Man braves crocodiles, hippos to set world record in 54-day swim across lake

The South African broke two world records in the process.

PRETORIA, South Africa -- A South African swimmer has splashed his way into history by swimming across Lake Malawi during the tropical cyclone Idai, breaking two world records in the process.

Martin Hobbs became the first person to swim the full length of Lake Malawi, the southernmost lake in the East African Rift system.

Hobbs, 45, also set the world record on Wednesday for longest solo swim in a lake, when he swam for 54 days straight.

Apart from running the risk of chance encounters with crocodiles and hippos on the 361-mile journey from the lake’s northern tip to its southernmost point, the South African swimmer, who is called the "Solo Swimmer" by his teammates, also had to face waves as high as the ceiling when Cylclone Idai hit Southeast Africa.

“The heavy rains and winds definitely took its toll on me,” Hobbs told ABC News. “While we weren’t directly hit by the cyclone, the large swells and currents made it extremely difficult at times. There were a couple of days when a sensible person probably wouldn’t have been out there.”

Hobbs – who is well-known in South African as a marathon runner and former SA Masters Trials off-road biker – turned to swimming after fracturing a disc in his back five years ago. Swimming was the only endurance sport left to him, and it gave him the motivation to embark on a new adventure.

“Fighting against the currents and swells made the entire endeavour that much longer and more draining," he said. "If the weather was milder, I’m sure I would have been able to complete the swim in 45 days, instead of the 54 days it took me. It also made it mentally that much harder."

Lake Malawi spans the entire coast of the eastern African nation, and is known for being home to deadly crocodiles, hippos and mosquitoes.

"I'm not a crocodile expert, but I took comfort from the thought that if I was a crocodile, I probably wouldn’t be out hunting in the rough swells," said Hobbs. "We only saw crocs one morning, about three of them, but we were probably lucky that the water was so rough."

Hobbs, who swam an average of seven miles a day, said he was able to reach his goal by focusing on one hour at a time. Thinking about his next meal or chocolate bar helped him push through the pain as well.

"The mind is a powerful thing," Hobbs said. "I would say any challenge uses about 80 percent mindpower and 20 percent physical effort."

The adventurer used his epic swim as a way to raise money for the Smile Foundation, a South African charity that helps children with cleft palates and other facial deformities – and with two world records under his belt, he now plans to give a series of motivational speeches and possibly write a book as a way to raise more money for Smile.

So far, the Solo Swimmer team has raised $10,000. Hobbs hopes to reach half a million South African rand, about $35,000.