Testing The Waters

The SA Navy Obstacle Course

I love obstacle races. I raced in the Men’s Health Urbanathlon a few weeks ago in Jo’burg, and now was lucky enough to join Cape CrossFit and their brilliant team excursion to Simonstown where we did the SA Navy Obstacle Course at the famous Naval base. What sets it apart is the fact the whole almost three storey obstacle rig is in the water, and it forms part of a 3 round swimming circuit where both the currents and the temperature become extra obstacles. There’s roughly 200m of open water swimming in each round, and you do some running on the beach too, but the real fun comes in the different ways you tackle the obstacle rig each round. The real SA Navy divers aren’t allowed to fail on any of the obstacles or scale the course. The scaling option is to cut out the swimming towards the sea-based pole or marker in each round. Here’s how the three round circuit is broken down (and how the proper Navy divers use the course):

  1. First round: Start on the pier with a pin drop or bomb jump. Ignore the instant ice cream headache. Swim to the rig, and do a rope climb starting from the water. The rope itself is pretty slick and covered with algae at the bottom. It’s like trying to climb a pole covered in lube, but once you get started and battle your way to the top, you’re rewarded with killer views and some more forearm-busting work by swinging your way to the other side of the rig by hanging on a rope and moving your hands across carefully without slipping. You don’t want to let go. Its not just about failing the obstacle, you’re way higher than it looks from land, and it’s a long drop down into the water. Once you finish that, it’s a breathtaking jump off the top into the water, and a lung-busting swim to the metal pole marker that’s about 100m away from the rig. This swim can be cut from the test if you want to scale the course. Once you get around the marker, it’s a swim to the sand, where you run and touch the pier wall, then double back to run around a red metal pole. Then it’s a run back to the start.
  2. Second round: Another pier jump and swim to the rig. Then you climb up the cargo nets, but on the inside, and it’s another forearm- and grip-destroying rope slide to the other side. You jump off into the water and follow the same route as the first round back to the start.
  3. Third round: Once you swim back to the rig from the start, you climb up the cargo nets, but this time on the outside, and when you get to the top, there’s a rope walk across the top. You have another rope at head level to hold onto, but it’s still not a cake walk. Your feet and hands seem to function at 50% thanks to the cold water. And once you hit the other side, it’s a proper leap of faith, the highest one yet, and a swim and run back to the start to finish.

The verdict: an amazing experience. Thanks to Tash, there are some photos below of the action. There are ways to scale this fitness test (you can cut out the swim to the metal pole marker in each round), but it’s worthwhile trying to do it properly. I finished the full test in rough 19:25, but before I could start fancying myself as having Navy diving talent, the SA Navy physical trainer brought me back to Earth by saying that the course record is under 14 minutes. Incredible. I don’t think you can make up too much time on the obstacles, so I’m guessing it’s the swim where you can make up proper time. Serious respect to the SA Navy divers, this course isn’t easy by any standards, and the men and women who do it properly, and in those fast times, are supreme athletes.



The start. I got the jump on Chris and Tammy.

The start. I got the jump on Chris and Tammy. Unorthodox dive technique.

Swimming to the obstacles in the first of 3 rounds.

Swimming to the obstacle rig in the first of 3 rounds.

Finishing the last round, and getting a bark reception.

Finishing the last round, and getting a bark reception.

Speaking to SA Navy Physical Trainer after the race.

Speaking to SA Navy Physical Trainer after the race.

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