have searched the web looking for the best photos of the web from the month of April 2018 to inspire you to say ‘WOW‘, get outdoors & lead an active life! 10 Best Photos of the Web Here are our Top 10 pics for this month’s photo competition: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah | Instagram: @alexgoldman  The mysteries of Hawaii | Instagram: @kelsealoha The iconic Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco | Instagram: @shangerdanger Turkey is now on our bucket list! Oludeniz Beach | Instagram: @buraktuzer The feeling of freedom! Los Glaciaras, Andes | Instagram: @vagabondhearts Everybody stay calm | @jferrara_photo  Travelling in style in Guam, West Pacific | Instagram: @matecasar Serenity at sunset. Inle Lake, Myanmar | Instagram: @vincelimphoto White Sands Monument in New Mexico | Instagram: @everchanginghorizon And happily ever after! | Instagram @nois7 Did you miss the best photos from March’s photo competition? It’s not too late to check them out. Do you want to submit your photos for May’s photo competition? You can email us or tag us on Facebook or Instagram and remember to use the hashtag #ubcoolphotocomp Liked what you read? Subscribe below and receive more great stories right in your Inbox!

Georgia Tours
4 Best Ways to Explore Georgia on Wheels

Dear Explorer, Counting down the days till your vacation but haven’t settled on a destination? Why don’t you set your eyes on Georgia? (The country in Europe, not the State in the United States!). This country has captured the hearts of many with its warm welcoming nature and generous people. It definitely has the ub-cool team completely in love! Some of our team really enjoy adrenaline-filled adventures like paragliding and white-water rafting, which Georgia has so much of to offer! But, others on the team prefer staying close to the ground – in fact, they prefer their feet firmly fixed to Mother Earth! So, we figured some of you – our lovely readers – may also feel the same and want to check out awesome adventures that keep you as close to the ground as possible. Below are a list of Georgia tours we love that allow you to explore this beautiful country from the comfort of a vehicle. Oh, and don’t forget these Georgia tours are also perfect to enjoy with the family! Related: 4 Best Sky-and-Water Adventures in Georgia 4 Best Georgia Tours on Wheels Recently emerging from decades of Soviet rule, Georgia re-opened its doors to the world in 1991. Since then, there has been a massive building project of hotels and resorts not to mention the increase in the number of flights to this small country. The Caucasus mountains are a sight to be seen – they stand tall with snow-capped peaks against gorgeous rolling-green valleys dotted with small towns. If you’re keen to explore the beautiful countryside and views from the hills all the while keeping your feet close to the ground, we have 4 different options for you from quad bikes to NASCAR-style cars! #1 – Experience the Caucasus Mountains and Castles on this Fun Jeep Tour Jump in for this fantastic jeep tour! The local experts will take you through the Dzama gorge, which is hidden between the valleys of the Borjomi forests and Kartli. Georgians consider this a sacred place as you’ll see by the many old-and-new monasteries in the area. You’ll also visit the gorgeous Bateti lake which sits on a mountain plateau surrounded by forest and a beautiful swamp. Whatever season it is when you visit, make sure you bring your camera because the scenic views will blow your mind! Oh, and we shouldn’t forget to mention the delicious barbeque picnic and red wine tasting you’ll enjoy! Learn more about this Fun Jeep Tour in Georgia > #2 – Explore Georgia on an Amazing Quad Bike Tour Want to explore the rolling green Georgian hills with your friends? Then hop on your very own quad bike and speed away! Imagine spending 2 hours exploring Mitarbi mountain, Bakuriani traditional villages, and rice fields! Then, after lunch, you’ll get the chance to taste the famous Borjomi mineral water in the national park! For those wondering – yes, the quad bike is really easy to handle making for a truly enjoyable journey. And, if you’re looking for fresh air, then this is the trip for you! Learn more about this quad bike tour in Georgia > #3 – An Exciting NASCAR-Style Car Ride in Georgia Do you love watching car races? Well, when in Gerogia, why don’t you give it a try! Strap on your seat belt and take this first-generation NASCAR car, The Legends, down the track for a spin! This modern vehicle is in the retro style fitted with a Yamaha 1300cc, 145 horsepower engine. What does this mean? Yes – You’ll go from 0 to 100km in 4.2 seconds! Fact: before NASCAR, this vehicle was a popular get-away car for the mafia! Learn more about racing NASCAR-style cars in Georgia > #4 – Adrenaline-Packed Off-Roading Drive Through Georgia Calling adrenaline seekers, this rafting trip in Georgia is perfect for you! Hang on tight for an exhilarating rafting trip down fast-moving waters! If you’re new to rafting, learn to raft from local experts and set off on an adventure of a life time. The waters in Georgia’s rivers are ideal for white-water rafting enthusiasts. Do you live for adrenaline-filled adventures? Then this off-roading tour is for you! Race through Georgia’s rugged terrain in the best off-roading vehicle, Polaris RZR. This high-quality AT vehicle will have you perched atop hills in no time! Learn more about off-roading drives in Georgia > Looking for other adventures? Visit ub-cool for more exciting adventures from all around the world! Working with local experts, the ub-cool team seeks out the best adventures for you to try! Liked what you read? Subscribe below to get more adventure tips right in your inbox!

