2015 Charlotte Harbor Freedom Swim: Cool 4th of July ‘happening’

2009 Freedom Swim in Punta Gorda, (Photo courtesy Sun Herald)

2009 Freedom Swim in Punta Gorda, (Photo courtesy Sun Herald)

By Bonnie Gross,, Special to, June 29, 2015 – PUNTA GORDA — It started small and spontaneous. Twenty four years ago, Punta Gorda attorney Michael Haymans and some friends decided to celebrate the Fourth of July by swimming the 1.5 mile distance across the Peace River. They weren’t athletes in training; they had heard stories about how in the 1940s, swimming across the river was a rite of passage for teens.

They had a good time, they told their friends, and those friends told a few more friends.

Today Haymans is planning the 2015 Charlotte Harbor Freedom Swim, and preparing for 500 or 600 participants, which was the number last year.

Still, Haymans resists commercializing the event. He doesn’t charge participants, require advance registration or give prizes.

It’s a happening, not a race; some don’t even swim.  There are stand up paddleboards, inflatable rafts, inner tubes, even folks on plastic noodles. Kayaks join the procession with dogs on board. Those who swim (last year about 300)  make it across the river in 30 minutes.

Punta Gorda’s spokesperson has described it as a “bobblefest.”

There are no rules except using common sense and courtesy. (Swim with a buddy!)  Many swimmers go for red, white and blue attire. For a few years, some swimmers took “freedom” to another level: They swam au natural and ran their swim suits up the mast of their sailboat. (Word has it that sailboat owner isn’t around any longer.)

Here, however, is the skinny for 2015: