Daring to dip: Activist swims East River after taking on Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek

Daring to dip: Activist swims East River after taking on Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek
Photo by Erin Lefevre

He survived numbers one and two, making number three a breeze!

A daredevil activist who famously swam the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek pulled another maritime stunt on Sept. 21, paddling through the East River from Greenpoint to Brooklyn Bridge Park to raise awareness for the global refugee crisis. And the water, while full of junk, was delightful compared to that of Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory, according to Kings County’s own “Toxic Avenger.”

“It was pretty nice,” said Christopher Swain. “I bumped into plastic bottles and bags, but the general level of pollution was much lower compared to the Gowanus Canal.”

The athlete-activist plunged into the murky waterway near Greenpoint’s India Street Ferry Dock before swimming the nearly two miles to Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier Five, where he emerged unscathed about 35 minutes after starting his journey.

Swain’s main concern leading up to the trek was rain, which would have flushed the city’s sewers straight into the river, and likely into his mouth. The swimmer was near the Brooklyn Bridge when he took his first gulp of water, which he discovered was not toxic later that evening after he passed a solid stool, he said.

“I swallowed a good mouthful by mistake and thought, ‘Well I guess we’ll find out tonight if I get diarrhea,’ ” Swain said. “But I lucked out, and was okay.”

The activist gained notoriety in 2015, when, after repeated attempts, he became the first man to swim the length of the Gowanus Canal, a feat he later described in vivid detail.

“There was more hydraulic fluid, metals, and paint chips than there was poop,” Swain said at the time.

The dank diver followed the record-setting stunt by swimming Newtown Creek that same year, an experience that he claimed was surprisingly worse than splashing in the sludge-filled canal.

“It was definitely the worst water I’ve ever been in. Not even a question,” Swain said. “On a scale of 1–10, everything is turned up to 11. The petroleum was at 11. The sewage was at 11. The industrial, weird smell is at 11. The floating trash is at 11. It’s cartoonishly bad and palpably worse than the Gowanus in every way.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.