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Free Solo (confidential)

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Revision as of 19:35, 7 December 2022 by Admin (talk | contribs)
Drone coverage of Steven Munatones finishing at Point Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on 7 September 2022
Steven Munatones approaching the finish at Point Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on 7 September 2022
Steven Munatones in May 2016 after having heart attack while under the Arctic Sun protocol in Hoag Hospital
The sea level perspective of Steven Munatones on 7 September 2022 in the middle of the Catalina Channel
Catalina Island with Arrow Point on the far left of this aerial photo
Intended course across the Catalina Channel from Santa Catalina Island to the Southern California mainland. The stylized map was created by Zach Margolis
Steven Munatones Strava data on swimming across the Catalina Channel
Steven Munatones' Garmin Fēnix 6 Pro data on swimming across the Catalina Channel
Steven Munatones' Garmin Fēnix 6 Pro data on swimming across the Catalina Channel
Steven Munatones after jumping in at start from Arrow Point on Catalina Island, pulling a tow float and a fanny pack with gear
Steven Munatones a few minutes after the start from Arrow Point on Catalina Island, pulling a tow float and a fanny pack with gear
iPhone geolocation of Steven Munatones in mid-channel of the Catalina Channel
Steven Munatones just after finishing the Catalina Channel crossing with wife Rieko Munatones and KAATSU Global colleague CJ Wilson
Steven Munatones after finishing the Catalina Channel crossing hiked more than 30 minutes with wife Rieko Munatones and twin daughters Sydney Munatones and Sofia Munatones up from Point Vicente to their parking spot up on the Palos Verdes Peninsula
The inspiration of Alex Honnold led to the question, “What is the equivalent of Alex Honnold’s free solo of El Capitan for swimmers?
Captain Charlie Loust and Coach Chris Morgan aboard the Mas Pesos
Steven Munatones training in the pool in Long Beach, California
Drone coverage of the final few meters of crossing the Catalina Channel up on the rocky shoreline of Point Vicente on 7 September 2022
Steven Munatones training with KAATSU Aqua bands

The Free Solo in the Pacific Ocean was a free solo channel crossing by Steven Munatones on 7 September 2022.


Drone coverage of Steven Munatones swimming against the prevailing currents as he approached the Palos Verdes Peninsula

Drone coverage of Steven Munatones swimming into the Palos Verdes Peninsula, crawling over thick kelp beds

Steven Munatones talking about his heart attack at Harvard University

Steven Munatones after getting out of a winter swimming training session in Corona del Mar, California

Steven Munatones winning the 66 km SCAR Swim Challenge in Arizona in April 2022

Steven Munatones training by completing two unprecedented Palos Verdes Peninsula Swims in Southern California in June and August 2022

The Inspiration

  • In June 2017, Munatones drove his twin daughters to Yosemite for a school field trip.  He heard that Alex Honnold, a legend in the rock climbing world and the protagonist of the Academy Award winning film Free Solo, completed a rope-free climb up Yosemite's El Capitan in California. 
  • His feat stunned the world. Munatones thought, “What is the equivalent of Alex Honnold’s free solo of El Capitan for swimmers?
  • His answer: a free solo swim across the Catalina Channel. Honnold provided the inspiration, and years of planning began.




Swimming Data

  • Total number of arm strokes: 14,057
  • Maximum stroke per minute pace: 88 spm
  • Average overall pace: 1 minute 21 seconds per 100 yards (including stoppage time like feeding and navigating)
  • Average swimming pace: 1 minute 16 seconds per 100 yards (average swimming speed was 2.7 kilometers per hour)
  • Average heart rate: 139 beats per minute
  • Maximum heart rate: 160 beats per minute
  • Calories burned: 8,211
  • Estimated sweat loss: 7,817 ml


