Lewis William Gordon Pugh (born December 5, 1969) is a British-South African swimmer and advocate for the ocean. He has been described as the “Sir Edmund Hillary of Swimming.” He was the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world, and he often swims in vulnerable ecosystems to draw attention to their plight.
Pugh was originally born in Plymouth, England. His father, Surgeon Rear Admiral P.D. Gordon Pugh, OBE, FRCS was a Royal Navy surgeon, an author and a prolific Victorian-era ceramics collector. His mother, Margery Pugh, was a senior nursing sister in the Royal Naval Nursing Service at Queen Alexandra.
His family emigrated to South Africa at age 10. He studied at the University of Cape Town to study politics and law, graduating at the top of his Masters degree.
In 2003 Pugh left his maritime law practice to campaign full-time for the protection of the oceans. He often addresses Heads of State and business leaders on the topics of climate change, overfishing and pollution and the need for Marine Protected Areas and low carbon economies.
Pugh is best known for leading the first swim across the North Pole in 2007 to demonstrate the Arctic sea ice melting. In 2010 he swam across a glacial lake on Mount Everest to draw attention to the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, and the effect the decreased supply of water will have on peace in the region. In 2018, he swam the English Channel’s full length to call for 30 per cent of the world’s oceans to be protected by 2030, and undertakes all of his swims, even those in the Polar Regions, according to Channel Swimming Rules – i.e. in just a Speedo costume, cap and goggles.
“Holy Grail” of swimming
Pugh achieved the “Holy Grail” of swimming in 2006 by becoming the first person to complete a long-distance swim in all five of the world’s oceans. The five swims were::
- Atlantic Ocean – across the English Channel in 1992
- Arctic Ocean – around the most northern point of the Island of Spitsbergen in 2005
- Southern Ocean – across Whaler’s Bay in Deception Island in 2005
- Indian Ocean – across Nelson Mandela Bay in 2006
- Pacific Ocean – from Manly Beach through the Sydney Heads to the Sydney Opera House in 2006
The Seven Seas
Pugh undertook the first long distance swimming in all of the Seven Seas in August 2014 to campaign for more marine protected areas in the region. The swims were held at the following locations:
- Mediterranean Sea – a 10 km swim off Monte Carlo in Monaco
- Adriatic Sea – a 10 km swim off Zadar in Croatia
- Aegean Sea – a 10 km swim off Athens in Greece
- Black Sea – a 10 km swim off Şile in Turkey
- Red Sea – a 10 km swim off Aqaba in Jordan
- Arabian Sea – a 10 km swim off Rass Al Hadd in Oman
- North Sea – a 60 km Thames swim from Southend-on-Sea to the Thames Barrier, east London.
In view of TED talks, Pugh has appeared on many television shows and is considered the world’s third most influential person discussing how to tackle plastic pollution on social media.
Pugh has written wrote two books, one of which was an autobiography entitled “Achieving the Impossible,” which quickly became a No 1 bestseller and a second book entitled “21 Yaks and a Speedo.”