Swain swims past HR

Columbia River swimmer paddles through locks Friday

Christopher Swain stroked past Hood River this week on his epic swim down the Columbia River. Despite battling high winds for several days as he made his way mile by mile from The Dalles to Lyle to Mosier, and finally on to Hood River, Swain was happy to be here for a single reason: it is the home of ProMotion Wetsuits, one of his most important sponsors.

Swain’s ProMotion wetsuit was chafing his neck and he desperately needed help.

“The chafing has motivated ProMotion to do some surgery,” Swain said Thursday, hours after the wetsuit manufacturer did some custom alterations to the neck of Swain’s suit, providing the swimmer much-needed relief. “We’re off into custom suit territory now. They’re great. They’ll do absolutely anything.”

Swain has about 150 miles left before he reaches the Pacific Ocean west of Astoria. He began his swim on June 4, 2002, at the river’s headwaters in Canal Flats, B.C. He will be the first person ever to swim the entire 1,243-mile length of the Columbia River.

“I set out to put the river in the public eye and I feel like I’ve succeeded in that,” Swain said. He is swimming the Columbia to raise awareness about cleaning up the river and restoring it to its natural, free-flowing state.

During the past year, he’s met more than 13,000 people living along the river, and talked to more than 8,000 school kids.

“So far, I haven’t met anybody who doesn’t want a clean, free-flowing river,” Swain said. “Everybody loves the river.” Swain’s quest for the river will continue after he’s done with his swim — although he intends to “go home, be a dad and keep my head down for a while.” But he promised every school group he met with that he would return next year, and he plans to keep his promise — and continue being a “champion” for the river.

“The kids can do much more than I can by just bugging their parents,” he said. “Kids aren’t wondering if they want clean water, they want clean water.”

Swain also has come to realize that the diverse groups of people who use the river — from hunters, fishermen and jetskiers to windsurfers and kiteboarders — need to come together as allies.

“We should be careful to avoid entrenchments,” he said. “Don’t get stuck in the politics of it.” When it comes to the river, “you’re all on the same page,” Swain said.

“I think we’ve got to look out for our natural allies and make friends,” he added. “That’s when it’s going to happen.”

Aside from getting his wetsuit altered, Swain said it was nice to swim through Hood River and see “people actually using and enjoying the river.”

“It’s important we have a presence on the river,” he said. “Every time we windsurf, kiteboard and swim in the Columbia, it’s a small act of taking back the river.”

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