Yesterday I made my way south to Santa Barbara for a fun little marathon swim adventure. Despite it only being 90 minutes away this was my first time swimming the Semana Nautica 6 Miler. This swim is a great point to point from Goleta to Santa Barbara with a set of rules I can really get behind: “As in the tradition of open water swimming, the use of wet-suits or other non-porous attire, kickboards, gold chains, booties, paddles, swim buoys, body suits, triathlon suits, fins, gloves, or other wimpy contraband will not be allowed. No exceptions!!” I really dug this event, it was a real deal ocean swim with plenty of rough water, rad swimmers, and interesting sea life spectators floating by in the current. Jane and her crew did a really great job making this an exciting race that was fun to be at, it had a really cool vibe and a return trip is definitely on my list of things to do!
Although this was a solo swim for me it was really a team event. My swim and surf buddy Danilu came along to be my paddler. We started our adventure entirely too early with her coming to my place at 5:45am. We loaded her kayak up on my truck’s rack and started our 90 minute drive down to Santa Barbara. Dani is an Ironman Triathlete and Ultra Marathoner so even though endurance events are old hat to her the world of marathon swimming isn’t something she’s seen up close and personal. On the ride to Goleta she asked some questions about how things would go down and how being a paddler for me would work out. My plan was to keep her on my right side and to feed every 25 minutes, I’m pretty low maintenance.
Down in Goleta Jane, the race director, spotted me right away and came to say hi. We’d actually never met in person before but have lots of friends in common. It was nice to finally put a face to the name, especially since we all live so relatively close together. Shortly thereafter a bunch of my friends started showing up. We had my local swim buddy Dave VM, my Swim22 swimmer Chris Dahowski, my Laguna Beach favorite Lynn Kubasek, my buddy Bill Ireland who was profiled on the site last June, and plenty of other familiar faces like 4 of the guys from the Ventura Deep Six relay and various folks I’ve seen around at different SPMA open water races.
Since the swim is a point to point endeavor you need to plan ahead a bit for kayak and person transport. I called Dave VM last week about it and we teamed up to get it taken care of. Dave, Phil (Dave’s paddler), Chris D., and I all drove down to Arroyo Burro beach in separate cars to drop off our kayak/paddleboard transporting vehicles and then we all jumped into Dave’s Camry to ride back to Goleta Beach for the race start. I’m really glad we figured this out in advance or else it definitely would have stressed me out pre-race.
Once we got back I changed into my suit, used some of that Foggle stuff to clear up my goggles since I didn’t get a chance to go buy a fresh pair, and worked on getting my feeds loaded into the kayak. While Jane was giving her race briefing I worked on lubing up a bit… hooray Bag Balm :)
Post briefing it was time to get the kayakers and paddleboarders squared away and in the water. I walked the boat down to the water’s edge with Dani and got her moving out towards flatter water. Obviously this is when a little set of waves got going… haha, oh noes! Other kayakers were taking quick swims and flipping boats over but she made it out like a champ as I yelled out marginally helpful advice as waves advanced on her “don’t stop dude! paddle paddle paddle!!!”
As 9am drew near, Jane drew a line in the sand for the start. All the swimmers massed up behind the line and chattered a little bit until Jane started us and we ran off into the ocean. Well I sauntered at best… no need to run when I have a 6 mile swim to contend with :) The water was really comfortable, about 65-66 and acclimatization was pretty much immediate. I caught a tiny wave just right on the way out and it pushed a bunch of water under my cap and made it start rolling up… crap… by the end of the pier I was so frustrated with it I just took it off and gave it to Dani to toss in the mesh bag with all my feeds. Luckily I sunscreened my dome pre race, but I definitely came home with some goggle tan lines on the back of my bald head.
Once I ditched my cap I worked on settling into a comfortable rhythm. I’d taken off a bit fast since I was in a pack of people, but now that things were spreading out I could start to do my own thing. I had one guy in my general area that was a little bit faster than me. I turned it up for a bit to try and pull a draft for a while. It took some doing but I caught him and managed to get in position. Only problem was his line was all over the place and it wasn’t worth chasing if I was going to have to zig zag to get there. I broke it off and focused back on just keeping Dani on my right side.
After we got out of the start phase the first hour was pretty uneventful from a swim perspective, but the water was really rocking and I was worried about Dani up there in the kayak. She was getting tossed all over the place but holding it together really well… it’s a good thing we practiced this on a choppy day in the lake! She said if she stopped paddling at all the ocean would just turn her in a circle back towards Goleta. During some of my feeds she told me that other kayakers she could see from her vantage point had taken tumbles into the sea! That was a pretty good confirmation of the seriousness of the conditions for me… it was as big as I thought. Checking back later at the nearest buoy on the NOAA site the swells were probably 3-5 feet and marcated as very steep. I would almost liken it to a salty water escalator. The swell was really angular… it’s hard to explain if you weren’t right there I guess.
Lynn Kubasek mid swim!
