I’ve wanted to conquer this stretch of ocean for such a long time and I am very happy to report I made the whole swim! I think it’s fair to say that today’s outing was a very legit open water ocean swim… a 10k that turned into 11k in 53 degree water with no wetsuit that ended up running 4 hours because I had to fight the ocean the whole way… there was no free ride today, I earned this one! This isn’t my longest swim ever but it’s definitely in the running for the hardest! It’s also not the coldest Polar Bear swim in the country, but I’m pretty sure it was the only marathon open water swim going on today!

My day started really early, like way earlier than it needed too. I managed to fall asleep at right about midnight with intentions of waking up at 5am. Instead I was up pacing the house by 3:45. On top of just being anxious to go out and swim my body was in pre-heat mode. I was sweating buckets in bed, apparently my body knew what to expect today and turned up the heat! I spent a few hours fidgeting with my bags for today (one for the start in Avila and another for the finish in Pismo), and messing around on Facebook and Twitter hoping to take my mind off of things. Around 6:30am I hopped in the truck and drove to Port San Luis. The sun still wasn’t up but you could see that the ocean was looking reasonably calm so far. I was just stoked it wasn’t raining! I was however pretty worried about what kind of weather was hiding behind the mountains.

Niel, Dave VM, and I pre swim in the Port


I parked at the water’s edge in the port and Niel pulled in right beside me just a moment later, as we were saying good morning I got a text from Captain Mike of the Seaweed Express who was going to be driving the Zodiac to let me know he was there too and getting his boat set up. While Niel was getting his kayak prepped Chris from LiveSwim.net showed up with all his gear to do an experimental livestream and Dave Van Mouwerik wasn’t too far behind him. So far so good. All my guys were on time and accounted for and it wasn’t raining, my confidence was rising. While everyone was getting set we had one more guy join us at the Port, Chip. I’ve only had the chance to swim with him once before and he’s a pretty cool guy.

Seaweed Express boat en route to load up Chris and Niel's Kayak


About 10 minutes to 8 the guys took off in the boat towing the kayak to the Avila Pier and I hopped in Dave’s car so that I could start from the beach… only one problem with that… the car didn’t start! Luckily Chip was still in the parking lot and I’m not one to freak out when little things go wrong. We laughed it off and hopped in Chip’s car to make way to downtown Avila. I was greeted there by my parents and group of my open water swim friends. It was a really cool way to start the whole swim with my friends and family there supporting my adventure… as an added bonus I think that this was the first time my folks have seen me swim in person since I came back to the sport via masters swimming. I stripped down and greased up on the sidewalk and then walked down to the Port side of the Avila pier. Once I saw the zodiac boat in range I gave my mom a hug and then started my walk into the water.

walking in to get things started!


It wasn’t too warm, surprise right? At least the air temp was probably a balmy 47 about then :) I don’t think the air temp ever got much past 52 today. Once I had waded in to my stomach I decided to dive through a wave and just go for it. I swam up the face of a few inbound waves like I would normally have to, but they just kept coming! This was probably the hardest I’ve ever worked just to get to the end of this pier, yikes. I was a little worried that the rest of the day was going to be like this (surprise! it was), but I decided it didn’t matter what the ocean threw at me I wasn’t getting out until I hit Pismo.

swimming to the end of the Avila pier


I met up first with the zodiac and then Niel came up from behind in the kayak. Much like myself, he was getting tossed all over the place. Basically we had 2 things working against us today. One, big swells were coming from the southwest pushing me back towards Avila. Two, winds were blowing from the south east building chop on top of the rollers. Fun right? I got a lot of face fulls of water instead of air while trying to breathe on this swim!

this breath looks like it's going to be more water than air...


leaving Avila Beach for opener ocean


The swim down through Avila and out to Bird Rock seemed to go really quickly for me. Actually getting past Bird Rock was a little unpleasant though. The water was pretty dirty all around it and I had to adjust course to push out even further as I passed it to keep out of the muck. I didn’t want dirt and bird poo in my beard for the next hour!

swimming past Bird Rock... I'll give you one guess as to what that white stuff on it is... ewwww


Not too far past this is where I took my only “solid” feed of some GU. My stomach was a little out of sorts the whole trip and I decided to just stick to liquids the rest of the day. For liquids I was just drinking regular purple Gatorade. I don’t take hot feeds even in cold water, it’s not really for me. Our feeds were a little tricky though because as soon as Niel would stop paddling the swell would push him away from me back towards Avila. Actually getting the bottle from the boat into my hands wasn’t particularly easy to get accomplished, plus I couldn’t egg beater kick too much because I was cramping in my right upper thigh and really didn’t want to make that lock down.

