Meet the Maker - Joni from SNUG BUD

Joni Botha Founder and Director of SNUG BUD

The SNUG BUD® is a wearable body warmer with a hand-warming sleeve and is every cold-water swimmer's dream!  We love wrapping our towel or base layers around it whilst in swimming and then whipping it on after a swim to help our core warm up gradually. 

Here we catch up with Joni Botha, one of the Founders and Director of SNUG BUD® to find out a little bit about his story including the idea behind the SNUG BUD® and his open water swimming journey.

Where did you learn to swim?

Mid-winter, Plumstead, Cape Town.

Joni Botha - Founder of Snug Bud

I was one of four kids, our Dad was lost at sea when we were really young. He grew up on a farm and could not swim a stroke.  We are talking about the sixties here, when remuneration for women’s employment was pretty tragic. As a result my Mum was always looking for the best possible deal.

Mum found a great mid-winter swim lessons deal at a breezy outdoor pool. Getting there involved about 15 miles of travel. 12 by train, from where the snow-capped Hottentots Holland Mountains were clearly visible, the last three on foot were a lamppost to lamppost effort due to both the strong winter wind and my absolute reluctance.

Western Cape stillwater mountains South Africa

At the first lesson I was flung in by the coach, a retired boarding house matron who promptly stood on my fingertips as I desperately tried to scramble back out through the ice. Her heart was cold enough to chill the water a further few degrees.

Every Saturday morning found me wishing for a train derailment or a broken leg, whichever came quickest.

The deal eventually became twenty lengths and out. That’s where I learnt that speed in the water was to be my friend.

 

How did you get into open water swimming?

Spring, late 1970’s, Betty’s Bay.

By the age of nine I was training 3-4 kilometres a day, by twelve 6-7. As a kid I often partook in competitive open water swims in estuaries. One of these was at Kleinmond Estuary, near a village named Betty’s Bay.

Joni Botha Founder of Snug Bud Wearable hot water bottle

The other was the annual 12 kilometre Fish Hoek Beach to Muizenberg Beach swim.  Each swimmer was designated a surf-lifesaver on a knee board as a companion. It was one helluva swim. Instead of hugging the coast we would swim out and then across that section of False Bay.

Parts of the swim were like a bubble-bath there were so many blue-bottles. Had I known then that False Bay has arguably got one of the world’s greatest concentrations of humongous great white sharks I would never have swum.

Go on, stand on my finger-tips and see.

To Cape Townians the sea is a way of life, we swim, surf, body-surf at every opportunity. On weekends and at college we would spend 6 hours out in the ocean without putting a foot on shore.

Also, my entire family love fly-fishing. From the age of 12 my Mum used to drop myself and friends off in mountain passes and return a week later to collect us. I grew up knowing all the Cape streams and dams intimately. When midday became too warm for fly-fishing, we would all strip naked and spend hours drifting the rivers and jumping waterfalls. How we all survived those reckless years I have no idea.

I recollect once sleeping rough beside a river and waking up late at night to see a leopard eating our catch of rainbow trout hanging on a bush no more than 2 metres from where we lay.

I guess life was often safer in the water than out.

 

Most memorable wild swim so far?

Farquhar Atoll

Indian Ocean, Farquhar Atoll, hours and hours from anywhere.  I was on a salt water flyfishing trip to Farquhar Atoll in the Seychelles. We were hosted on a ‘mothership’ from which we travelled by inflatable boat to remote outcrops on the perimeter of the atoll each day. 

Farquhar is truly remote and wild, I doubt if more than 10-15 coconut harvesters live there.  Nothing is afraid of human life, sea birds perch on you, out of curiosity huge sea turtles swim right up to examine you etc.

Anyhow, our group of 4 were fly fishing around a couple of outcrops or storm ridges called Rats and Mice. By midday it was insanely hot and I decided to drop all and swim from Rat to one of the Mice and back. Probably no further than 600 metres each way. The tide was just starting to push in and the feeling of the hot and cold thermoclines mixing on my naked body was awesome.

The reef bottom was covered in large, double leafed brown seaweed...I had no goggles and the combination of saltwater and a dark bottom made it difficult to define much underwater.   About two-thirds the way across the gap gathering storm clouds blocked the sun. I changed from freestyle to breaststroke to get my bearings. The tides on these atolls are wicked and if they are on the move one has to stay sharp.

