Today the ocean was handing out beatings and the parking was free… wow… Port Hueneme was throwing a bit of an aquatic temper tantrum. When I got to the beach I was greeted with news of 52 degree water and 6 foot waves… holy crap! I could tell right from the start today was going to be interesting.
52 is towards the bottom of my range of what I’ll take on without a wetsuit, and seeing as I don’t really travel with one anyways it was completely off the menu anyways. I got into my jammer and walked down to the water to check it out… a little brisk for sure. As I walked a little deeper into the water I could feel the force that the water was rushing in and out with… again, wow. As it got closer to go time it became very apparent I was the only person that had any intention of not wearing a wetsuit in the water today. Heh… oh well… at least everyone will know which guy I am in the event pictures :)
We started with the sprint event which had a 400m swim, there was a pretty decent number of people signed up for this. When they went off to try and get in they were absolutely brutalized by the water. It kept pushing people all the way back to shore. A lot of swimmers eventually just walked away from it. There were a lot of lifeguards working this event and they were earning their money on this one. Everywhere you looked there was a guard grabbing somebody or tossing them a rescue can to help them get reset and try again. They were talking people through how to get out there, when to duck dive and stuff like that. High five to those guys for doing such a good job, without the life guards we would have had some major problems! The original plan was to start the other races 10 minutes after this first one, it got pushed back 5 more minutes because no one had made it back to the beach yet from a 400m swim! I got a video of the first minute of the sprint race… the height of the waves doesn’t translate well to video from where I was shooting, but watch how the ocean just shuts down everyone’s progress!
When my race finally came up I was ready to go get this started, but I was worried about a friend that I train with who had driven down to try it. We’ve never ever had a swim in Avila on a day that had this kind of turbulence in the water and after watching the 400m I was worried she’d get beat up the same way. So the plan was I’d stick with her until we got past the breakers. We went though each wave together and I think we did ok. Once the breaking waves mellowed out (there were still big swells going in all directions further out) a lifeguard zeroed in on us and asked if we were cool. I let her know I was fine, I was just trying to make sure my friend made it to the buoy. She took over watching my friend and I took off on my swim. I needed to get moving a little faster to warm up my insides a bit. My friend made a whole lap of the course and I’m super proud of her. That was without a doubt the roughest water she’s ever seen in her life and she worked her way through it! Good stuff!
Once I got like 200m past the buoy I started to find a decent rhythm and the cold had faded away for the most part. Because of the way I started the race I was pretty much by myself at this point and I couldn’t see any swimmers in front of me because they were hidden in the peaks and valleys in the water. The motion in the ocean was really impressive. Hard to say how big the swells were, but they never stopped. They pushing back towards the start of the race and you had to fight your way through one pretty much every stroke. After a while I started to pass people but I still couldn’t see the huge orange buoy. Eventually I stop and asked a guard to just point which way I should go since I was never going to see the thing until I rounded it.
Once I made the turn I was faced with the same problem but amplified with glare from the sun. Since I was swimming blind again I just aimed back and hoped for the best. About 3/4 of the way there I got a helpful it’s-over-there point from a guard on a paddleboard and made my way to the buoy. Since the Iron Swim was 2 laps I had to do this whole thing all over again, but the catch was I had to do the WHOLE thing all over again. Like swim up to the beach and stand on dryland and then swim back in. Yikes. On the way in I caught up to a girl on my team and we came in together and both took a minute on the beach to just stare at the water and make sure we really wanted round 2… a fair number of people passed on swimming lap number 2… we both looked at each other and decided it was go time. Quick little high five and we were off. We were together for a little while working through the waves but once I could actually swim I pulled away and was back to swimming by myself again.
At this point I was concerned about the possible effects of the temperature but I didn’t seem to be exhibiting anything beyond being a little chilly. No shivering, a few almost cramps that never came to fruition, and I seemed to be on mentally. I was kind of like goofy happy in the middle there though. I think it was more being happy to be in the ocean and to have most of the way pulled off this swim without a wetsuit, not cold water was shutting down my brain.
On the last leg of my swim I got an escort from a lifeguard on a paddleboard. This made my life way easier, no more trying to sight on things I was in no danger of actually seeing. He stayed like 3 or 4 meters to my right and just kind of glided along fast enough to stay in front of me. I picked up my stroke rate a bit and put my head down. As much fun as I was having I was ready to be done. At the last buoy before I had to turn in and swim through the waves back to the beach I stopped and thanked my guide and then got back to business.
I was hoping to maybe catch one of these big waves on the way in and bodysurf it most of the way to the beach but it wasn’t really in the cards. I got a piece of one but it didn’t take me too far. After fighting my way through the waves a bit I finally hit sand and walked on out of the ocean. My coach and a few of my teammates were right there yelling for me which was nice. I was very pleased to have just dominated the one man non-existent non-wetsuit category :) When I jogged through the chute my time was around 1:17 minus the 15 minutes for the 400m swimmers which put me pretty close to an hour. Based on the time and the water conditions I think the course was only 2 miles… or I had an absolute banner day… either is possible I guess.
As one would expect the water totally flattened out about half an hour after all the racing was done. There were still some healthy surfable waves out there but most of that craziness out past the breakers died down. We did awards on the beach and they gave away a bunch of prizes and stuff.
Although sending that many people into the ocean today was probably borderline ill advised it was really good for me. My big swim this year is the 12.6 mile Distance Swim Challenge and it involves a lot of these ins and outs in areas that can have pretty healthy surf. I’m glad I got some experience with it in the middle of a race today since I can’t really simulate it with the occasional 3 foot wave on my beach!