A new swuggling (swimming while juggling) world record has been set at the 2016 Sea Of Galilee Swim, an annual open-water swimming event in northern Israel.

Shahar Cohen, a 46-year-old juggling entrepreneur, upped the ante for this popular race when he opted to swim the 3.5 kilometers while doing backstroke and juggling three balls.

“I saw someone swuggling while doing a triathalon and I decided that I wanted to do it,” Cohen tells ISRAEL21c.

It was American juggler Joe Salter whom Cohen had seen in a video. Salter is credited with inventing swuggling as a viable juggling exercise in 2010 and introducing it to the global juggling community. In 2012, he became the first person to complete a triathlon while juggling throughout the race. The swuggling part of that triathlon included a 0.4-km (quarter-mile) swim while juggling three balls.

Since then, swuggling fans have taken to social media to post their three-ball, four-ball and five-ball swimming-juggling feats.

Cohen runs Speevers — an innovative company in Yakum, in central Israel — which develops newfangled circus equipment for shops and distributors around the world.

Shahar Cohen juggles with Speevers Xballs – special juggling balls made for joggling (running + juggling), swuggling (swimming + juggling), and buggling (cycling + juggling). Photo courtesy
Shahar Cohen juggles with Speevers Xballs – special juggling balls made for joggling (running + juggling), swuggling (swimming + juggling), and buggling (cycling + juggling). Photo courtesy

Five months ago, he slipped a disc and found himself unable to get out of bed. He self-prescribed pool exercises to strengthen his back. It didn’t take long for pool exercises to be transformed into swuggling.

But swimming in a pool, or even swimming and juggling in a pool, is not the same as doing it in open water. The first time he tried swuggling in the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret in Hebrew), Cohen says it “wasn’t easy, I kept losing the juggling balls and I think I swallowed half the Kinneret.”

But as in any kind of juggling, when the balls fall, you pick them up and don’t give up.

Swuggling is therapeutic

Cohen saw an advertisement about a month ago for the annual Sea of Galilee Swim on September 17. That motivated him to speed things along and get himself in proper shape.

The Sea of Galilee Swim, now in its 63rd year, attracts over 10,000 participants. There are two competitive crossings of 1.5 km and 5 km across the body of water; and two crossing courses for fun of 1.5 km and 3.5 km.

Cohen was the only swimmer to complete the 3.5-km fun course on his back while juggling. He did it in just over three hours, although he actually swam more than 3.5 km as he zigzagged for much of the way.

Now that the race is over, Cohen wants everyone to know about swuggling’s advantages. After all, people already know the benefits of juggling (sharpens focus and concentration) and swimming (tones muscles and builds strength).

“Swuggling has a very deep therapeutic function,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “From above, you only see the juggling but the juggling is the jelly on top. The real work is how you balance yourself on the water in order to successfully swim the distance. You really need to learn how to float and balance yourself.”

Cohen says that in the month and a half leading up to the Sea of Galilee Swim, he did a lot of work on swuggling.

“I discovered a formula and developed a set of exercises that anyone can apply. The results are enormous. It is not necessarily the ability to juggle on the water but the important result is healing, reviving your spine,” says Cohen, noting that the water forces the swimmer to assume different poses in order to float properly.

Cohen is also a fan of joggling (juggling while running) and has competed in marathons in Israel and around the world while performing this sport.

Shahar Cohen joggling in the 2014 Tel Aviv Marathon. Photo via Facebook
Shahar Cohen joggling in the 2014 Tel Aviv Marathon. Photo via Facebook

He is adamant that swuggling is much more than a gimmick and says that he hopes to create videos of the pool exercises he devised to help stay afloat while juggling.

Finding the time to record them won’t be easy. He splits his time between China and Israel, constantly creating pioneering juggling products – replete with LED lights and the unique Israeli-designed modular system that lets performance artists create light patterns and download them into their props.

Video by Danny Shechtman