I had only taken a couple of breaststrokes when a huge shark fin hissed past close by me, no more than 3- 4 metres away, then dipped and disappeared. In a moment there was not even a ripple left in the dark water.

I know a fair bit about things with fins and had an idea that it was a tiger shark.

I stopped swimming, attempting to see where the shark could possibly have gone but because of the dark bottom and flat light I could see absolutely nothing.

My first instinct was to shout out and make the others aware that I had a possible situation on hand. A quick glance back to Rat revealed no-one in sight, they had moved around the Rat to find shade. I felt very alone.

It was now deathly quiet around me, no approaching under-water bulges, no hissing fin tip...nothing. Probably the worst situation to be in.

Truth? I was scared absolutely shitless!

After a moment convincing my tightly-balled gut to let go and allow me to swim, I struck out for the closest Mouse. First a high-headed breaststroke, then a casual crawl....then a pretty quick and non-splashy freestyle. I was naked and the Mouse was no more than a jumble of jagged coral heads, but right then, it felt like the most comfortable place on earth. I scrambled up it like a crab.

The cloud moved, the sun reappeared, and I scanned the crystal clear water surrounding me. Loads of fish and small shark (blacktips and lemons) activity but no ominously large shark. I was aware that the pushing tide had strengthened substantially by now. Fortunately for me this Mouse lies right on the edge of the atoll, the pushing tide was flooding directly back towards Rat.

People often ask me what is the best way to get into cold water swimming, I always answer - don’t dilly-dally, no ‘Umming’ and ‘Ahhing’, just get friggin in.

Right!!!!

I knew I had to get back into the sea and swim back to Rat before the tide became unmanageable or the roughness of the now hectic push hid me from view. Mouse would soon be covered.

I waited for one last penetration of sunlight, had a scan around, and then crabbed back in as silently as possible. I put my head down and swam along with the current, the darting fish, the baby turtles and the everything else vulnerable for Rat.

I served as a volunteer surf-lifesaver for years on a Cape Town beach. I know panic is a killer. Don’t panic.

I didn’t kick, just arms, as silently and powerfully as possible. I concentrated on my stroke, getting the arms and hands in as cleanly as possible and pulling back through for max efficiency. Nice regular deep breaths both sides. Find my comfort rhythm.

With the current the swim took me no more than 10 minutes through some pretty wild water. Those of you who know islands know that when the springtide is pushing it does so with enthusiasm. The current felt like many rivers, the fresh incoming cold pushing between fingers of warmth trying to hold the invasive surge back.

All my senses were on high alert.  As I sit and write this today my body remembers the temperature changes, the tide pulling and pushing about me, the chop slapping my face, the tickle of the many little fish swimming with me, the sting of fire coral sediment in the water.

Finally back in the very shallows I just lay on my back, waiting for that adrenaline-kick sickness to fade.  I swam to be totally alone but as I lay there it hit me...we are all islands, we need to be free but we need people too.

I have always loved water, my place of safety, the womb of the world.

But man, how stupid was I?? Of everyone I know, I should have known better. Swim with a friend or have someone competent watch over you, but never, ever go recreational swimming alone where there is potential danger. It is stupid and selfish.

  

Where did the idea for SNUG BUD® come about?

Mid-winter, candles & wine, relaxed friendly chatter.

Wendy, my gorgeous wife, had a ladies dinner at our home one winters night. She retained my services as flatterer and wine pourer.  As the evening wore on the conversation swung to what women really want.

Each diner had a choice. I blushed, really.

Much to everyone’s amusement, Wendy wished for a wearable hot water bottle. Why? Because every time Wendy wanted to do anything she had to put her hottie down!

First thing the next morning I went onto the internet to find her a wearable, hands-free hot water bottle. I could not find one anywhere in the world, but what I did find was many similar requests on social media.

Hello SNUG BUD®!

Tell us about a typical day in your life.

Eyes open 05 00 – 23 00

I am up before the sun and off to make Wendy and myself a cuppa. We have been married 30 years and I reckon this is one of the reasons why. We enjoy sharing our morning tea and plans together in bed, then I am off for a swim.

The Zoo Lake pool is very close-by. By signing an indemnity I get in before it opens to the general public, as a result it is never crowded early morning. These days a kilometre is a good swim.