Background & Preparation

  • The last marathon swim that Steven Munatones attempted and completed was in October 1994, 28 years ago, in Okinawa, Japan when he swam around 29 kilometers around Yonaguni Island, the southernmost island of Okinawa in 7 hours 8 minutes (televised on NHK-TV in Japan). Since the 1990's, he has swum 3-4 times per week for approximately 45 minutes to stay in moderate physical conditioning. There was no dryland training, no weight training, jogging, cycling, stretching, or other physical activity between 1994 and 2016.
  • In May 2016, Munatones experienced a heart attack in full cardiac arrest (i.e., ventricular fibrillation arrest, atypical thrombus (clot), and a myocardial infarction) in the left anterior descending (LAD) artery). His 17-year-old son Skyler Munatones saved the widowmaker survivor from certain death by doing hands-only CPR before being transported to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, California where a stent was placed in the LAD. He subsequently underwent the Arctic Sun protocol before coming out of an induced coma.
  • ​Starting in June 2016, he began doing KAATSU Cycle sets 3-6 times per week (average of 25 minutes in a sedentary position).
  • On 1 November 2022, he added more serious and longer swimming workouts to his training regimen and began doing daily Progressive KAATSU Cycle sets on the KAATSU C3 model.
  • He gradually built up his strength, stamina, and speed in the pool from 1,500 meters to 14,400 meters in 3 hours 12 minutes (at his peak single-session distance) and 23 kilometers in 5 hours 7 minutes in the ocean at Huntington Beach, California (at his peak single-session distance). Ocean swims were primarily held in Huntington Beach and Cabrillo Beach with an occasional swim in La Jolla, Corona del Mar, and Newport Beach.
  • All workouts were purposefully performed in a dehydrated state (i.e., no hydration and no feeding during the swims).
  • All ocean swimming workouts per preceded by a 30-60 minute casual walk.
  • All workouts were followed by Progressive KAATSU Cycle sets on the KAATSU C3 model.
  • In addition to the pool and ocean swim workouts, he prepared by completing 3 marathon swims:

The Risks

  • Channel swimming is an extraordinarily risky extreme sport.  Sharkswhales, jellyfish, currents, ocean swells, winds, distance, tides, cold water (causing hypothermia, and an increasing number of dangerous deep-sea fish that are finding their way to the surface waters present significant obstacles.  Additionally, there are dozens of large cargo ships currently emitting pollution in the Catalina Channel.  
  • Distance: Age has only taken a toll on his stamina and strength, but his physiological training was sufficient to enable success.
  • Fear: He views fear as unquestionably the highest risk factor. Fear can lead to panic which is the most serious condition to avoid in the open ocean. The greater threat is being badly stung multiple times by large blooms of jellyfish, just before experiencing a shark encounter in the cold water. 
  • Cold water: He views hypothermia as the second highest risk factor and acclimated his body for a year.
  • Fog: Unexpected fog can create a very effective white-out situation where a swimmer has no idea where to swim.  However, a GPS unit and a magnetic compass were his tools.
  • Sharks: The threat of being attacked is significantly low enough to present minimal concern.  However, the degree of panic while in the vicinity of visible sharks many miles offshore without help will be undoubtedly significant.  It is the natural panic that sets in when sharks approach that is greatest concern.  The emotional impact is profound and mentally preparation was vital.
  • Jellyfish: Getting stung by jellyfish was assumed, although the pain is temporary and was managed. 
  • Flotsam: Flotsam and jetsam can create obstacles in the channel. 
  • Orcas: Orcas have been recently seen in the Catalina Channel. Orcas attack Great White Sharks. Enough said.
  • Lancetfish: In addition to anglerfish sightings, lancetfish have recently become more frequently sighted in the channel. A hit by a lancetfish or cookie cutter shark should result in serious harm and a medical emergency.
  • Aneurysm: Due to heart medication that he takes daily, there is a possibility of a cerebral aneurysm that could haemorrhage. While this is of significant concern and can happen at any time (e.g., while asleep or driving on the freeway), it is assumed that the aneurysm will not occur during the hours of his swim.
  • Cargo ships: There are currently dozens of cargo ships in the channel.


Captain Charlie Loust and Coach Chris Morgan were aboard the Mas Pesos that escorted Munatones to Arrow Point. They provided hourly checks.

