Meet The

Big Blue Team

Biography

Mihalis Koumbouzis

Founder

Michael (Mihalis) was born and bred in Athens and grew up in many places including Thessaloniki in North Greece and Famagusta in Cyprus, where his love for the sea was instilled in him from an early age. In these early years summertime in Famagusta centred around sea swimming often alongside his older brother who went on to swim for Cyprus. During one long summer a competition ensued amongst friends to see who could swim the most in the clear turquoise Mediterranean, young Mihalis was the victor, counting 231 times he actually dipped in the water.

Always combining the artistic with the athletic, Michael started playing ‘professional’ volleyball with the Greek team Panathinaikos during his high school years. This continued in the UK (where he was a Fine Art student) playing for Leeds Volleyball Club where he was involved both with national and international tournaments. He went on to being awarded the prestigious “player of the year” in Division 1 of the National Volleyball League in England.

During his compulsory military service in Greece he wasn’t far from the sea, and served in the Navy also being part of the Naval Volleyball team and taking part in various tournaments with other international players. During his two years military service he learnt to read sea maps and gained a wider understanding of the Greek seas.

Michael has previously been Director of his own company and as a co-founder of The Big Blue and qualified captain of the boat, he brings extensive knowledge and experience of his homeland Greece and its islands, be it the eptanisa on the Ionian Sea or the Cyclades and Dodecanese on the Aegean. He plays a vital role in safely navigating the swim routes and his organisational abilities are second to none, so is his collection of speedos.

Mihalis Koumbouzis Gallery

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Biography

Lisa Stansbie

Founder

For the past thirteen years Lisa and Michael have travelled all over Greece and the Greek islands. While on these trips Lisa decided that swimming in the beautiful Greek seas was an essential part of the Greek experience and set about learning to improve her stroke. As an (over) enthusiastic adult swimmer Lisa quickly developed her technique and joined the Leeds Masters Swimming Club. After falling in love with the sport Lisa started swimming competitively with both Leeds Masters and the Derby based Etwall Eagles Masters team. She holds regional and national medals in freestyle and breaststroke and regularly competes all over the U.K.

Her other love is art. Obtaining a PhD in 2010 in the Philosophy of Art she has a passion for both the ancient and the contemporary. She has exhibited at numerous galleries internationally and her recent work is inspired by open water and channel swimming.

A convert to open water swimming in 2008 she started swimming 3.8k races and found it rather enjoyable!. As a member of the British Long Distance Swimming Association Lisa swam the length of Derwentwater in 2011 to win the BLDSA 2 mile event, she has also won medals in her age group at both the ASA Midland Open Water Championships and ASA National Open Water Championships and has taken part in a numerous open water races in rivers, lakes and the sea. She has been part of the biennial 2swim4life national event held at Guildford Lido, swimming 17 miles. She was organiser and team member of the 2012 Etwall Eagles English Channel Relay Team, swimming the channel in 11 hours and 45 minutes. In recent years she has started competing in triathlon and plans to undertake an Ironman distance in the near future.

Lisa has swum The Big Blue swim routes on numerous occasions and in different weather conditions and seasons. She has also undertaken a variety of supported solo swims in Greece; near Athens in the bay of Marathon, Porto Rafti and Vouliagmeni, a number of the Cycladic islands, many seaside places in the Peloponese, in beautiful Monemvasia, Crete, Kythira, Samos, Kefallonia and Zakynthos.

Lisa Stansbie Gallery

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Biography

Chris Malpass

Chris is a real swimmers swimmer - he lives and breathes the sport and is actively involved at every level - as coach, race organiser and competitor.

As a youngster Chris was selected to compete at an international level for both Great Britain and for England. Chris still competes today and in 2014 successfully competed at the World Masters Swim Championships in Canada. Chris achieved top 10 positions in all his pool and open water races, including three top 5 finishes.

