[This page was first published on May 2, 2020, and was significantly updated on June 16, 2023.]
For Diana Nyad’s 2013 Cuba-Florida swim, an endeavor estimated to take sixty hours or more, Nyad initially chose Steven Munatones as the sole observer. Given Steven’s own history of ethical corner-cutting, Nyad’s choice tells us a lot about her intentions in the Florida Straits.
Lies And Exaggerations About Swims In Japan
For years, Steven Munatones falsely claimed that he had completed the first and fastest Tsugaru Channel double-crossing.
On July 30, 1990, three weeks after David Yudovin became the first person to swim the Tsugaru Strait, Steven Munatones became the second to complete the crossing. “A lot of people had tried it,” Steven told the Honolulu Advertiser, “but no one had succeeded. I wanted to be first.” (This sounds a lot like his future partner in duplicity: “I wanted to be the first . . . when lots of powerful young male and female swimmers have tried this since 1950” — Diana Nyad talking to ESPN about the Cuba crossing.)
Forty-one hours after Steven stepped out of the water at Hokkaido to finish crossing number one, he jumped in again and began stroking back toward Honshu. Until recently, he combined these two swims into the first and fastest Tsugaru Straits double-crossing. He gave his time as 12:50. He gets that by adding the times of both crossings and ignoring the 41-hour rest.
Steven’s ostensible two-way gave him more than just a record. It also gave him a chance to stick it to Yudovin, the trail-blazing swimmer who beat Steven across the Strait. In December 2009, Steven published the first entry to his Tsugaru Channel Swimming Association blog (archived here). For that entry, Steven interviewed himself, the only way to guarantee softball questions and no fact-checking. He doubles down on the two-way lie:
Since David became the first person to swim from Honshu to Hokkaido, I did a double-crossing which turned out to be my longest swim of my life.
. . .
I really had no idea how long my double-crossing would take, so I knew I had to be mentally and physically prepared to swim at least 24 hours, so I put in some serious training sessions.
. . .
I am sure one day someone will try another double-crossing and there may even be the triple-crossing a la Jon Erikson, Philip Rush and Alison Streeter in the English Channel. (2010)
Steven continued to lie about his Tsugaru crossings for years. The Tsugaru section of his original IMSHOF bio entry read, “In 1990, he completed the first double-crossing of the 19.5 (12-mile) Tsugaru Channel.” By 2016, when Openwaterpedia entries functioned as IMSHOF bios, it had changed to “both ways across the Tsugaru Channel.”
A few years later, someone felt the need to elaborate on the turnaround:
The negotiations to allow the return swim took several hours with Steven still in his swimming suit and all on the boat. As the ‘turn-around’ exceeded the traditional 10–20 minutes this is best describes [sic] as a stage swim.
That’s a very diplomatic explanation. Not to mention that you’ll find no discussion of negotiations in contemporaneous accounts. See, for example, this item in the Japan Times and this Swimming World article that Munatones wrote himself. What’s more, he leaves no doubt in other documents that he ostensibly followed “traditional English Channel swimming rules.” See, for example, his compilation, “World Marathon Swimming Records In Asia.”
The current version eliminates the “traditional 10-to-20-minutes” nonsense, replacing it with the less nonsensical but still deceptive “several hours.”
NOTE: Ever since Antonio Abertondo completed the first two-way English Channel swim in 1961, traditional English Channel rules have stipulated that the turnaround can take no longer than 10 minutes. Not 20. Not 2460.
~ ~ ~
In 2011, twenty-one years after Steven’s Tsugaru swims, Jóse Díaz asked him how it felt to still hold the world records for two Tsugaru singles and a double. Steven answered, “The records are not important to me.”
Then why did he spend almost three decades claiming a record he knew wasn’t his?
Evidently, something changed for Steven last summer, perhaps because of an article he posted in August. “Tsugaru Channel Crossings – Channel Aspirant Information” lists Tsugaru Channel rules, one of which states that, for multiple crossings, a swimmer can’t spend more than 10 minutes ashore during turnarounds.
