Estonia’s Merle Liivand, aka ‘Merle The Mermaid’, is a triple-threat in the water: She’s preparing for the Olympic trials in open water swimming, she’s a world class ice swimmer (swimming in 33-40°F water), and she’s the Guinness Book of World Record holder in the monofin (mermaid) category at 10K and 20K.
And on April 17, Liivand decided to go for another Guinness record: a 30K off of Miami Beach in a monofin on her 30th birthday.
The record is not her prime motivation. Rather, Liivand’s goal is to draw attention to the dual crises of ocean pollution and climate change.
GreenSportsBlog got Liivand’s firsthand take on the swim and on the publicity it generated.
On preparing for the 30K swim…
I was all in with Navy Seal-like practices: Weights, resistance training, swims with buckets. I did three-mile butterfly swims with eight pound weights on my ankles. I’m sure the lifeguards watching me said ‘what the hell is she doing?’
As we got closer to the date, Miami Beach became the capital of spring break. Which meant the beach and the water was full of trash, which was and is disgusting. I am getting really tired of cleaning up this debris. So that’s why I added meditation to my training regimen to heal my brain and to get in the right frame of mind.
On the route…
Well, the Bahamas were my first choice but COVID restrictions made that impossible.
So, my friend Adrian, who owns David’s Cafe, a pop-up coffee shop outside the Shelborne South Beach Hotel, suggested I begin and end outside the hotel — it would draw fans. And so I reached out to the Guinness people and they approved the route: A 15K loop that I would swim two times. Oh, to qualify for this record, you can only kick with the monofin, you cannot swim with your arms at all!
I already owned the 20K monofin record, 6 hours 8 minutes, set on August 20, 2020. That happens to be Estonia Independence Day. My grandma faced Russian tanks; swimming 20 or 30K is easy by comparison!
On the mayor of Miami Beach lending his support…
Unbeknownst to me, my friends reached out to Miami Beach mayor Dan Gelber to let him know that we’re trying to clean up the beaches. His commissioners were very welcoming, very supportive. They gave us safety buoys and provided safety police for 10 hours. And the mayor signed an official proclamation that made April 17 Merle Liivand Day!
Merle Liivand with the Miami Beach Proclamation naming April 17 in honor of her and her swim (Photo credit: SWIMERA)
On starting her birthday, getting ready for her ’30 for 30′ swim…
I woke up at 5 AM that Saturday since we were starting the swim at 7 AM. I listened to some motivational speeches, prepared my nutritional bars. Before I headed out, I heard a story about how seals are getting cancer because of carcinogenic substances humans are putting into the oceans. A nice thought, right?
Actually, it got me more focused on the task. Because when I see climate- and environmentally- related suffering, I ask myself, ‘what more can I do to make a difference.’
Anyway, at 6 AM, I headed down to the starting point by the hotel.
On the swim…
The safety crew — four kayakers from the Dolphins and Rainbows swim teams — were ready to go. I had some breakfast; the fans and my friends sang Happy Birthday and I was ready to go. I brought baby food and chicken soup with me.
The weather was fine in terms of temperature: It was 70° F (21° C) and the water was so clear, you could see coral. But the concerning thing was the wind warning.
My goal was to finish the swim in 10 hours. I went out fast in the first half since the wind was with me; I had a three-time English Channel swimmer alongside me for awhile but then I left him in the dust.
The problems began on the second leg. I was trying to save energy but the t-band in my right hip really began to hurt. So I was kicking with my left leg only for the last 3.5 miles.
And all this was happening as the wind just became brutal. It was 21-22 knots per hour against us. At one point it took me 15 minutes to swim 50 meters — I got really mad as I kept swimming and the buildings along the coast didn’t move! The kayaker couldn’t stay with it. With three miles to go, I had no food or water left — no one could get to me! The last two support swimmers said this swim was the hardest thing they ever had to do in their lives.
But, like they say in Finding Nemo, “just keep swimming!” And that’s what I did until I got to the beach. Finished in 9 hours 19 minutes.
On the scene post-swim…
It was amazing. Three beach cleanups took place during the swim! Mayor Dan Gelber was on hand and so were some commissioners. The Miami Beach city government really cares about ocean health, beach cleanliness and climate change. So do our supporters on the beach Now it’s up to even more people, including the spring breakers, to step up!
On what’s next…
I am training for the Olympic open water swim trial on June 19 off the coast of Portugal. It’s a 10K race freestyle race. The Top 20 will qualify for Tokyo. It will be a challenge because in open water, anything can happen. There are lots of variables out there — waves, water temperature, jellyfish, and more — that can impact the swimmers.
As for my next Guinness Book of World Records attempt, I’m looking at doing a Marathon for the Oceans, a 26.2 mile, 42K swim sometime next year. And I will continue to engage the new followers I got from this 30-for-30 swim on the need for clean beaches, clean oceans and serious climate action.
People Power can help make incredible things happen!
Photo at top: Miami Beach mayor Dan Gelber (far right), commissioner Ricky Arriola (far left) and Merle Liivand after her record 30K monofin swim (Photo credit: SWIMERA)