While cruising along I ran into all kinds of free floating kelp and sea grass which was a little disconcerting at first. I was having mini Monterey flashbacks and waiting for something to sting me. Luckily there were no jellyfish out there… just an increasing amount of kelp that all happened to be flowing back towards Goleta Beach… thanks to my kelpy friends for a confirmation of a current. I even saw some little blue fishes which was cool, I never see fish in the ocean. These guys came by in small schools and were probably 6-9 inches long and within about 5 or 6 feet of me. I was pretty geeked out on that and then probably one of my raddest ocean creature encounters ever… a juvenile Mola Mola swam right past my head! Those guys can get huge, like thousands of pounds, but this was just a little guy… maybe 12 to 18 inches long right now. A Mola Mola if you’re not familiar is also called an ocean sunfish and is pretty much the ugliest fish you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting and one of my favorites to watch swim around at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, you can read up on them here. I got an up close side view, but from above Dani had no idea what the hell just floated by. She thought it was a decapitated chunk of something or a piece of whale a shark bit off and spit out into the current. I told her it was a Mola Mola and she just looked at me like I was making up words in the middle of the ocean now, haha… we Googled it on the way home for verification that I wasn’t full of shit :)
not a pic of my Mola Mola, just one for reference :)
My one disappointment on this swim was that all the interesting stuff above the water to look at was on my left side and I don’t really breathe over there so often. The middle of the swim course took us past all kinds of cliffs and Hope Ranch which is home to some ridiculously expensive houses. I saw some of them but not too much… I wish I had a working waterproof camera right now! Hopefully I can borrow some pics from a few friends this week to fill out the view for you guys!
As we neared about mile 4 I started to see other swimmers again and it lit a little bit of a fire under my ass to pick it up and catch up. Apparently it takes 4 miles for me to warm up now? Catching up turned into passing, and eventually I went into full on beast mode and jammed through 5 or 6 swimmers in the space of about a mile. That was huge for me motivationally and you can see it in my kilometer splits from my GPS. I went 17, 21, 23, 23, 25, 22, 20, 17, 17 plus a little extra for the last partial km. To add some bonus context to the back half of that swim, it got substantially more kelptastic and I was doing a lot of kelp krawling. That might have been part of my advantage over the other swimmers right there, I go play in Pacific Grove with the Kelp Krawlers and have gotten pretty good at swimming over kelp that’s almost thick enough to practically stand on!
The last couple miles I really tried to hold a strong pace and keep distancing myself from other swimmers as I neared the finish. Normally I’m not that competitive in ocean races, I’m just out for fun, but I got a flare of competitiveness on this one. It’s not like I was battling for a top spot or anything, I finished somewhere in the middle overall, but all of a sudden I just really wanted to beat whoever I could actually see. While we were going about this I had to move on the other side of Dani’s kayak because the swell was tossing the back end of her boat right at my head and we couldn’t separate ourselves from each other enough to ensure I wasn’t going to get a love tap from that fin on the bottom of the boat. It took a little adjusting to sight off of her on that side, instead of staying at my side she shifted forward far enough that I could see her while sighting forward like I usually would on an unescorted swim.
A dude on an SUP let us know that we were within a mile of the finish and I kept my foot on the gas. Only problem was the kelp just got thicker and thicker. I hit a patch that was most definitely the densest patch of kelp I’ve ever traversed in my life, but I wasn’t going to be deterred. We took one last feed and I finally saw the buoy that marked the turn to the beach, awesome!
After rounding the buoy I finally had the swell at my back instead of pumping over my right side, it was nice to get some assistance for a change! Once we got into the surf zone Dani peeled off and looked for an opportunity to land the kayak and I started to work my way through the waves as well. In the pre race briefing Jane had warned of rocks below the surface at the finish so I definitely didn’t want to body surf in. I let a few waves pass over me and then put a foot down when I thought it was shallow enough. Good news is I was partially correct, bad news is that next step was a doozy! I stepped right into a rocky hole and took a chunk out of one of my toes… ouch! Oh well… at least I was done! I stumbled out of the surf and up on to the beach towards the flags that marked our finish. I got a big hug from Jane and worked my way back through the crowd of smiling swimmers, paddlers and spectators in search of Dani to go say thank you for being such an allstar paddler on my little adventure. She was very excited that she landed the boat without flipping it like a lot of other people had and at some point she managed to reunite me with my towel.
After drying off and putting pants on I went to the truck to get her all her stuff and then we went back to the beach to watch the rest of the swimmers finish, rehash the swim with my friends and do awards. Everyone wanted to confirm with each other that the swim was as hard as they thought it was, especially the ones that had done it before in 20-30 minute faster times. Jane went bottom to top through the men and women giving out finisher awards and then special awards for top finishers. I got a rad little mug with humpback whales on it :) Since it’s a fairly small event (32 this year and that’s a big turn out) she also said a few words about everybody which I thought was pretty cool. There were lots of really legit swimmers in the mix and a lot that had deep personal and family histories with this swim. When everything was done I went and said my goodbyes to Jane and then worked on a plan to get the kayak back to the boat. I basically had Dani carry all the loose stuff like mesh bags and paddles and I put the kayak on my head and walked it all the way back to the truck… simple yet effective :)
All told it was a really fun swim, a great course and something I would totally do again in a heartbeat. I really need to visit my neighbors to the south a little more to figure out the Santa Barbara swim landscape and add that to my list of places to drop in when I need a change of scenery.