A while back I found out about a group of open water swimmers in Monterey via Facebook that are basically just like me and my friends down in Avila Beach but with way more kelp. They swim every Sunday and some weekday evenings during the summer when the days are longer. Ever since I figured out that they existed I’ve been looking for an opportunity to drop in and swim with them. I used to live right there in Monterey and any excuse I can make to go back I do, and when that excuse involves ocean swimming well that’s even better :)
I got down to Lovers Point a little early and wandered around a bit. When I was in the Army we used to run from the base all the way to the point and back for PT on a semi regular basis. The fog was still in full effect and it wasn’t too warm outside. I climbed down the stairs to get my feet wet and assess the whole water temperature situation. It was cold but not unbearable. The general consensus later in the day was about 56. Back in the parking lot I got changed into my suit and overheard some guys talking about swimming and figured that this is who I was looking for. I went over and introduced myself and they gave me the run down on the group and where they normally swim. Today we were aiming for a yellow wave buoy out in the fog somewhere. As it got closer to go time more swimmers started to show up. We ended up with 9 which is pretty strong for such a cold water swim!
Around 11:30 we walked down to the beach together to get our swim started. Since I had a camera with me we got a quick group shot… you may notice I didn’t quite dress appropriately for the occasion as I am prone to doing :) One other guy was also wetsuit-less but his swimsuit still had chest coverage which I learned later was an incredibly smart idea!
It took me a minute to get all the way wet (I think I was the last person to start actually swimming) and within those first couple meters I had to dodge some scuba divers. We swam out a little crooked to take advantage of a channel in the kelp bed. You still had to swim through and over a fair amount of it but there was enough open space out there that you could actually swim. The visibility was really good out there and you could see way down the kelp stalks. We regrouped at the edge of the kelp bed. At this point I was warming up a bit and still couldn’t see the buoy we were swimming for.
I let everyone else get moving first and then sighted off of other people’s swim caps to figure out where we were going. I had my head up quite a bit at first but after a little bit I got on line with another swimmer and could relax a little and put my head down a little more. This led to a little bit of a surprise… THOUSANDS OF JELLYFISH!!! I’ve seen one here or there before, but this was completely amazing. They were everywhere, all pointed in the same direction with their tentacles unfurled behind them. Luckily they were about 5 or 6 feet below the surface. I was admittedly a little (ok possibly a lot) freaked out by this. I mean now that I’m totally surrounded what happens if there’s an upwelling that pushed them to the surface where my bare arms and chest are all ready to be stung repeatedly and mercilessly? Much to my relief none of that ever happened, but I was definitely on high alert from there on out!
When I finally got to the buoy we regrouped again and I really didn’t want to go vertical and tread water. I tried to keep my feet up as much as possible to avoid a foot full of tentacles. As local tradition dictated it was required that I kiss the buoy seeing as this was my first trip out to it. Why not right?
While we waited for the rest of the group that was swimming this far out to all get there pretty much everyone went sea otter style… floating leaned back with feet up on top of the water. With my feet safely above the solid column of jellyfish-ular doom below I got to soak in the view. I’ll go ahead and say the view at Lovers Point is even better from the water.
Eventually we swam back over the top of the jellies and again I sighted off of the other swimmers since I didn’t really know the lines I should be taking since it was my first time out there and there was so much kelp to account for. As we neared the edge of the kelp bed the jellyfish thinned out and I was much happier. Normally swimming through kelp creeps me out a little but after all that I welcomed the feel of it. We stopped one more time in the middle of the kelp and then swam it in. On the way back I saw a comb jelly cruise by which was pretty cool. There were some seals out playing as well and one otter hiding in the kelp.
Back on land everyone hung out a little bit and talked about swim and tri stuff… and cookies :) One of the guys came with whole bunch of them… I think we need to add that as a regular feature for our Avila swims :)
I’m really stoked I got to go out and swim with these guys. Everyone was really nice and it was a ton of fun, even if I was scared out of my mind for like a quarter of it! A big thank you to the Kelp Krawlers for letting me come out and swim! Hopefully I see a few of them in Avila one of these days so I can return the favor. If you’re in the Monterey Bay area and you’re looking for people to swim with check them out on Facebook over here.