An impressive background in coaching (which includes designing and implementing swim fitness programmes for Tri clubs, sports clubs and for individual athletes, as well as occupying various Head Swimming Coach posts) combined with a BSc in Sports Science means that Chris is superbly placed to advise on stroke analysis and correction for all levels of swimmer with the emphasis on enjoyment and remaining injury-free. He is Director of http://ucanswim.co.uk based in Chester, U.K. a coaching service for pool and open water swimmers of every ability.

Chris also spends much of his time open water swimming and has held several records and titles within the UK, including the arduous Champion of Champions race held in Dover, which he has won on two occasions.

QUOTE

“When I swim I think about my stroke all of the time - there’s always something to improve on and I know that there is no single technique to fit all sizes or all conditions”.

Chris Malpass Gallery

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Biography

JAX HIGGINSON

As far back as being a baby Jax has always loved being in the water. As a youngster backstroke was her favourite stroke and she competed regionally. Never really the fastest but certainly one of the happiest in the water! Nowadays she considers herself a wild swimmer and rarely swims in a pool. Living right on the North east coast (with a beautiful sea-view) she swims nearly every day in the summer in the cool North sea! She does most of her swimming alone and is motivated mainly by the solitude and freedom that it provides her with.

When away from her ‘patch’ she is constantly in search of water and is always the first in and the last one out. Although there is not a competitive bone in her body she has taken part in several organised events recently including the River Dart 10k in Devon, U.K and the Brownsea Island swim, U.K. She has been a qualified beach lifeguard since her early twenties and has worked as an adventure holiday swim guide in both Croatia and Greece.

In summer 2012 she completed a 10 mile length of Windermere with a few friends (and much laughter!) She also organises the North East Skinny Dip, which takes place at sunrise on Druridge Bay on the Autumn Equinox. The event celebrates nature and life and is becoming very popular. In 2014 over 300 dippers joined her for a dip in the nude! Every year the dip attracts international media attention and has also featured on Robson Green’s ‘More Tales From Northumberland’ in February.

Check out the episode here…..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8kYaQJubS0 NESD 2015 promises to be bigger and better still!

Having done long shifts as a paramedic for twelve years, Jax has finally chosen time over money and, now part-time, enjoys filling her time with the things she loves. Gardening, knitting, hooping, yoga, acrobatics, ukulele, singing and general self-discovery!

QUOTE

“Just keep swimming Just keep swimming Just keep swimming swimming swimming What do we do we swim, swim, swim OH HO HO How I love to swim When you WAAAAAANNTTT to swim you want to swim - (Dory, Finding Nemo)”

JAX HIGGINSON Gallery

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Biography

EVE FELLOWS

Eve Fellows has been a water baby since she was a child. Swimming with Leyland Barracudas from the age of 5 until 12 and competing in open meets she soon progressed to The Wigan Scheme of Excellence where she trained until she was 16 years old. Her first open water race was at the age of 14 and it was here where Eve really shone in the freedom of the open water and at the age of 15 she went on to win the British Long Distance Swimming Association Coniston 5 mile Junior race.

Her biggest open water achievements to date include an English Channel relay in 2010 in a time of 11 hours 31 minutes, and completing the arduous one way 10 mile Lake Windermere swim aged 17. Eve was awarded The Grand Prix Open Water Champion from 2008 - 2010 from The British Long Distance Swimming Association.

She is also a qualified assistant swim teacher and lifeguard. Outside of the water Eve is studying Psychology at The University of Leeds and is part of the University of Leeds Swim Team. Greece has a special place in Eve’s heart, she has swum extensively in Greece prior to working with The Big Blue, along coastal routes in The Peloponese.

QUOTE

“The Big Blue really is the experience of a lifetime. The Ionian is a perfect place for open water swimming and this role allows me to pass on my own experience and knowledge in a beautiful setting.”

EVE FELLOWS Gallery

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Biography

KATE ROBARTS

A last minute decision to have a go at the Great North Swim in 2008 was the start of Kate's passion for open water swimming. Since that time she has swum numerous lake, sea and river events nationally including the River Dart 10k three times, Brownsea Island twice, three English Channel relays, the 26K Zurich Marathon Swim as part of a 3 woman relay, 17 miles outdoors as part of the 2011 2Swim4Life event (and 12 miles as part of a two-person relay at the same event in 2013).