Niel giving me my bottle... we stopped to feed every 25-30 minutes


We spent a long time swimming along Shell Beach crawling over the occasional stalks of kelp and other excitement. Shell Beach in and of itself is a pretty small place, just a thin strip of homes along the coast but it’s long and I was looking at those cliffs for a pretty long time… well I tried to look at them anyways. I mainly breathe right so I was looking out towards Japan most of the time. I would try occasionally breathe to the left or sight forwards and that was largely a bust because the water around me was always too tall to actually see anything over it. The photos really don’t do justice to the textural mess I was in… once I have some video in hand I think that’ll give you guys a better idea of what was going on out there.

those cliffs are a major reason why this swim is tricky... no way out of the water for a few miles


Somewhere in the middle of Shell Beach while stopped for a feed Chris informed me that my coach, Nancy from CVMM, had been watching the livestream and text messaging him! She wanted to let me know she was watching and I was looking good.

Pismo Pier in sight


After a while I started getting a little frustrated that I hadn’t seen the Pismo Pier yet. I knew it was out there but I couldn’t see it through the chop. To add to the fun the rain finally hit us. Not too big a deal to me at this point but the rest of my crew didn’t seem to be too excited about it. It did seem to make the chop lay down at least temporarily though which was nice for me. While stopped for a feed I was finally picked up by a swell enough to see the pier… almost there… awesome. I knew it was that “it looks close but it isn’t” kind of close, but visual confirmation that I had at least entered the right zip code was good enough for me.

Niel paddling with me to the pier while friends and family watch from above!


We turned in a little bit and started to aim for the top of the pier. As we got closer I could actually see where we were going thanks to the Christmas tree decoration at the tip of the pier. The one thing that wasn’t going so well was we were now moving just about parallel to the swell and Niel’s kayak kept getting tossed at me. I tried to keep my distance but the water was really unpredictable and we ended up a lot closer to each other than we probably wanted to be quite a few times.

With maybe 500m left to go before the pier I took one last feed. I needed it because I was started to cramp in my arms and pecs. Unfortunately about 30 seconds after I started to swim again I also started throwing up. I yakked 3 times in a row pretty hard. I’ve never done that on a swim before. I’m blaming the sea water I kept swallowing by accident. I stopped briefly to recompose myself and then went back to swimming. Luckily the desire to throw up didn’t return!

Dave VM's view of us en route to Pismo from the top of the pier


At the tip of the pier my I took leave of my boat escorts because they couldn’t come in any further due to the waves breaking out there. I said a quick thank you to Niel for being such a champ about kayaking in the cold, wind and rain then turned towards the beach. I could hear my friends up top yelling down at me… totally awesome way to finish a swim :) I picked up the pace to about the middle of the pier and then hit water shallow enough to just stand up in. My swim buddy Jason who is also a beach lifeguard was there with his truck waiting for me. He flashed the lights and gave me a little shot of the siren as I crossed onto the sand. I was done. What a ride!



