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Hong Kong ice swimmer Mak Chung-kong just swam a butterfly mile in near freezing water. Photo: Philipp Frik

Hongkonger first man to finish ‘Ice Mile’ butterfly swim in Austria

  • Mak Chun-kong blacked out in the five degree water but now looking towards swimming English Channel

Mak Chun-kong’s latest ice swimming test hit the Hong Kong native hard.

After completing the first ever recorded “Butterfly Ice Mile” by a male swimmer in February in Austria, Mak found himself in serious physical danger. The swim, done in 43 minutes, took place without a wetsuit in 4.7 degrees Celsius water.

After he was helped out of the lake, he needed immediate medical attention.

“The mental part was intense,” the 33-year-old said. “Especially because I blacked out 20 minutes after the swim while my body was still moving. My short term memory is gone from after the swim.”

Mak previously represented Hong Kong at the International Ice Swimming Association World Championships and first Arctic Cup in March. They took place in Murmansk, Russia, within the Arctic Circle.

He also swam Scotland’s Loch Ness as part of a team, setting a new record along the way.

Hongkonger sets new Loch Ness swim record

Mak said that the “Ice Mile” swim, which took place in Altenworth in Lower Austria, was epic.


Czech Republic-based IT worker Mak started training for the distance in November, building up his tolerance and fine tuning the stroke, which can be quite slow in the water.

The course featured 25-metre laps which meant he had to do more than 60 for a total of 1,609 metres.

The whole thing was a bit of a blur, said Mak, of completing the swim in Austria. Photo: Philipp Frik

“After the halfway, when the number of laps was 30, I was like, ‘Oh my god, still? Only halfway is gone?’ I told myself to just focus on my breathing, use more of my core, use less shoulders, just keep swimming easy, and enjoy the process. Electro dance music was switched on in my brain. The bass line kept me going.”

Ice swimming has been a pastime in Nordic countries for thousands of years and the sport hinges around the “Ice Mile”, which is seen as the ultimate achievement. The current record-holder is Czech swimmer Rostislav Vitek, who is also Mak’s coach.

The butterfly result was verified by the International Ice Swimming Association, which has been the governing body of the sport since 2009, and Mak said the recovery was the toughest part.

Mak blacked out due to the cold after getting out of the water. Photo: IISA Austria

“I was taken to a tent with hot sauna. Anna (Mak’s girlfriend) and one more medical doctor monitored me. The medical doctor heard my heart pattern and confirmed that I didn't have arrhythmia after 43 minutes in the water.”


Mak said the whole experience was a bit surreal.

“The memory of it was a blur. When I recall the piece of memory now, I can only remember a black screen with echo in my ears. I only remember Anna giving me hot tea, kissing me and asked me to put my cold hand on her neck.

Hongkonger swimming Loch Ness aiming for world record

“She described that I was more alive when she interacted with me. During the blur mind time, I truly relied on her support.”


Next up for Mak is a crowdfunding campaign in hopes of swimming across the English Channel without a wetsuit this October .

There have been 1,652 successful solo crossings of the English Channel under the Channel Swimming Association since 1875, and if he completes it, Mak will be the first person from Hong Kong and one of only a handful to do it without a wetsuit.

Mak recovering after his swim. Photo: Handout

“I want to show to the international community that Hongkongers have a stubborn ‘can-do’ attitude as well as be a pioneer in extreme swimming in Hong Kong. We work harder when the environment gets tougher.”

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