Okanagan youth tackles English Channel

Mike Stamhuis, who swam English Channel with team in 2013, helping mentor Kelowna teenager

A Kelowna teenager is soaking up sage swimming advice from a Coldstream mentor.

Emily Epp, 17, hopes to swim solo across the English Channel in July and is getting tips, coaching and encouragement from three men who have gone before her.

Mike Stamhuis, 63, a member of the Vernon Masters Swim Club, joined four Kelowna swimmers – including Phred Martin – that successfully crossed the Channel in 2013. Epp has been leaning on the wisdom of Stamhuis, Martin and the man who inspired her to attempt the Channel, her coach, Brent Hobbs. Hobbs crossed the channel solo in 2008.

“After Brent successfully swam the Channel solo, he was the guest speaker at the Kelowna AquaJets (swim club) year-end banquet. Emily was 10, Brent gave a talk about his swim and said, ‘Gee, I think I want to do that when I’m older,’” said Stamhuis, who has officiated AquaJets swim meets for nearly 20 years, and is a friend of Epp’s father.

“This (crossing the Channel) has been a goal of hers for the past half-dozen years or so.”

To prepare for her attempt, Stamhuis and Hobbs accompanied Epp as she recently swam around B.C.’s Bowen Island, a 35-kilometre swim that she completed in just under 11 hours.

The English Channel is 37 kilometres. Stamhuis and his team made the crossing in about 13 hours. Like Stamhuis and all swimmers that attempt the Channel, Epp will have to swim in just a bathing suit. Wet suits are not recognized for a Channel attempt. She swam around Bowen Island in a swim suit, goggles and bathing cap. Temperature of the water was 14 C at the start of her swim.

“I think she’ll be alright,” said Stamhuis. “The Bowen Island swim was a good test. Once she got around the southwest point of the island, she was exposed to the Salish Sea (Georgia Straight) where it was windy and some pretty tough conditions.

“We were quite hopeful she could experience what crossing the Channel will be like. Much of the swim (around Bowen) was done in ideal conditions. But about the final two-thirds of the swim it got tough for her.”

Epp will have Hobbs and her parents in her support boat as she attempts to swim the English Channel. Epp leaves July 10 and hopes to hit the water on or around July 14.

Epp is using the swim as a fundraiser, hoping to raise thousands for Canuck Place, a children’s hospice.