Grace van der Byl

From Openwaterpedia
Grace van der Byl
Phil Cutti, David Holscher, Zach Jirkovsky, Luane Rowe, Blair Cannon, and Grace van der Byl of the Night Train Swimmers walking onshore after a 228-mile non-stop relay down the California coast between 22-26 August 2013, escorted by Vito Bialla, Hal McCormick, and Patrick Horn
Night Train Swimmers in Sequel, their escort boat starting at Gaviota State Park in their 228-mile non-stop relay swim along the California coast with Grace van der Byl in the water

Grace van der Byl (born June 13, 1978) is an American open water swimmer and National level pool swimmer and waterwoman from Solana Beach, California. She also the record holder for the Catalina Channel solo crossing from Catalina Island to the California mainland in 7 hours 27 minutes. She is also an active Observer for the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and was one of only two individuals (besides Rondi Davies) to finish all 7 stage swims of the 2012 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, the longest competitive open water swim in the world. She also won the first 9.5-mile stage swim in Saguaro Lake, the second 9-mile stage swim in Canyon Lake, the third 17-mile stage swim in Apache Lake, and the fourth 10 km night race in Roosevelt Lake at the 2013 S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge in Arizona. She also won the 15.1-mile (24.3 km) inaugural Cape Circumnavigation Challenge around Cape May, New Jersey in 2013, the 28.5-mile Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in June 2014, and the 25-mile In Search of Memphre marathon swim on 5 September 2014 in 11 hours 33 minutes across Lake Memphremagog from Newport, Vermont (USA) to Magog, Quebec (Canada).

She started swimming at age 2 (one month before her 3rd birthday) for the Green Gate Gators Swim Team in Spring, Texas. She started year-round swimming at age 7 for the Hub Fins Swim Team in Hattiesburg Mississippi. Later she represented The Woodlands Swim Team (TWST) and University of Houston at a National level.

After retiring, she coached for several teams in Houston, Texas area. Upon moving to California, she became involved in the local swimming community and presently coaches for Rancho San Dieguito (RSD) swim team in Solana Beach - she currently swims for Solana Beach Swim Masters under Coach Joe Benjamin and supports a variety of open water swim-related causes and programs including the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation. She is a true ambassador for the sport of swimming with several local and national television appearances and enjoys investing in kids to develop the sport of open water swimming for a new generation as well as supporting numerous channel attempts including participating in Team Tripod.

Streeter Award for Service to Marathon Swimming

She is married to renowned ocean kayaker and escort crew member Neil van der Byl and co-manages the SoCal Open-water Swim Support service. They both won the 2014 Streeter Award for Service to Marathon Swimming by the Marathon Swimmers Federation.


Gracie was born in Opelousas, Louisana, the daughter of Raymond and Chemelle Price. Her father, a military and oil man also played football for the San Francisco 49ers and her mother was a distinguished swimmer and competitive sailor.


After retiring from swimming for about 10 years, Grace became involved with open water swimming and returned to master's pool swimming receiving 5 Gold Medals in Atlanta 2010. Grace has been competing in open water races since 2008 and increasingly became involved in the community through charity events like the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the NBC-sponsored Iron Man program for Cancer survivors, and the Mates-Helping-Mates event for victims of the Australian wild fires.

She also dedicates her time to grass-roots program development and introduced an age-group program for kids to compete in an all-season open water swimming championship. Her dedication to the sport earned her the coach of the year award in San Diego, and she continues to give back to the sport that gives so much to her. With the help of open water swimming mentors Tina Neill and Carol Sing, she invests her time training for colder and longer open water swims and plans to cross the Catalina Channel solo in 2012.

She also entered the 2013 Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and the 2013 15.1-mile Cape Circumnavigation Challenge marathon swim around Cape May, New Jersey as well as serve as an escort kayaker in the 2017 Pan-American Colibrí Swim, a cross-border swim between the USA and Mexico and a charity swim to raise awareness and funds for the Colibri Center for Human Rights in the Pacific Ocean from Imperial Beach near San Diego, California, USA to Tijuana, Mexico on 5 May 2017.

