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    Posted July 4, 2014 by
    punta gorda, Florida

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    Freedom Swim 2014


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     The annual Freedom Swim in Punta Gorda, Florida, is a Fourth of July celebration out of the ordinary. Hundreds of people gather to swim, kayak and float across the Charlotte Harbor just for fun, and Bob Wilder Jr. was there this year to capture them in action. The swim, which has been held for more than 20 years, is also accompanied by fireworks, food and music.

    Wilder said a group of local boys started the event. "It had been a rite of passage for local teens to swim across the river and these friends decided to make it an annual event. Each year more folks join in," he said. It is estimated over 200 people took part in 2014.
    - taliaday, CNN iReport producer

    In Florida the Fourth of July often includes a trip to the beach. One of the most unusual beach events is Punta Gorda's annual "Freedom Swim". The swim became a tradition over twenty years ago when some locals decided the swim across Charlotte Harbor, already a rite of passage for area teens, would be a great way to celebrate Independence Day.

    The swim is not a race but a community celebration with hundreds making the trek each year (Photo 1). Participants range from competitive swimmers (Photo 2) to kayakers (Photos 3 - 5) to the casual floaters (Photo 6). Some participants even have more than two legs (Photo 7) No matter the skill level the only rules of the day are have fun and stay safe.
    A flotilla of boats, both private and official keep an eye on the swimmers to ensure the safety aspect. As for the fun, that comes via the participants who dress up for the holiday (Photo 8), join friends and bring along liquid refreshment.

    Once the horn blows starting the event, the competitive swimmers churn the waters as kayakers paddle (9) and the others, well, just float along wiuth many exerting just enough effort to keep them moving in the right direction.

    Their destination is a restaurant 1.5 miles across the water (the green building at the top of Photo 10). Competitive swimmers and kayakers take a direct route measuring the journey in minutes. For the casual participants a different route is taken which can be measured in hours, This route is carefully timed by the organizers and follows the bridge until the slacking tide helps push rafts and floaties in the direction of the restaurant. This timing of the tides means a different starting time. For 2014 it was an early 9:00 A.M. start.

    Festivities continue at the ending point with live music, food and beverages.

    Photos and story by Robert Wilder Jr.
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