Guest Article: Sylvain Estadieu – Butterfly in the Public Lane

As an irish people I dislike the association of Guinness with being Irish. Sylvain is French so he's allowed!

As an Irish person I dislike the association of Guinness with being Irish. Sylvain is French so he’s allowed!

Sylvain Estadieu, aka The Flying Frenchman, came to Ireland in 2008, where he became a Sandycove Island swimmer. He Soloed the English Channel in 2009. So despite his origin and travels around the world, and currently living in Sweden, Ireland and Sandycove will always have a claim on him.

During Channel training Sylle became  notorious for his Individual Medley of Sandycove Island, four laps of the island, about 1700 metres per lap, each lap using each of the four I.M. strokes, butterfly,  backstroke, breaststroke and front crawl. I seem to recall he said breaststroke was the worst lap.

After keeping it quiet for some time, Sylvain finally went public late last year with his intention of attempting another English Channel Solo, this time though he intends to attempt it as a Butterfly world-record attempt. Sylvain and I crewed for Gábor Molnar‘s English Channel swim, where I extracted the promise that we (Gábor and I) could crew for him. So this September, I’ll be back in Dover for another World Record attempt. 

In Varne Ridge.From left: Gabor, David, Donal, Evelyn, Sylvain,

In Varne Ridge.
From left: Gabor, David, Donal, Evelyn, Sylvain,

In 2010 and 2012 Sylvain and his girlfriend Great Greta travelled around the antipodes, where he left his mark by starting a tradition of non-wetsuit swimming in Lake Wanaka.

Sylvain at Lake Wannaka

Sylvain at Lake Wanaka

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I get asked quite often if my sessions are 100% butterfly. The answer is no. I just had a look at the figures and for 2013 it turns out I’ve swam 48% of butterfly, 47% of front crawl, 4% of backstroke and just under 0.5% of breaststroke.

The other question that I get asked fairly often is if it’s easy to swim butterfly in a public lane. It can prove difficult to train front crawl if there are undisciplined bathers (Disclaimer: don’t swim in the same lane as me … I’m not a easy-friendly lane-mate) … so doing butterfly in a crowded lane sounds like it should be almost impossible, right? Well, you’ll be glad to learn that it’s possible!

The first rule of BIAPL is you don’t talk about BIAPL (you saw this one coming). One does not encourage others to do it. Especially if said others frequent the same swimming pool. We wouldn’t want a lane full with butterfliers, now that would be mayhem.

The second rule of BIAPL, which is probably more important than the first one is you’ve got to look around. This one is actually applicable to other strokes, other sports and situations like crossing the street, walking on the sidewalk, moving dishes from the dishwasher to the shelves, etc. As soon as there’s one person to share the lane with, you’ve got to start looking around yourself. Doing a complete length of butterfly with your head down is forbidden, so is taking the first stroke(s) with your head down. You look ahead as often as you can and learn to anticipate. Will I be able to take one full stroke or two short ones? Maybe I’ll have to overglide a bit so the oncoming swimmer will have time to end up behind me?

In all likelihood I will need to whack my right hand against the lane line a couple times per length so as to give enough space to the others (sorry to disappoint you Donal, but my wingspan is a mere 1m82 … but I still take more space doing fly than if I were to (somehow) swim sideways with my head-to-feet axis perpendicular to the lane). Occasionally my left hand will be high up in the air trying to pick apples while my left “wing” will resemble that of a little duckling. Not pretty, but at least there’ll be no blood in the water.

It’s an easy rule to summarize, but it’s really powerful. Just know your surroundings, know what’s going on around you, and most of the time you’ll be alright.

The third rule of BIAPL is that you won’t be able to take every single stroke in the mighty butterfly style, so get over it already. There will necessarily be times when you have to switch to freestyle for a few strokes. But that’s not a biggie, especially because it gives you the chance to … count … something … else! Yipee! You’re already keeping track of the distance you swam, the remaining one, your average pace for each set and the number of times people have pushed off right in front of you, now let me introduce the fly/fc ratio.

What is the fly/fc ratio?

Quite simply, the fly/fc ration describes the amount of butterflying in your butterfly sets. 100% means that you didn’t need to use the one-arm stroke even once while 50% indicates that it must have been a bloody battlefield out there and that maybe you’d have been better off doing something else, like kicking perhaps?

Calculating the ratio is very easy: imagine your average stroke count is 20 strokes per 25m in front crawl. You start a casual 1000m butterfly and end up using a total of 90 strokes of f/c in order to pass people of avoid accidentally punching them in the head (or worse, if you have paddles on, something reminiscent of the French Revolution … the Swedes have hidden their royal family since I moved to Sweden). You will have swum approximately 112.5m of f/c and 887.5m of fly, hence a ratio of 89%. Not bad!

You can also use this ratio to calculate you actual “butterfly speed” over such a set, but I’ll let you do the math.

The fourth rule of BIAPL is embrace the moment. Have fun, you’re flying after all. You’re bringing magic to this world, you’re inspiring people, at the very least a young Arnie, for two strokes or more.

And remember the (poor) haiku:

Both arms over head
Then glide deep under water
Archimedes will help.

Otherwise, training is going well, getting faster, stronger and better looking by the day.

Fly Sweden!

Fly Sweden!

Recommended links:

Sylvain’s blog.

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8 thoughts on “Guest Article: Sylvain Estadieu – Butterfly in the Public Lane

  1. Great article! I’m very glad to know that there is at least one other person who can utter the phrase “a casual 1000 m” with regards to butterfly. When swimming across the channel fly are there any technique requirements? For instance what happens if you break stroke on a wave?

    • We’ve been having this discussion on the marathonswimmers.org forum but basically Sylvain can’t break stroke and can’t move forward under any other stroke. Having swum with him, I can tell you he has a long gliding fly that is very efficient, obviously it has to be different than a fast pool fly.

  2. I’m very glad to know that there is at least one other person who can utter the phrase “a casual 1000 m” with regards to butterfly. Great article!

  3. Wow! I’ve always thought butterfly is the most difficult stroke. Incredible to think of Sylvain swimming the channel that way. Has it even been attempted before?

    One small correction to add though. It’s Lake Wanaka! You’ve snuck an extra ‘n’ in there!

    Cheers from the Antipodes!!

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