Solo Swimming Highlights

Grace's 2010 Distance Swim Challenge - IMSHOF
  • Winner of the non-wetsuit 2010 OptimisSport - Distance Swim Challenge - Open Water Swimming Hall of Fame:
  • World record holder of the Catalina Channel (Catalina-to-mainland) in 7 hours 27 minutes
  • World record holder for first and longest stage race 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim - 2012 (won all stages and overall time)
  • Winner of "C3" Cape Circumnavigation Challenge - 2013
  • Winner of all 4 stages of the 2013 Arizona S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge with a cumulative time of 13 hours 7 minutes 16 seconds.
  • Winner of the 2014 MIMS Manhattan Island Marathon Swim Race
  • Winner of the 2014 In Search of Memphré marathon swim - 26 miles
  • Nationally top 16 ranked swimmer since age 8
  • First Junior National time at age 13 (100 back stroke)
  • First Senior National time (trial) cut at age 15 in 100 Butterfly and 200 IM
  • Full scholarship for a SWC Division 1 team University of Houston
  • Ranked top two in EVERY open water swimming race since 2008 in distances ranging from 1 mile to over 12 miles including:
    • Tour of the Buoys
    • La Jolla Rough Water
    • La Jolla 10 Mile Relay (as Solo)
    • Encinitas Sports Festival(Moonlight Beach)
    • San Clemente Ocean Festival
    • Surf Monkey
    • Oceanside Labor Day Pier Swim
    • Alcatraz Challenge
    • Alcatraz Touch-and-Go
    • Open Water Distance Challenge (”12.6”)
    • Del Mar Powerhouse Paddle and Swim
    • Maui Channel Swim
    • Amakua Race
  • On 26 January 2019, she finished 2nd in the 15 km Cold Half in 4 hours 31 minutes 21 seconds in Hong Kong.

2012 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year Nomination

She was nominated for the 2012 World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year award. Her World Open Water Swimming Association nomination reads,

Graceful, powerful, relentless is how Grace van der Byl is seen as she demonstrated her world-class speed from coast to coast while setting 8 different records in America throughout 2012. She was one of two individuals to finish all 7 stage swims of the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, the longest competitive open water swim in the world where she set a record in each stage of the 193 km 8-day race. She followed up her victory in the Hudson River with several stints as an observer for other channel swimmers, and ended her summer season with a record crossing the Catalina Channel in 7 hours 27 minutes. A swimmer since the age of 2, her love of the sport has endured endless hours of tough love and tough training in both the pool and ocean. For her speed that never seems to falter, for her willingness to readily volunteer for other channel swimmers, for her passionate love of the sport that never wavers despite cold and currents, Grace van der Byl is a worthy nominee for the 2012 WOWSA Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year.

Hall of Fame: Distance Swim Challenge

Distance Swim Challenge (12.6 miles, Santa Monica, California, U.S.A.)

First Female Non-wetsuit Swim: Grace Van der Byl (USA), 16 October 2010, 5:58:00

Swimming Career

2009: Received a FINA Masters World Top 10 ranking in the 200 SCM butterfly

2010: USMS Nationals in Atlanta, Georgia - Won 5 gold medals and broke 2 records that have stood for nearly 20 years.

2010: USMS All American

2011: USMS All American

2011: Broke another age group record that has been standing for nearly 20 years

2012: *World Record: 1st person to complete all 7 stages of the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim

Competed in 2010 Alcatraz Challenge in 55 degree water under very rough conditions and placed first overall woman (both wet- and non-wetsuits) as well as second overall (both male and female combined). Footage from the Tri-Cal website shows her jumping in the water off the ferry (around the 1:30 mark in the video) as well as a race winner's interview.

Summer 2011

  • Observed several Catalina Channel crossings
  • Swam “Are We There Yet?” Catalina Channel Relay
  • Maui Channel Relay: First mixed relay
  • Aumakua 2.4 mile (Maui): First overall woman and 3rd combined (very close margin)
  • Alcatraz Touch-and-Go: First overall non-wetsuit and set the course record for men and women non-wetsuit
  • Second overall female Oceanside "Tiki" Swim

Summer 2012

California Coastal Swim - 2013

She participated in the California Coastal Swim or the Nighttrain228, the Night Train Swimmers's world record setting non-stop ocean relay swim. The Night Train Swimmers completed a 228-mile (367 km) swim down the California coast from Gaviota State Park to San Diego Yacht Club between 22-26 August 2013. Under the direction of captain Vito Bialla with crew Hal McCormick and Patrick Horn, Phil Cutti, David Holscher, Zach Jirkovsky, Luane Rowe, Blair Cannon, and Grace van der Byl, with Walter Bean Scott as the alternate swimmer, will rotate in one-hour swim legs.