Celebrating with Jason who was doing his best to make sure I was ok after my swim


Jason put the tailgate on the truck down to give me somewhere to sit and tossed me a jacket. A lady on the beach who said she’d been watching me swim since Shell Beach loaned me a towel to dry off a little. As the whole experience was sinking in a whole parade of friends and family came down the beach from the pier to congratulate me and ask me about the swim. I had kind of a hard time getting the words out, my face was pretty frozen. Maybe 5 minutes after getting out I broke into a shiver. I never shiver so this was pretty weird for me, but I figure 4 hours in 53 degree water is kinda supposed to do that to you. I towel changed into dry clothes and hung out for as long as I could stand it, but after not too long I had to roll. My girlfriend drove me home and I tossed myself in the shower for a while to warm up. I still shivered a bit for another 15 minutes or so but once I shook it off I was good to go. I feel totally fine now besides some chaffing on my right side and some tight muscles.

bundled up post swim on the beach with my folks


A write up of any swim like this wouldn’t be complete without some major thank yous!!! First and foremost a huge thank you to Niel. He’s been a great training partner and volunteered to kayak this swim without hesitation. It must have been totally miserable up on the water and he didn’t complain and kept me on a straight line all the way down the coast. I don’t even know how I’m going to repay this favor… but I am hugely appreciative and grateful to have him on my side! Captain Mike and the Seaweed Express rocked as my zodiac boat back up. They were fun, on time, on task and accommodating of my fairly out of the ordinary New Year’s Day boat charter. I’m also really thankful Chris from LiveSwim managed to make it up for the swim. He streamed video from the front of the zodiac almost the whole time (had to cut it for a while due to rain and laptops not mixing well), and shot a lot of the pictures in this post. He’s been really supportive of what I do here on Rob Aquatics for a long time now and I’m glad the both of us continue to find ways to work together on exciting projects and experiments! I also want to thank my local swim friends from the Santa Maria Masters and the Avila Dolphins for swimming with me and supporting me in my crazy adventures. I had pool swim friends waiting for me on the beach and open water friends cheering for me from on the pier… it was totally great and the support means a whole lot to me. Having experienced guys from that crowd like Dave VM(he actually ran this as a sanctioned Masters summer time race a long time ago) calling me up on the phone in the lead up to the swim offering any help they can really helped take some of the pressure off me to figure everything out. Beyond that major thank yous to those of you that donated money to the fundraising portion of my swim. Local businesses really stepped up with donations and swim friends and readers from SLO County and places as far away as Chicago and New York also pitched in along with folks who read about my swim in Friday’s paper. I’m going to leave the donation button up on the website a couple more days in case anybody still wants to toss in a few bucks.

the Seaweed Express Boat!


Niel dripping wet from manning the kayak in rain, wind, chop and big swells


the liveswim view from the bow of the boat!


Now that this adventure is done and I’ve finally done the swim I’ve been wanting for so long it’s time to take a day and enjoy it… then start to find the next one!

10 Responses to “2011 Pismo Polar Bear 10k Swim”

  1. Lynne says:

    Congratulations Rob. Great swim!

  2. Rob D says:

    thanks Lynne! I really appreciated you guys coming out to the beach to see me off, it was a great way to get the whole thing started!

  3. Lindsey says:

    You are insane dude! Major props, no way could I have ever done that. You open water swimmer are certainly in a league of your own. :)

  4. [...] I’ll refer you to Rob’s account. While you’re there, be sure to read about his epic 10K Avila-to-Pismo polar bear marathon swim, which he undertook the very next [...]

  5. Jackie says:

    Awsome job. You are the Bomb ! You must be so proud of yourself.
    I’m very impressed. You had a great crew backing you up.

    Jackie Bloom
    (Avila Dolphin member) soon to be back !!

  6. dale says:

    Awesome!! spending 4 hours in 53 degree water without a wetsuit deserves a gold medal…. props to Niel for all the work too!
    Great job to bot of you!

  7. [...] World Magazine’s Morning Swim Show! We did a little interview recently over Skype about my Pismo Polar Bear Swim and open water swimming in general. It’s not so often I wind up in front of a camera talking, [...]

  8. Rob D says:


    Niel really was a trooper out there… he probably worked about as hard as I did fighting the current down the coast in the kayak!

  9. [...] Beach coastline would be a safety and logistical nightmare. It sounds like they need to call me, I might know a thing or two about this particular piece of ocean :) If Ironman needs an Avila Beach Swim Consultant I’m totally the [...]

  10. [...] Dumouchel: New Year’s Day Polar Bear 10K. 6 miles through shark-infested, 53F (11.6C) ocean, from Avila Beach to Pismo Beach, CA. Quite [...]