Photo: Michael Motamedi

In Dubai, an Inside Look at Setting the World Record For the Longest Handcuffed and Shackled Swim

Dubai Outdoor
by Nickolaus Hines Feb 29, 2024

The long list of Guinness World Records holds a special place in the imagination of people around the world. As a kid in the 2000s, I can’t put a number on the hours I spent laying on the floor with the hardback of each year’s edition. My fascination more revolved around all of the things that people could hold an official record for more than wanting to get my name printed on those pages. Most were things that I never could have dreamed up, much less done myself, and every time I closed the book I came away with some new tidbit on the limits of what humans can do.

The height of the physical book has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean the interest in holding a Guinness World Record has faded into history. And that goes for both the obvious (fastest sprinter, longest fingernails, etc.) to the records that make you do a double take. The latter comes into play for things that seem outside of the bounds of human possibility, records that seem dreamed up by a fiction writer, or both.

Recently, on Dubai Islands Beach, Shehab Allam went for the Guinness World Record for the farthest swim wearing handcuffs and leg irons. Michael Motamedi and Vanessa Salas documented it all in the second episode of the new Matador podcast, No Fixed Address: The World’s Most Extraordinary People.

Allam is no stranger to records. He was the world champion monofin swimmer in the six kilometer distance in 2008, which involves both legs being tied together so the athletes are forced to swim like a mermaid. He was the first person to swim the Dubai water canal. He also holds the record for the farthest swim wearing handcuffs (11.649 kilometers in six hours). Over the next 10 years, he aims to break one record per year.

In Dubai, a city where world records are continuously set, Allam had leg shackled clamped on and metal cuffs attached to his hands with a five-centimeter long chain between them. Describing the scene, Motamedi and Salas note that Allam looks like a dolphin and likes to call himself Merman — Mandolf, to make it a portmanteau. The record to beat (yes, this is something multiple people attempt) stood at 10 kilometers.

So why world record chasing? When Allam’s mother congratulated him on being Egyptian champion and world champion, he told her there were bigger goals: being in the history books.

“I remember when I got my first place world champion, I went to search my name on Google,” Allam says on the podcast. “I found nothing. Not my name, not my picture, nothing about me. So I said, well, my mission is not going in the right direction.”

Getting ready for the feat of swimming while bound up is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. Allam describes getting in the right headspace as “writing my movie” on the podcast, and in that metaphor his mother, family, and friends are the direct audience.

“It’s very important to know about the end of the story,” Allam says. “You need to have a vision of this. If you don’t know, if you don’t have a vision about where you’re going, you are going to keep trying a lot of stuff because you have no direction and then you’re going to waste a lot of time.”

To hear his story and takeaways on life, inspiration, family, and being a world record holder, listen to the No Fixed Address Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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