Summer 2014


She is a member of the Night Train 300 (or NT300) is an attempt by the Night Train Swimmers to swim 300 miles (482.2 km) non-stop as a six-person open water swimming relay in San Francisco Bay. The charity event that will begin on 6 September 2015 is a fundraiser for Arthur Renowitzky walk again after being paralyzed by a gun shot wound to his spine, they will attempt to set the distance record for a 6-person open water swimming relay.

Adhering to standard English Channel relay rules, NT300 will swim continuously in 1-hour individual rotations for an estimated 5 days in an attempt to break the existing distance record [currently held a team from India, called The Sea Hawks that swam for 269 miles (433 km) over 6 days off the Konkan Coast in western India). They will swim in San Francisco Bay as far south as the Giants Stadium and as far north as Benicia with the goal is raise US$50,000 to be able to help make Arthur Renowitzky walk again by outfitting him with a exoskeleton REWALK suit.

Members included Grace van der Byl, Dave Holscher, Kimberley Chambers, Adam Eilath, Ashley Horne, and Vito Bialla.


Hobie Kayaks

Tonic Haircare

Bull Taco

Energy Lab Training




Launch 5

Pilot / Kayaker: Neil van der Byl

Fastest Catalina Channel Crossings in History

1. 7 hours 15 minutes by Penny Lee Dean, USA, MC in September 1976
2. 7 hours 27 minutes by Grace van der Byl, USA, CM in October 2012
3. 7 hours 37 minutes by Pete Huisveld, USA, MC in August 1992
4. 7 hours 41 minutes by John York, USA, MC in September 1978 (first leg of a 2-way)
5. 7 hours 43 minutes by Karen Burton, USA, CM in October 1994
6. 8 hours 5 minutes by Todd Robinson, USA, CM in August 2009
7. 8 hours 7 minutes 3 by Hank Wise, USA, CM in October 2010
8. 8 hours 7 minutes 37 seconds by Hank Wise, USA, MC in June 2015
9. 8 hours 14 minutes by Chad Hundeby, USA, CM in September 1993
10. 8 hours 20 minutes by Gemma Jensen, Australia, CM in August 2006
11. 8 hours 27 minutes by Jim McConica, USA, CM in October 1983
12. 8 hours 28 minutes by Rendy Lynn Opdycke, USA, CM in August 2008
13. 8 hours 31 minutes by John York, USA, MC in October 1977
14. 8 hours 32 minutes by John York, USA, CM in October 2000

MSF Calendar

She was featured in the month of June in the 2015 MSF Calendar.

January: Anthony McCarley, English Channel. Photo by Roger Taylor.
February: Santa Barbara Channel. Photo by Theo Schmeeckle.
March: Ted Erikson at Promontory Point, Chicago. Photo by Louise LeBourgeois.
April: Sarah Thomas at The Arc, USA. Photo by Ken Classen.
May: Underway at Lake Willoughby, USA. Photo by Phil White.
June: Grace van der Byl at MIMS 2014, USA. Photo by John Humenik.
July: Navigation, Lake Pend Oreille, USA. Photo by Andrew Malinak.
August: Suva off Cap Gris Nez, English Channel. Photo by Zoe Sadler.
September: Applegate Lake 10K Start, USA. Photo by Peter Ray.
October: Bethany Bosch & Guri at Lake Willoughby. Photo by Phil White.
November: Round Christiansborg, Denmark. Photo by Samuel Tyson.
December: Nightswimming, Ireland. Photo by Donal Buckley.


Van der Byl was named a 2014 MSF Global Marathon Swimming Award finalist in the Streeter Award for Service to Marathon Swimming category together with her husband Neil van der Byl.

World's 50 Most Adventurous Open Water Women

She was named to the list of World's 50 Most Adventurous Open Water Women by the World Open Water Swimming Association in 2015.

Distance Relay Record Attempt

Grace van der Byl set the distance relay record of over 300 miles (482 km) in San Francisco Bay over a 5 day period in June 2015 together with Dave Holscher, Kim Chambers, Adam Eilath, Vito Bialla, and Ashley Horne in the Night Train Swimmer's NT300 Relay.

External links

Published Media / Videos