Whatever the motivation, last September Munatones made two major alterations to the Tsugaru Channel Openwaterpedia entry: He deleted one of the two references to his double-crossing; and he removed Miyuki Fujita’s triple-crossing, another record that Munatones constructed from separate swims. A knowledgeable Friend of the Annex suggested that Fujita’s swim may have disappeared because Steven would have had to replace his double records with hers. (Note that, as of 1 July 2023, the Tsugaru Channel entry still listed Steven as having completed the fastest double-crossing in 12 hours and 15 minutes.)
Lake Biwa “Crossing”
At first, he called this swim the “Biwako [Lake Biwa] Marathon.” Later, he began billing it as a crossing:
In 1989, Steven Munatones swam 42 km across Lake Biwa in a television special on NHK-TV in 10 hours 36 minutes. It was the first time Lake Biwa had been crossed by a solo swimmer. (OWP)
As you can see from the map, though, Steven zig-zagged Lake Biwa, eventually covering 42 km in all. That’s a long swim but not technically a crossing. More like a crisscrossing.
For more on this event, see “Marathon of swimming in Lake Biwa 1989”; “…Records In Asia,” where Munatones lists the swim as the first crossing of Lake Biwa; and Steven’s provocative prelude to the swim, “A Night Across Biwako,” in which he writes a fictional account of the swim before it happens.
Update: On May 10, 2020, Munatones posted video clips from the swim. They have since been reposted here. The course map at the end of the video differs from the course map above.
Added False Statements To Diana Nyad’s Openwaterpedia Entry
As of early August 2019, no governing organization had ratified Diana Nyad’s Cuba-Florida swim. That changed (sort of) on August 14, 2019, when Munatones modified Diana Nyad’s Openewaterpedia entry. He added that her Cuba-Florida swim…
…has been long recognized since 2 September 2013 by the World Open Water Swimming Association [WOWSA] that wrote the rules of the attempts and provided the onboard observers.
No evidence exists, other than Nyad’s doctored Openwaterpedia entry, that WOWSA had anything to do with governing Nyad’s swim. Not to mention that Nyad told ESPN a different tale three months after the swim: Munatones suggested to her that she enlist four crew members to also serve as observers. Nyad didn’t like that idea, so she found the two observers herself.
And those written rules? Still AWOL.
Precedents do exist, however, for approving swims years after the fact. Governing organizations like the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and the Channel Swimming Association (for the English Channel) did not exist until decades after many swimmers had already completed crossings. Those organizations had to go back and rule on the validity of swims long after their completion.
But you will find only one example of a group overseeing and approving a swim years after the leader of that group stated that it hadn’t. Two weeks after the crossing, Munatones told the Miami Herald that Diana’s crossing was “off-the-grid, with no organization regulating it.” And so it remains.
Update, 8 April 2022: The second paragraph of Nyad’s Openwaterpedia page under “Fifth Attempt: 2013” contradicts Steven’s contentions —
Her claims are widely contested within the marathon swimming community, and have yet to be independently verified by any swimming organization. (added in 2014)
Created A Fake Organization For Diana Nyad’s Benefit
A year after Nyad’s Cuba-Florida swim, Steven created an Openwaterpedia entry for the Florida Straits Open Water Swimming Association (FOWSA), an organization that would ostensibly oversee Florida Strait crossings. He backdated FOWSA’s inception to 2010, apparently intending to use the pretend organization to bolster Nyad’s legitimacy.
No evidence exists for FOWSA or any FOWSA-like organization before Steven created its Openwaterpedia page in 2014. The initial entry did not mention Nyad. However, when Steven revised the entry in 2018, he added that FOWSA…
…was created in 2010 to propose the rules under which Diana Nyad attempted her crossings of the Florida Straits and to authenticate the rules as written were followed.
Before Nyad’s 2012 attempt, Ned Denison, current chairman of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, wrote to Nyad and suggested forming a real organization to oversee swims in the Florida Strait. Nyad never responded.
Covered For Nyad’s Lapses In Earlier Swims
I spoke with an observer who worked with Steven on one of Nyad’s 2011 swims. They told me that…
…Steven told [Diana] she should do whatever she needed to do to complete the swim and the swim would be ratified or not at the end of the swim based on how it was conducted.