The Pre-Swim

  • Prior to Start: Morgan and Munatones met Captain Charlie Loust on 6 September 2022 in Newport Beach to go over the game-day details and make final decisions. The weather and conditions were forecast to be acceptable on 7 September so Morgan and Munatones went to Two Harbors on Santa Catalina Island via the 2:55 pm Catalina Express Ferry and checked into a single queen bedroom in the Banning House.
  • The Night Before: Morgan and Munatones had a dinner at 5:30 pm at Two Harbors and hiked back up to the Banning House to rest and sleep. Morgan was exhausted and feel asleep very soundly, snoring loudly. Munatones was unable to sleep and simply stared up at the ceiling until they arose at 4:50 am.
  • The Morning of 7 September: Captain Charlie awoke at 2 am and drove Mas Pesos from Newport Harbor to Two Harbors in about an hour, powering up to 47 knots on a smooth evening. Captain Charlie, Morgan, and Munatones met at the Two Harbors dock in the darkness at 5:30 am and boated over to Arrow Point. They confirmed that the intended first primary landing point on the Southern California mainland was near the Point Vicente Lighthouse, given the prevailing conditions. A secondary landing option was judged to be near the Terranea Resort (just slightly south of Point Vicente).

The Start

  • The planned start was 6:00 am at Arrow Point, but the visibility was not sufficient for a safe start so Munatones waited on the boat Mas Pesos. He appeared nervous, but was confident that he was physically and mentally prepared and safe, visible conditions would hold. It was very important - essential - that Munatones has visible contact with Catalina Island and the Palos Verdes Peninsula throughout the swim. By swimming between two visible points, even while swimming at sea level, safety was enhanced.
  • He jumped off Mas Pesos at 6:20 am and swam approximately 4 minutes to the shoreline to start.
  • He reached the rocky shoreline, raised his arm, yelled "start!", and started to swim. Morgan started his stopwatch and he was off as the sun continued to rise.

The Swim

  • The water was pleasantly and unseasonably warm at 73°F (or 22.7°C) so water temperature would not be an obstacle, although there was a possibility of an upwelling of cold water approximately 3-5 kilometers from the finish off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
  • Within 10 minutes, Munatones started to feel numerous jellyfish stings. The stings were small and not life-threatening, but they were certainly irritating and shook his self-confidence. Over the next 2 hours, the stings became more consistent and he felt stings on his face, nose, hands, forearms, and shoulders. This worried him as the cumulative effects of jellyfish venom possibly over the next 6-10 hours was a major unknown; he did not know how his 60-year-old body and immune system of a heart attack survivor would bear the impact of these jellyfish stings.
  • However, after 2 hours, the jellyfish fortunately either went away or were deeper in the ocean, except for a few jellyfish that appeared at the very end of the crossing.

The Conditions

  • Munatones continued to swim in the clear and flat water in the beginning. He knew these tranquil conditions would change as the morning hours woreon. A sunfish, flying fish, and a pod of dolphins were seen, but the crossing was uneventful until he heard the screw (propeller) of a large tanker ship crossing his path (or rather, as he was crossing its path). It was a very unpleasant sound. He stopped, looked up, and waited to assess the situation. Fortunately, the tanker (of at least 100 meters) was at a sufficiently safe distance away from him.


Swim Course

  • His course took him slightly north of the shortest possible straight-line tangent between Arrow Point of Catalina Island and the Point Vicente Lighthouse, but that is because Munatones expected a southward push with the wind and currents. But the winds were at a slightly different angle that he anticipated. He also encountered a (very) slack tide in the mid-channel area.
  • The water (that was 3,000 feet below him in the channel) was still (i.e., not moving) below him, but the surface turbulence was running perpendicular to his intended (best and shortest) course. This was unexpected. In hindsight, he should have slightly modified his course. But that is the challenge and adventure of channel swimming.
  • These conditions and decisions eventually caused him to swim nearly 5 kilometers (slightly over 3 miles) more than the straight-line course. But with the visibility of the Palos Verdes Peninsula shoreline always in sight, he never wavered in his confidence to be able to finish.
  • As expected, he started to slow around the 5-hour mark (especially without sufficient sleep the night before), but there was never a concern that the crossing would not be completed as intended. Completion was simply a matter of time.
  • While the contours of the Palos Verdes Peninsula were well known to him, he could not clearly see the Point Vicente Lighthouse until he was about 3 hours away from shore (about 8 km or 5 miles from shore). Once the tall lighthouse was sighted, he picked up his pace a bit and hoped for an 8-hour swim. But he continued to swim perpendicularly against the surface turbulence and these conditions were not ideal or optimal for a fast crossing, especially since it was now early afternoon. Winds picked up and he settled down to a more comfortable pace and carried on.