Xia Boyu
Xia Boyu: Double Amputee Summits Mt Everest

Dear Explorer, “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again” – this is definitely the case for 69-year-old mountain climber Xia Boyu who successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, this week. Xia Boyu On Monday, the 14th of May, Xia Boyu achieved his goal on his fifth attempt of conquering the iconic mountain spanning over 4 decades of attempts. You’ll be shocked to learn that it is not his mature age of 69 that sets Xia apart from the other 500 climbers attempting Everest this year… but also that he is a double amputee!  Photo Credit: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images First Attempt Led to Double Amputation Xia, now 69 years old, first tried to scale the 8,848m peak back in 1975. Only a tantalising 200m from the peak of the world, the climbers were heart broken as they were forced to turn back due to high-altitude storms. They were descending in treacherous conditions when Xia, then aged 26, gave up his sleeping bag to a fellow climber who was struggling, according to Chinese media. The severe weather took its toll on him and he discovered the next morning that he had frostbite in his feet, requiring both to be amputated. “It’s not been easy for me to reach the peak of Mount Everest which I’ve dreamed of,” he was quoted by the Peoples Daily. Related: Learn how Shaikha Al Shaiba takes on triathlons with only one arm! Time Line of Xia’s Climbing Dream 1975 – At age 26, Xiya made his initial attempt at Mount Everest but suffered frostbitten feet which required amputation. 1996 – Using prosthetic limbs he climbed mountains around Beijing but tragedy struck when he learnt he had contracted lymphoma and would need both legs amputated beneath the knee. 2014 –  Xia was ready to tackle Everest again, but his attempt was not possible due to ice avalanches. 2015 – Having reached Base Camp, his next attempt was delayed due to the disastrous Nepal earthquake of 2015. 2016 –  He attempted the climb again; but, within 100m of the peak, he had to turn back due to poor weather. 2017 – His planned attempt for 2018 was nearly derailed by the Nepal government, which in December banned double amputees and blind people from climbing Everest. It was claimed that it would make the mountain safer. 2018 – The Nepal Supreme Court finally ruled that the ban was discriminatory and it was dropped in March 2018. 2018, May – SUCCESS! Photo Credit: Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters In April 2018, a month before his fifth attempt, Xia told Agence France-Presse that climbing Everest was his dream. “I have to realise it,” he said. “It also represents a personal challenge, a challenge of fate.” On Monday 14th May, Xia finally reached the peak of Mount Everest. “Boyu finally won his 40-year-long battle for Mount Everest,” Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, the managing director at Imagine Treks, who accompanied the Chinese climber, told the Himalayan Times. Other Aamputees who have climbed Everest? Xia is the second double amputee to climb the summit after the New Zealander, Mark Inglis, who reached the peak from the Tibetan side in 2006. Santiago Quintero, who had half of each foot amputated during a climb in south America, also reached the peak in 2013. Congratulations Xia Boyu! Your determination and perseverance are an inspiration to us all! Feature photo: rockandice.com / courtesy of Xia Boyu Do you have a cool story to share with us? Get in touch at adventure@ub-cool.com