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Posted: Saturday, Jul. 05, 2008

0% visibility – and 100% fun

John Bordsen
Published in: Living Updates

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Gordon Green, of Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, is the founder of the World Bog Snorkeling Championship, now in its 23rd year. It will be staged Aug. 25. Green, 73, is originally from Manchester, England, where he was a production manager for an ice cream company. He and his wife moved to Wales 33 years ago.

Q. You started this… sporting event, right?

Correct. We dug a ditch in a bog that fills with nice dirty water. It's 60 yards long and you have to do two lengths using snorkels, flippers and so on. The record for the 120 yards is 1.36 minutes.

Q. Do the athletes swim or walk the course?

You can swim it. It's very dirty water, so you can't see anything while snorkeling. People in the competition lose their direction, so we allow them to have a couple (above water) looks. Otherwise, you have to keep your head under water. And you're not allowed to use swim strokes, like the crawl or breast. You have to use your legs for propulsion. People usually keep their arms straight in front of themselves.

We usually get about 160 or so people participating, and they come from all over. There are people from the States and Australia who come directly here for it. It has become quite international.

Q. You've personally competed as a bog snorkeler?

No. I clean the bog out, but don't actually do it. The bog is only about 4 feet deep: You can stand up in it. It's what you'd call a “raised bog” in Wales, and it's of great scientific interest. I don't know why it's called “raised” – it's just an expression in geology.

The bog has been there for millions of years and is caused by water getting into a rock formation. Then you have the degradation of vegetation in it for millions of years.

Q. What they snorkel in: Is it as thick as, say, soup?

No. What they swim in is quite fluid.

Q. Are there women who snorkel through the bog?

Of course. It's not as bad as all that.

Q. But doesn't it … smell?

Especially when you get out! It's quite a stagnant smell. When you disturb the base of the bog, you get a lot of methane gas coming up from the decomposition of things.

Q. And competitors wear wet suits?

Optional. The championship is held the last Monday in August, so the water is as warm as it's ever going to be. Still, it's never very warm because the water is fed from a spring. Some wear wet suits; some don't. You get fancy-dress people with their peculiar outfits. And the occasional person who more or less is in the nude.

Q. The world champions: Are there specific skills they share?

They're usually good swimmers – people who can sort of move like a dolphin or porpoise: Up and down, up and down. Also – I don't know if they have this in the States – people who play a sport called underwater hockey.

They do this in swimming pools, with the puck on the base of the swimming pool. It's knocked into a goal area. All this is done underwater. People who are underwater hockey players – that's what they're called – are pretty good at bog snorkeling.

We do lots of other events here, you know. We started in 1980 trying to find ways of bringing tourists into our town – officially the smallest town in Britain, by the way, with only 600 people. We started organizing a man vs. horse marathon that's 22 miles long. We still have that; this year's was in late May. We've had runners actually beating the horses on two occasions.

My wife and I moved here in 1975 when we bought a hotel here. We needed tourists to fill the beds.

Q. Is the hotel still in business?

Yes. It has 20 rooms.

Q. So you live in the Welsh version of nowhere.

It's in the mountains and has a river running through it. Going westward the terrain starts to get more rugged. The next town is about 20 miles away; in between, there's very little. It's wonderful countryside.

Prince Llywelyn the Great – the real and last Prince of Wales (died in 1240) – was killed about eight miles from our town. We also have a Welsh legend about Twm Shon Catti, who was rather like Robin Hood. He was supposed to have been an outlaw and all the authorities were after him. He hid in the caves.

Q. Do you speak Welsh?

Not me, but my wife does. She's Welsh.

Q. How do you say “bog snorkeling” in Welsh?

You can't. We've tried before. There's no such word as “snorkeling” in that language, and when there's no word in Welsh for something, they use English.

Q. The competition bog: Who owns it?

A farmer. It's part of a drainage system, really.

Q. And many people come to see the event?

A few hundred or a few thousand. We always get a lot of media attention. Last year there was a crew from Vietnam and crews from all the European countries. In America we were on NBC's morning news program.

Q. What do you get if you win?

First off, you're officially a world champion, and that's always a nice thing. And you win a cup. And that's about it.

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