The Finish

  • As he approached the shore, Munatones encountered a lot of kelp beds that he had to swim over while encountering a few different kinds of jellyfish, but he had experienced similar conditions in his previous two Palos Verdes Peninsula Swims in June and July.
  • As he got within 400-500 meters to shore, he noticed a drone above the water's surface. The drone was unexpected, but he was quite relieved to see it. Within 100 meters of shore, he noticed two individuals on shore. The people turned out to be his wife Rieko Munatones and his KAATSU Global colleague CJ Wilson.
  • The last 25 meters were difficult and the last 10 meters were particularly difficult, due to the surf and rocky coastline. For good reason, Catalina Channel swimmers do not finish at this point, but a much more safe landing area near Terranea Resort.
  • He had swum under the lighthouse where there were only rocks and surf. He had to time swimming into shore through the rocks with the waves. He ended up cutting his leg and toes, but nothing serious more serious than lacerations. However, one false move and he could have been bashed headlong into the rocks. That was a major concern. Fortunately, he timed it right and was able to hustle his way up on the rocks and safely onto the Southern California mainland.
  • ​The swim was over once he cleared the water's edge while he stood on shore.

Returning Home

  • But Rieko Munatones, CJ Wilson,and Munatones were still far from finished. They walked for 25-30 minutes along the rocky coastline, hiking slowly and carefully while barefooted. Eventually, Munatones' twin daughters Sydney Munatones and Sofia Munatones worked with his mother Mary Munatones to bring him his father's shoes.
  • Walking along the rocky shoreline and eventually up the cliffs with shoes was much easier. The walk along and up the cliffs probably took at least 30 minutes and possibly more.
  • Meanwhile, Captain Charlie and Morgan had encountered engine problems and a total system shutdown on the boat Mas Pesos, but they cleverly improvised and eventually made their way back to port in Newport Beach.
  • Once Munatones made his way up the cliffs, he was able to dry off and get in a car to drive home. His mouth and throat were slightly swollen due to being in salt water for nearly 9 hours so he stopped at McDonald's and ate a soft cream vanilla cone and a chocolate milkshake.

The Recovery

  • Once home, Munatones started to do KAATSU Cycle sets as his primary form of recovery.
  • The next day, he drove 5 hours to Las Vegas with CJ Wilson to attend and present a talk at the major international swimming conference in the United States. On 8 September, Munatones was able to have meetings and make the 90-minute presentation without problems. There was no lingering soreness or muscle fatigue.

Steven Munatones bio

  • Munatones (born 28 July 1962, age 60) is a native of downtown Los Angeles, California and currently serves as the CEO of KAATSU Global, a technology that he used on himself to help him recover from a massive heart attack and train for this crossing
  • He is founder of the World Open Water Swimming Association with several honors from the International Swimming Hall of Fame, the Ice Swimming Hall of Fame, USA Swimming, and the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.
  • He received the 1984 John B. Imrie Award at Harvard, given to "an individual whose interests are not bounded by academic or institutional structures. A joyous, deeply-rooted affirmation of life, disdain for the purely conventional; a love of adventure, and desire to learn by experiencing; the ability to respond creatively to difficult situations: these are the qualities which John Imrie exemplified through his actions, and which we feel represent a style of life that will forever be worthy of recognition.” 

Equipment & Provisions

External links