I’m riding pretty high right now on a wave of total swim geek-ery. All day Saturday revolved around swimming, and not just regular swimming, but marathon channel swimming. You know, the good stuff :) It was a day where swimmers from all over the country (I saw friends from as far away as New York, and now that I think about it we also had a small international contingent from Mexico) came to celebrate each other and their accomplishments. It was fantastic. The events flowed well, the vibe was excellent, and the company was spectacular. The amount of experience and history that I got to mingle with in the course of the day was unbelievable. I feel rejuvenated and ready to attack my own goals and training with a renewed vigor and love for the sport!
The Catalina Channel Swim Federation’s banquet started at 10am so I had to get going pretty early in the morning to make it on time. I split Pismo around 6am while it was still dark outside. As I sailed down the freeway towards Santa Barbara I was met with a real treat on the other side of the Gaviota pass as day began to break. I had a full view of a pale blue Pacific beginning to wake up and start its day. The sea was covered with patches of sapphire chop and a bright orange layer of sky blazed at its surface. The sky mellowed into a lighter yellow, then blue, and eventually black as your gaze ascended upwards towards the still visible carpet of stars laid out above us. The whole scene was punctuated with silhouettes of the Channel Islands along the horizon. There was a light misty haze around the base of each island, but their mountainous peaks were sharp and crisp against the breaking dawn. Seeing sights like this it’s hard to forget why swimmers can be so intrigued and driven to explore and attempt to conquer the turbulent and cold waters between these wild places and the California mainland.
I arrived at my friend Evan’s house around 7:30 and we combined our efforts at this point. He piloted the rest of our journey to San Pedro. The drive down the Ventura Coast was beautiful and I got to watch some monster surf batter the beaches. It got us thinking about our prospects of a swim after the CCSF banquet, but unfortunately a mix of high surf and rain induced urban run-off from Friday squashed those plans despite it being beautiful outside all day.
We got to the San Pedro Double Tree a little early and sat outside of the meeting room in the crisp November air looking out over the harbor. Shortly thereafter friends started to trickle in. We caught up a bit with Mallory, and then a gaggle of San Diegans followed shortly after her. We decided at this point to go inside and start mingling. They had name tags laid out for us and then special ways to recognize who was who. Soloists got a lei of real flowers, relays one of shells, and support crew a single flower. They recommended placing it in my beard, and despite giving it a shot it wasn’t really going to work :) Around probably 10:30 we were herded towards the main room for our party and where we’d be eating breakfast. I sat at a table with both Cliff and Evan who I swam with in the Channel, Evan’s parents, and a couple who were involved with the first successful relay of the season.
The presentation portion of the banquet was a total swimmer love fest. They did a great job of recognizing volunteers, swimmers, boat captains, and everyone else that makes the whole thing possible. New this year was the recognition of all Catalina Circumnavigations. Up until this year it had only been soloed once about 30 years ago by Cindy Cleveland, Forrest Nelson became the second ever soloist this year. The federation also took the time to recognize those who had swam relays around the island.
One of my favorite parts of the banquet was listening to the swimmers give quick little speeches about their swims. Some were just short heartfelt thank yous to friends, family and crew… others were more in depth and emotionally charged. Some moments out of people like my friend Bob Needham and Pat Gallant-Charette (who broke the record for oldest woman to do a Catalina crossing) really touched me. It was also great to see Cliff and Evan up there speaking and knowing exactly what they were talking about because I was right there with them on the boat the whole way.
We wrapped things up with a talk from Lynne Cox. She’s great in front of a crowd, and she was fascinating to listen to. She’s somebody I really hope I get a chance to talk to in person with one on one some day. I’m particularly interested in some of her Scandinavian exploits and of course her thoughts on cold water tolerance.
One of the people I was most excited to see at the banquet was Cindy Cleveland. She’s a personal open water hero of mine and to a lot of other people as well. She has this legendary status but I’ve never seen her in the wild before, just a sighting was exciting but the prospect of getting to talk to her was even more exciting to me. Some of you may find it hard to believe, but I’m actually a little shy in real life and wasn’t sure how to go about the whole deal. Evan came up to me and asked if I had talked to Cindy yet, I said no and he looked at me pretty seriously and said “you better go talk to Cindy Cleveland right now Rob.” Yes sir! He was right, I had to find her and at least say hi. I found her over by the entrance to the meeting room with Anne Cleveland (no relation). When she finished catching up with Anne I introduced myself, babbled a little bit, and explained that one of my lifetime goal swims is the Monterey Bay. The Monterey mention triggered a big smile. I was pleased to see just the mention of the Bay creates the same response in her that it does in me :) It’s a really special patch of water and it’s hard not to love. I’ve had a taste of what it’s like to be in the middle of the Bay in the dark over thousands of feet of water while having brief encounters with its stinging gelatinous inhabitants, but Cindy has a much deeper connection to the water up there. For a little historical perspective, Cindy is the only human to ever cross the Bay solo under English Channel rules. That epic swim took place a year before I was born and has been attempted multiple times since but never repeated in over 30 years. It was really great for me to get to chat with Cindy for a few minutes and hopefully our paths cross again sometime in the near future.
Around 2 Evan and I split from the DoubleTree and ran over to our hotel to get checked in before proceeding to the location of the Santa Barbara Channel Swim Association’s banquet. We got there early since Evan had to take part in a board meeting that they let me sit in on and interject a few thoughts into. As we neared 5 everyone else started to show up. We probably had upwards of 50 people there including successful swimmers, the Tuna Thumper’s crew, the CCSF board, and a lot of other folks who had been present at the CCSF banquet earlier in the day.
By virtue of being a smaller organization the swimmers had more time to chat about their swims. They were encouraged to take their time and really expound upon their oceanic adventures amongst California’s Channel Islands. I really enjoyed hearing everyone’s recollections of their swims, and being able to relive Lynn’s Anacapa swim in her own words while sitting next to my fellow crew person on that swim, Roni.
The real highlight for me was to listen to Forrest Nelson speak about his Catalina Circumnavigation. Although he was recognized at the CCSF Banquet earlier in the day, his swim was actually an SBCSA endeavor because CCSF wasn’t sanctioning circumnavigations yet. Forrest is a fascinating guy but he is very under the radar despite being one of the best extreme marathon swimmers in the world. He would never say that himself, but it’s the truth. You don’t really get to hear much about his amazing feats of human endurance, but if you’re like me you want to… I wish that guy had a blog! Outside of being a personal friend of his, I think the only way you would have gotten the whole story of his amazing swim was to be at the banquet. We all sat with rapt attention as he detailed the swim all the way down to stroke rates. It was inspiring and I’m very, very glad I made sure to drive down south for the party!
Afterwards Evan and I stayed and networked with those that were still hanging out and I made some really valuable connections. I shared some ideas for a swim with the Captain of the Tuna Thumper and he said he’d be interested in coming up to the Central Coast to pilot it which was a huge breakthrough for an idea I have simmering. We ended up being the last people to leave the restaurant and then proceeded to our hotel and sat in the bar rehashing our day. I think it had a profound effect on the both of us. We spent hours talking about things we want to accomplish, the future of the sport, the impact certain individuals had on us that day, etc. We’re both going to be mentally processing this weekend for a while. In the meantime I need to train! Big things need to be done, adventures attempted, and limits pushed… let’s go!