For the 2012 attempt, Nyad brought along just one observer: Steven Munatones. Video from the attempt shows Nyad holding onto the boat, a swim-ending infraction under any marathon swimming rules. Yet Steven did not acknowledge the touching until after the video surfaced. And he never provided his logs or an observer report:
I believe an Observer’s Report is a private document between a swimmer and the organization that governs the swim.
For all we know, there were no logs and no report. We know for certain, though, that there was no governing organization and thus no rules.
An observer has two primary responsibilities—assure the swimmer’s safety and ensure compliance with the regulations. Nyad always brings along plenty of people to keep her safe—doctors, EMTs, and shark divers to name just a few. In the absence of rules, then, she has no reason for observers. They tag along solely for the sake of appearance. Steven Munatones, with his deep resume and ethical shortcomings, has always been an ideal choice.
Allowing And/Or Instigating Vandalism at Openwaterpedia
Beginning in February 2019, a vandal or vandals damaged thousands of Openwaterpedia pages. All of the destruction seems to have had a single goal: make Diana Nyad’s best-of-the-seventies claim appear true. Steven watched it happen and did nothing. He maintained that he didn’t know about the vandalism until afterward. After it ended, he did next-to-nothing to repair the damage. He claimed he didn’t know how; or that, if he tried to fix things, he risked retribution.
His inaction effectively aided the vandal(s). His active avoidance of undoing the culprit’s handiwork leads me to believe that he helped instigate and implement the scheme.
For a detailed explanation of the OWP vandalism, see “How a Hacker Made Diana Nyad the Best Marathon Swimmer of the 1970s” and “A Response to ‘Slosberg The Shrewd Sleuth.’“
In 2009, Steven uploaded an article, “Corrie Dixon-Ebbelaar, Successful Channel Swimmer And Coach,” to The Daily News of Open Water Swimming. The piece included no attribution other than “POSTED BY STEVEN MUNATONES.”
Five years later Carolyn Ellis (née Clark) contacted Steven about the item. Ellis, a former international-caliber marathon swimmer and a member of Dover’s world record-breaking English Channel relay in 1981, had trained under Ebbelaar. “I am sure,” Ellis wrote, that “this article was written by Alexander Nice, am I correct please?”
“I do not know,” Munatones replied. “Please confirm with Mr. Nice and we will credit him with this content.”
Nice, a Belgium-based educational consultant and swimmer who had also trained with Ebbelaar, added a comment in 2018:
I just came across this again recently. Yes, Steve I wrote it (although it has been edited here). We corresponded 28/08/2009 by email when I sent you a word document with the text.
Munatones has yet to credit Nice. In 2017, Steven apparently relied on Nice’s article to create an Openwaterpedia entry for Ebbelaar. That entry still includes a link to the stolen version. (Archived: DNOWS / OWP.)
Nice’s original article, by the way, is an informative and heartfelt testament to a woman who gave so much of herself to marathon swimming: “Corrie Dixon (née Ebbelaar).”
Munatones plagiarized more than just “Corrie Dixon….” A brief search of Openwaterpedia yielded over ten pages in which Steven passes off copied material as original content. Possibly to obscure the source, he sometimes makes minor edits to the original. His main targets are movie reviews and bios:¹
- The Other Shore — OWP / SXSW. Archived: OWP / SXSW.
- On a Clear Day — OWP / Focus Features. Archived: OWP / Focus.
Curiously, he gave the correct attribution when he mentioned the film five years earlier.
- The Swimmer — OWP / Wikipedia (1st paragraph) & IMDB-John Vogel (synopsis).
Archived: OWP / Wikipedia / Vogel.
- Titanic — OWP / Wikipedia. Archived: OWP / Wikipedia.
- Jaws — OWP / Wikipedia. Archived: OWP / Wikipedia.
- Swimfan — OWP / Wikipedia. Archived: OWP / Wikipedia.
- Finding Nemo — OWP / Wikipedia. Archived: OWP / Wikipedia
- Kon-Tiki — OWP / IMDB. Archived: OWP / IMDB.
Bios & Mythical Sea Creatures