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February 16, 2011

Lewis Pugh: “The Cape of Good Hope is just so graceful”

lewis pugh

Lewis Pugh at the North Pole in 2007

Cape Town is home to many inspiring South Africans and we took the opportunity to talk to environmentalist, swimmer and public speaker Lewis Pugh on February 15, during Responsible Tourism Week

Many will recognise him as the human polar bear that featured in the 1997 Investec Asset Management television commercial. Aptly, this commercial ended with the line, “Because ordinary doesn’t change the world”: Lewis is still undertaking extraordinary feats to create awareness around climate change, like his most-recent 1km swim across a glacial lake on Mount Everest. 

We spoke to Lewis about what inspires him, and what drives him, and his love of the Mother City.

What inspired you to take to the water in some of the most remote (and coldest) parts of the world?

Initially, it was adventure. I went around the world and swam in places that nobody had dared swim. But on my journey I started to notice changes to the oceans. So now I swim in the most vulnerable ecosystems to draw global attention to their plight.

Is it true that your first swim was from Robben Island to Bloubergstrand?

Yes, I was 17 years old. I grew up in the United Kingdom but moved to South Africa when I was 10. I had my first proper swimming lesson when I turned 17; one month later I swam from Robben Island to Bloubergstrand and absolutely loved it.

What do you love about living in Cape Town?

The close proximity to the mountains and the sea. I walk in Table Mountain National Park almost every day with my dogs, and quite often feel like I’m the only person there. And then there are no pebble beaches – only Cape Town’s golden sand

Your most recent expedition was a 1km swim across a glacial lake on Mount Everest. What is the most beautiful place that you’ve ever been to for a swim?

Aye, Mount Everest is spectacular. But in terms of the most beautiful, it would be a toss-up between the North Cape, which is the most northern point in Europe, and the Cape of Good Hope because it is just so graceful. 

What would your advice be to Capetonians on how to make a difference in preserving our natural environment?

We must take our children to national parks; how can we expect the next generation to care about the environment when they know so little about it? Table Mountain National Park, West Coast National Park, Bontebok National Park and the Karoo National Park are all within easy driving distance of Cape Town and an ideal school holiday experience. 



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