Then back home where I make brekkie for Wendy and myself and its healthy stuff, chopped fresh fruit with yoghurt, honey and muesli. Folks around where I live have wonderful gardens that spill over the sidewalks. It is simple to pluck a handful of fresh raspberries for a topping while walking home.

Occasionally it is a big egg-white omelette with feta & avo.
Then to the computer. I work from home as I have for the last 20 years.

So, first up it is corresponding with everything to do with SNUG BUD®. Initially SNUG BUD® was to be my side-hustle, he-he-he...now it appears I am SNUG BUD®s side hustle. This generally takes all morning and as SNUG BUD® gains traction across the world I am dealing with multiple time-zones, some coming, others going.

If I have cleared this by lunch time I go down to our village to meet up with my film producer and long-time friend, Chris Briggs.  A younger mix of Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro if they are given a good shake and a gasp of laughing gas.

For the last 35 years I have worked around the world as a film director making TV commercials for international brands.  I have collaborated with Guinness to launch into West Africa, now their biggest market.  Toyota into China, Chevrolet into the Middle-east blah blah blah...never once did I believe that one day it would be my own brand I would be launching.

We enjoy good coffee together and look through possible scripts.  We prefer to shoot locally if possible, but still work a lot in Africa.  With covid hanging around Europe directing opportunities have not been forthcoming the last couple of years.

Generally the afternoons are filled with editing, music searches, audio sessions and Teams meetings with AD agencies regarding upcoming or ongoing TV commercials.

We have a wonderful rescue dog named Bailey.  She is a pavement special, our best guess is a Pekinese cross spaniel.  She rounds us up around 6pm and walks us in the Westcliffe hills.  We do about 4-5 kilometres each evening. It is more social than strenuous.

Back at home we mostly like to prepare dinner together, we both enjoy cooking. We eat early as we sleep quite early.

Every evening. Wine. Candles. Music. The things we need to take the edge off the city.

We have created an awesome garden, right outside the kitchen we have an ancient wild olive that hovers over a large, rustic family table.  We eat here most nights of the year unless it is properly cold in mid-winter ( believe it, we get temperatures of -5 at home, this last winter was particularly cold).

Dinner is nearly always big healthy salads, lovely veggies and a little protein always followed by dark chocolate.

I am a great believer in chocolate raising the human spirit, I have seen the most dire situations on Russia or Eastern European film shoots turned around by a customary ration of good dark chocolate to all crew members.

After dinner I normally find myself deep underground in our wine cellar.  In the centre of the cellar stands a solid, old table with a fly-tying vice. Let’s make this clear, I am a fly fisherman who enjoys tying flies.

Fly-tying is super focussed stuff, gets the mind off whatever.

Round ten pm I wander upstairs with Bailey where I would find Wendy reading or watching tele. Her favourite?  Mostly animal programmes, Dr Pohl.  Sometimes we watch a Netflix movie, other times we chat until we fall asleep.  By 11pm we are reaching to find each other in our dreams.

What is in your swim kit bag?

Summer:

I have a big mesh swim bag with a drawstring. In it are:

  • My swimming cap
  • A couple of costumes
  • A couple of sets of swim goggles
  • Towel
  • A little kick board
  • A small one-cup flask (black coffee, no sugar)
  • Set of fins
  • Changing mat
  • A chocolate
  • Small basic medical kit with tweezers etc.
  • A laminated card with my details, Wendy’s mobile number, our medical aid details. 

Winter I add:

  • A SNUG BUD®. It’s awesome to return to the comfort of a warm towel.
  • Beanie
  • Buff
  • An extra chocolate
  • Oh, I’m going to buy a tow float, they make a lot of good sense.

 

Where is on your wild swim bucket list?

Zambezi River, Victoria Falls.

On the Zambian side of the Zambezi there is a beautiful natural rock pool right at the very lip of Victoria Falls.  If a trusted friend holds your ankles you can actually get your head over the edge of the falls. But then again, read the last paragraph above.

Victoria Falls

Soča River, Slovenia.

I envisage porpoising down the entire length of this beautiful enchanted river in spring.

From the Julian Alps to the Adriatic, with a group of friends.

 

The SNUG BUD® is a wearable body warmer with a hand-warming sleeve, we can attest that once you have a SNUG BUD® you won't know what you ever did without it!  We love wrapping our towel or base layers around it whilst in swimming and then whipping it on after a swim to help our core warm up gradually. 



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