Flipped Out

Meredith Phillips meets a Frenchman who wants to swim home.
Wed December 31, 1969 6:00 am

On Halloween morning at Barton Springs Pool in Austin, Ben Lecomte could have passed for an extraterrestrial manatee, or maybe even a mermaid convalescing with a respirator. But he wasn’t costumed in observance of the holiday. He breathes through the neon green tube and wears a single enormous fin on his feet about six times a week.

As a warm-up, Ben splashes, crashes, and generally disrupts the water before settling into a strong mechanical crawl aided by a pair of long, black fins that have been repaired, or at least reinforced, with duct tape. His stroke becomes quiet in its rhythm; he’d be difficult to locate if it weren’t for the snorkel radiating up through the dark of the pool. At times, he stops at the wall to squirt water or a liquid charged with electrolytes into his mouth, or to change into his special footgear, a fiberglass monofin that spans a distance of about three feet to the front and sides of his own feet, both of which tuck inside this giant yellow flipper.

Benoit Lecomte’s plans are far more serious than his outfit suggests. This thirty-year-old native Frenchman left his home near Paris five years ago to move to San Antonio and now lives in Austin, where he is training for the challenge of his lifetime: a trans-Atlantic swim from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Brest, France.

Swimming to France? The prospects of sharks, hypothermia, and exhaustion don’t even seem to faze Ben, who’s been training for this for a long time. “I’ve done different types of sports all my life from a very early age, and I’ve had the idea of crossing the Atlantic for about eight years now. I like the adventure of it.” Adventure aside, he wasn’t moved to complete the Cross-Atlantic Swimming Challenge until recently.

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