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Walking on Water

Walking on water is a new extreme sport that has its roots way back in Roman times, where it was a show trick in some countries around the eastern Mediterranean. Spectators watched in awe as a very few runners could demonstrate this skill.

Inspiring Lizard

Scientific minds are keen to point out that this sport merely mimics the abilities of certain lizards. Basiliscus is a genus of large corytophanid lizards, commonly known as basilisks, which are endemic to southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.

The basilisk sometimes runs as a biped. Basilisks have the unique ability to "run" on water and, because of this, they have been dubbed as "The Jesus Christ Lizard" in reference to the biblical passage of Matthew 14:22-34.

On water, the basilisk can run at a velocity of 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) per second for approximately 4.5 meters (15 feet) before sinking on all fours and swimming. Flaps between their toes help support the basilisk, creating a larger surface and pockets of air, giving them the lift needed to run across water. They can also sustain themselves on all fours while "water-walking" to increase the distance travelled above the surface by about 1.3 meters (4.3 feet).

New Competitive Sport

Today running on water has become a competitive sport with the aim to run across the water as far as possible. Competitions are colourful events with teams dressed in their unique uniforms or running kit.

For the event the water should be calm and flat to avoid tripping over a wave. Pools, ponds, lakes, or canals are best. The most advanced runners can even run in the surf and jump over small waves. Care has to be taken as the water surface is slippery. Often runners lose their balance and fall in.

This new sport is very popular in Asia. You can often see runners in training on the beach or local pools. It is not easy to even run a few meters, but they keep at it until they get it right. Some even manage to cross the width of the pool or a small canal and stay dry.

In America and Europe this sport hasn't caught on as much, mainly due to the colder weather when training outdoors, or pool operators being awkward about wearing clothes in their swimming pool.

Competition Rules

Competitions are usually run in a pool as this allows for a more predictable environment. Sometimes you see events held on calm open water.


10 meters or longer, where possible. Runners should aim to cover the whole distance without slipping, sinking, or falling into the water. If none reach the finish line, the one who ran the longest distance wins that race.

Runners must be dressed in long pants and long sleeve tops.

Several clothing categories can be set up:

  1. Lightweight: Full-body Spandex/Lycra clothes.
  2. Medium: Rain suits or Nylon overalls.
  3. Heavy: Hooded jogging suits or jeans wear.
  4. Mixed Layers: A combination of any of the above.

Dry Runs

Every runner must start each race in dry clothes. This allows the judges to see if they where running on top of the water, or slightly sinking in, which is bad form and can lead to penalty points. Runners that cross the finish line in completely soaked clothes have obviously slipped or taken a swim for other reasons.

Wet Runs

As above but runners start in wet clothes. This makes it a lot harder due the weight of the wet clothes. Just before the start of the race, helpers pour buckets of water over the runners to make sure their clothes are dripping wet. This makes for a fairer race.


After understanding the theory of how to get enough lift by moving your feet fast enough, the long training may take months if not years.

Beginner Level

Start running along the edge of sandy beaches where the water is only a few centimetres deep. Avoid splashing up to much water so you stay dry for longer and have an easier run.

Advanced Level

Alternatively, you may want to cause as much spary as possible to get a feel for the water's resistance and lift. Raise your tows up a little to glide better on the water. As your feet hit the water a big flume of spray flies up and soaks your clothes. Wet clothes make your training harder.

walking on water in clothes

World Championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The annual world championships are held in mid April in Chiang Mai, Thailand, during the Songkran Festival. The moat around the old town provides a calm surface and plenty of space. Most events take place at Katam Corner and Sri Phum Corner where locals and visitors test their skills. There is always a friendly competition between Burmese and Thai runners. Most get soaking wet and all have a lot of wet fun.

walking on water championships
walking on water championships Frequently competitors slip and fall into the water.

Reader Story: Walking on Water Course

by Robyn, a freelance contributor

Last summer my friends and I went to a training camp for water walking. It had a reputation for being a bit tougher than most, but good fun with a positive leadership team.

Once we had settled into our rooms and unpacked the large amount of clothing we were asked to bring, we were called to the pool hall for an initial introduction. We were told to wear our heavy swim kit, T-shirt and shorts under hooded jogging suits.


Tom, the instructor said: "Unless you are totally gifted and can run the length of the pool without slipping or falling in, you are going to fall in often and get your clothes soaking wet, again and again. So we'll teach you swimming in clothes first for your safety."

Then he took a poll: "Hands up if you can swim in clothes with confidence." Only 2 of 16 attendees raised their hands.

He then checked to see who had been in the water with clothes on at some time. Less than half and none of my friends. Occasionally I wear a swim shirt with shorts when I go swimming. Last year I wore jeans at a pool party. That was fun.

Swim in T-shirt and Shorts

Tom then continued: "From now on swimming in clothes will be part of your regular training. It gets you fit and makes you agile. We'll start now."

