What Drives Lewis Pugh?

It’s not easy to track down ocean advocate and pioneer swimmer Lewis Pugh, but in between adventures we managed to get answers to a few questions about his work, life and love of the sea. Don’t miss Pugh’s keynote presentation at this year’s summit. You may find yourself inspired to dream big.

You clearly love swimming. What aspect do you love the most?

I always love the feeling of diving into the ocean. No matter how tough my day has been, when I am in the sea, the world seems perfect.

You’ve pioneered more swims around famous landmarks than any other swimmer in history. Which was the hardest?

It would be a toss-up between my swim across the North Pole in 2007 and my swim across a glacial lake on Mt Everest in 2010. Both were immensely challenging. At the North Pole the water was minus 1.7°C (29°F). It’s the coldest seawater goes before it freezes. On Mt Everest, the water was 2°C (35°F) and I was also swimming at 5,500m where there’s little oxygen. So I had to swim slowly just to breathe; but the slower I swam, the colder I got. It was a dangerous cocktail.

What drives you to do what you do?

I love the oceans and have seen them change in my lifetime. So I undertake swims in the most vulnerable parts of our oceans to campaign for the creation of Marine Protected Areas, which are akin to National Parks in the sea.

It must be frightening to swim in the Arctic?

Yes. Being the first to undertake a swim is exponentially harder than going second. You don’t know what will happen. The fear can be crippling. It’s much easier to go second. You know it’s possible. The world is divided into pioneers and followers. You are one or the other. I prefer to be a pioneer.

How do you deal with the fear?

The trick is to make fear your friend. Fear forces you to prepare more rigorously and see potential problems more quickly.

What advice do you have for aspirant explorers, adventurers and athletes looking for sponsors?

Don’t go into a meeting with a spreadsheet, a business plan or a PowerPoint presentation. Sponsors invest in dreams. Share your dream.

Pugh’s Lessons

The bigger the danger, the simpler the operations need to be, and the fewer the mission objectives.

You’ve got to be faster than the threat…The wheels of bureaucracy move too slowly for the urgency of the issues we face today.

Negotiation is not a battle. It’s an exploration. Mutual respect is key. It’s very important to understand and appreciate the other side of the story. How else can you frame an agreement that feels like a win for both sides?