The Trans Tahoe Relay: “One of the most Unique Swimming Events in the World”

Photo Courtesy: Instagram, @mayadorito

By Kate Walter, Swimming World Intern. 

Every summer, swimmers from all walks of life flock to Lake Tahoe, Ca., to compete in the Olympic Club Trans Tahoe Relay. Olympians, Masters swimmers and past college teammates alike eagerly await to partake in this annual event. Founded in 1976, the Trans Tahoe Relay has “become one of the largest open water swims in the world, promoting team spirited competition between swimming clubs and other groups and organizations,” according to the event’s website. 

What is the Trans Tahoe Relay?

As explained by retired competitive swimmer and Trans Tahoe competitor Ursula Dailey, “Every year, the Olympic Club of San Francisco hosts this relay, which covers about ten miles across the width of Lake Tahoe, from a beach in Nevada to another beach in California.” Members on each team take turns swimming for 30 minutes, then rotate every 10 minutes until reaching the finish line. While one member of the team is in the water, the others follow along on boat a besides them.

Some teams aim to break division titles and put their open water abilities to the test. Others, however, are simply there to spend some quality time with former or current teammates and enjoy the panoramic views. As Dailey points out, The Trans Tahoe is not only a race but a social event where swimmers and ‘swammers’ from pools and open water alike can hang out and enjoy some down time together.”

Flights depart from the beach starting at 7:30 a.m. and continue throughout the morning based on division. The event website explains the breakdown, “Team Divisions will be determined by sex and the combined ages of the six individual team members.” Relays in the mixed division consist of three female and three male competitors, while relays in the open division include a random assortment of competitors. Colored caps are assigned to all the teams in the same division. The boat serves to direct the swimmers in the right direction of the course. Most competitors finish within the three to six hour time range.

The History and Logistics of the Trans Tahoe Relay

The Trans Tahoe Relay began in 1976 when Olympian Frank Conghlan proposed the idea of a race between the Dolphin Club and Olympic Club of San Francisco across the beautiful, clear waters of Lake Tahoe. This two-team race soon snowballed into a much greater event in the years to come, garnering support from swimmers all over the world. Competitors have braved the unpredictable conditions of Lake Tahoe for the sake of the sport and tradition for over forty years.

Laureen Welting, a race organizer for the last 19 years, says that “planning of this event starts the year before in October once we pick the date. Race permits and all the ambulance standby for start and finish, and ordering awards, T-shirts, etc. is a year long thing.” When describing the draw of the race, Welting says, “You register online, and registration starts Jan. first. We close once we reach 230 teams.”

Trans Tahoe competitor Phyllis Quinn describes the sequence of events leading up to the race. “The Teams check in the night before to get their packets, the team T-shirts, boat numbers and a mandatory safety briefing is held.” She described how Trans Tahoe is a “point to point swim. . . On race morning the check in and start areas have to be set up, then broken down and the stuff hustles to the finish area to set up. Since the (Olympic) club is based in San Francisco everything must be transported up to the lake”.

Each year the Olympic Club donates a portion of the event’s proceeds to charities or foundations. This year, the club donated to Keep Tahoe Blue (League to Save Lake Tahoe), Sand Harbor Beach – the starting point of the race – and Tahoe City PUD, the finishing area of the race.

To read more about the Trans Tahoe Relay History, click HERE.

The Tahoe Experience

Even for those who have some experience with open water swimming, Tahoe presents a combination of several forces of nature that are sure to mess with any swimmer’s head. Dailey described jumping into the “balmy” 50 to 60 degree water as a “bit of a shock.” The cool temperatures of Lake Tahoe combined with the high altitude create unfamiliar conditions for novice open water swimmers.

Quinn says that “the location, the cold water, the altitude, and one of the most special places in the world” combine to make a memorable event for the swimming community. “The water is so crystal clear and blue, it is amazing!”.

Dailey points out that the most difficult part of Trans Tahoe is “swimming in a straight line in choppy water.” Many open water races have bright, inflatable buoys to sight and direct your efforts. But in Lake Tahoe, no such buoys exist. To orient yourself during the race, Dailey said it helps to use natural barriers and landmarks as reference points. Teammates are of the utmost importance during the Trans Tahoe Relay. “It’s easy to feel very alone in such a deep lake – and to almost forget you’re in a race – so having the support really made a difference,” Dailey says.

Quinn describes her Trans Tahoe experience: “Every race is different. . . The start of the race is usually in the mountains. It usually warms up during the day. In the middle of the lake, the water is dark blue with the sun’s rays disappearing into the water. At the end when you can start to see the bottom, it becomes a race to the finish.”

Click HERE to read more about the Trans Tahoe experience.

Trans Tahoe Relay Course Maps


Photo Courtesy: Olympic Club


Photo Courtesy: The Olympic Club

Results from the 2019 Trans Tahoe Relay

This year, the Trans Tahoe Relay took place on July 20. Competing in the open division, The Chamber’s Chosen Team of the Olympic Club arrived on the shore first in 3:30:41. Provo Beach Club came in second place, clocking a 3:50.17. Team Alpha Omega finished just seconds later in third with a 3:50.35, scoring first place in the Men 240+ division.

While the drama of the finish and glory of winning is exciting, most of the teams don’t take themselves too seriously. As seen in their chuckle-worthy team names, the event is more of a celebration and reunion than a pressure-packed race. From the “White Claw Warriors” to “Too Slow for Tokyo,” teams creatively express their fun-loving personalities. They’ve come together to celebrate their common bond through swimming and facing challenges head on. 

Click HERE for a full list of results.

Olympians Brave the Open Water

The competitors of the Trans Tahoe Relay over the years have included big names in the swimming world. Gold medalists, world record-holders and Olympians grace the waters of Tahoe. Missy Franklin and her previous college teammates from Cal Berkeley tackled Tahoe in 2017. Olympians Elizabeth Besiel and Alyssa Anderson participated in this year’s competition as a part of the Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation. Gold medalist Maya Dirado has participated in several Tahoe Relays along with former Stanford and Team USA teammates Felicia Lee and Laura Sogar.

The Trans Tahoe tradition carries on for old college teammates, forcing them out of retirement for one fateful day under the July sun.

Where else can you find such a lively and competitive yet laid back atmosphere? Where else can you find swimmers of all backgrounds in the midst of one of the nation’s most beautiful places? Set apart from any other open water event, the Trans Tahoe relay brings the swimming community together to promote camaraderie, teamwork and sportsmanship.

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. Scot Weiss

    Laureen Welting awesome!

    • Marisa Miller

      Daniel Haverty they don’t allow wetsuits! Brrr! ?

  2. Joseph Moriarty

    The water is very cold – I go there often – but it is a hell of a beautiful place

    • Kate St. Sauveur

      Heather McCorkel I’m thinking matching Jolyn colors, different style suits. Thoughts?

    • Taylor Holmes

      Omg i was just looking at registration details today lol

  3. Jaclyn Kile

    Stacy Skeen Kirkpatrick Jill might be fun!

    • Josien Wijkhuijs

      Christina Wijkhuijs wow ik wist niet dat dat er was super leuk

  4. Dan Hemenway

    What do you think Wally Flick?