He told us to take off the jogging suits and get into the pool wearing only T-shirt and shorts. My shorts reached down to my knees. My T-shirt was one of those long and tall designs with mock turtle collar, looking good. I like baggy tees that go down almost to my knees.

We started swimming a few lengths. My T-shirt was a bit heavier in the water than my usual swim shirt, but is felt soft and floated around me. My friends enjoyed swimming in tees a lot, a new experience for them.

Second Swim in Jogging Suits

We were called out of the pool and asked to put on the jogging suits to keep warm. It felt a bit odd to wear the dry jogging suit over my wet swim clothes. I got a bit distracted as I saw my wet clothes slowly soaking my jogging suit. The others too had damp spots all over. Nevermind, we kept warm during the briefing and it felt just fine. These suits were going to get wet anyway.

We sat down on poolside to learn that swimming in jogging suits will slow us down a lot. Front crawl won't be much faster than breaststroke. It also will force us to use the correct swimming strokes or we would go nowhere.

Our jogging suit hoods would fill with water and slow us down, so we were asked to put them up to avoid that. Mine fitted nice and cosy once I pulled the draw strings. It looked funny to see the whole group dressed in hooded suits ready for another swim.

After the briefing we waded into the pool from the shallow end. It was an interesting experience to feel the water coming up to my knees, my waist and finally cover my shoulders. We were asked to swim a few lengths, even underwater. The wet hood made some funny gurgling noises. Swimming in a jogging suit feels really good, but is hard work. We splashed around a bit until we were told to get ready for dinner and the pool party that night.

Pool Party

After the swim training we had a little rest and then got ready for dinner and the pool party. I dressed in baggy jeans made of very thin denim, and a red cotton roll-neck pullover, looking good.

In the pool hall we've found a healthy buffet, full of vegetarian delights. The music was great, not too loud, just some laid back smooth jazz.

We got talking about swimming and running. It was interesting to find out the different water sports people enjoy. Many were into beach running, canoeing, windsurfing and such. Learning to walk on water would be a useful skill.

It didn't take long into the party when I heard a big splash behind me, then two more. As I turned around there were three guests in the pool wearing jogging suits. Big laughter all around. After they came out they grabbed three other guests and pushed them into the pool.

The party had begun. It looked like this is going to get wet. Moments later I was thrown into the pool. It felt really good. The thin jeans and pullover were much easier to swim in than a jogging suit. The pool party was huge fun.

Water Running Lessons

The next morning we enjoyed a swim before breakfast. Some wore just speedos or shorts, some added a t-shirt, other were fully clothed in jeans and hoodies. It was a colourful session.

An hour after breakfast we met in the pool for water running practice. We sat on poolside and learned about the basics, like the physics and the right techniques.

First Runs

We we're told to change into our full-body Lycra swimsuits and have a go. I submerged after my second step, but I began to understand how it worked. After an hour or so we all could run a few steps before falling in. We all put on anoraks to make it more challenging.

Next we were told to change into jeans and t-shirts for a short break with snacks and more theory. We learned more about balance and speed.

Dry Runs

Then we went back onto, or into, the water. The instructor asked us to try keep our t-shirts dry. Most of us didn't. We slipped and fell into the pool. Joey and Tom managed to run a width of the pool, still in dry clothes. Great stuff.

The others tried and extended their runs, but didn't yet make it across. The instructor said that running in wet clothes is harder, so we should change into dry kit for each run. A wide variety of clothes were made available by the team.

For the next run I put on lightweight cargo pants and a buttoned adventure shirt. To my surprise I made it across the pool in dry clothes, twice. Yeah!

The third time I had to jump over another runner who had fallen into the pool and I got soaked. Time to change into dry clothes again, this time long tracksuit pants and a long sleeve sports jersey. Exciting fun.

At the end of the session we all jumped back into the pool to practice more swimming in clothes. I tried on several outfits, including ponchos, which was huge fun.

Lunch Break

During the lunch break we hung up the clothes to dry in the pool heat, enjoyed a vegetarian buffet, and then were told to snuggle up on the mattresses for a midday nap. Most of us had changed into dry clothes, some were still in wet kit, which made for an interesting mix.

After the break we were told to change into dry jogging suits for more water running practice. Joey and Tom raced the full length of the pool and came out dry. Amazing.

I submerged halfway down, soaking my jogging suit. I was told to change into a dry suit and run again. After soaking four jogging suits, I finally managed to run a full length and stay dry. I was so excited and jumped into the water.

Another Pool Party

For dinner we met at the buffet and talked about water running and swimming skills. Quite a few swimmers said that starting each run in dry clothes was more exciting, because of the thrill of uncertainty when the dry clothes get wet. You don't know if you will complete the run in dry clothes or get dunked. During the pool party we changed into dry kit a few times, just for fun, to enjoy the thrill of getting it all wet again.