In 2013 Kate completed a 21 mile two-way Lake Windermere swim and in August 2014 she successfully swam the English Channel as a solo, landing at Pointe du Riden, south of Cap Gris Nez, after 13 hours 20 minutes. 2016 saw Kate swim the prestigious 26km Lake Zurich Marathon swim.

Kate also enjoys holidays in the water and was privileged to be a swimming guinea pig on the pilot trip for The Big Blue, where she fell in love with the clear blue Ionian sea. She is at her happiest being by, on or in water. A twenty-five year career as a teacher, in both secondary and primary schools, means that she is well equipped to pass on her knowledge. Kate is a qualified ASA Club Coach, teaching and coaching at Basingstoke Bluefins from 2001 until her move to Cornwall in 2010, where she currently coaches for St Austell Sharks.

Kate lives 2 minute walk from Fistral Beach in Newquay, Cornwall with her patient husband, Steve. With their children now grown up, when not swimming with one of the local open water groups, or taking new converts out in the sea, she loves walking, boating, travelling abroad and going on road trips in Ron, their beloved VW campervan.

QUOTE

“Swimming with friends and enjoying the experience is just as important as stretching your limits”

KATE ROBARTS Gallery

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Biography

NOA MARKOU

Noa is our Crete Operations Manager and Head Guide in Sfakia, Crete. Hailing from Greek/French parentage he has also worked and traveled extensively all over the world. We also think he is possibly a Merman! (Male mermaid).

He started his watery life with swimming, and that has always remained his core discipline. Then from his teen years onwards his physical relationship with water expanded with sailing, windsurfing, free diving, scuba diving, kite surfing, stand up paddling, surfing, body surfing, monofin swimming and quite a few other derivatives! Today he has purified his way of interacting with the water and let go of his “floating toys” to focus on swimming, free diving and body surfing. He can frequently be spotted swimming various solo routes off the shores of Crete and exploring and free diving in the many underwater caves the Island of Crete has to offer.

Noa has also managed several water sports centres, as well as had a stint as a sailing skipper. Additionally he has been a lifeguard and lifeguard instructor in Greece for nine years (2004-2012) over the summer seasons.

As a lifeguard instructor he was in charge of the complete training of a potential lifeguard, from the very beginning until the final diploma exams. He has also supervised a group of lifeguards and held a beach position of my own. This is a man truly at one with the ocean.

ETHOS

” we protect what we love, so I have sought to educate myself in matters of the ocean and its ecosystem. I have gained an understanding of the ocean and as such this has resulted in life choices based on environmental conservation. Having spent many years researching and interacting with cetaceans, they have taught me to understand the spiritual aspects of the ocean. This in turn brought me to study numerous healing arts related to water. Water completely envelops whoever immerses in it and as such, penetrates every part of one’s existence, as it has done with mine. To the ocean I belong, flowing to her song…”

NOA MARKOU Gallery

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Biography

MIA RUSSELL

Convinced she could swim before she could walk, Mia has been swimming competitively since the age of five and has an inordinate love of the water, whether pool, lake or the sea. Still a national Masters swimmer, she regularly competes in the pool and at various open water events, and is happiest when in the water!

Mia worked as an adventure holiday swim guide for five years, living and working all over the Mediterranean and Americas, from Croatia to the Caribbean, and swimming in some of the world’s most beautiful places. Greece, however, has a special place in Mia’s heart where she has swum around the myriad islands of the Small Cyclades and Dodecanese Islands, and returns to visit every year.

Mia has been coaching swimming for over 25 years to all ages and levels and has a passion for sharing her love of swimming with others. She is currently the head swim coach at a private school in Cape Town and is a freelance journalist when she is not swimming or coaching.

ETHOS

“Life is better when you are swimming.”

MIA RUSSELL Gallery

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