Sometimes a swim just has “it.” That intangible mix of stoke, good vibes, grass-rootsiness, ducks, and positive action that reminds me why I love the open water swimming community. My friend Nick’s event, Will Swim for Food, definitely has it. I didn’t really know what I was wandering into until I got there. I mean I knew all the who/what/when/why/how’s of the event, but it wasn’t until I was up on the wharf in 38 degree air mixing with smiling swimmers, paddlers and volunteers did I realize how special this swim was going to be.

Nick recruited me way back in July to come up to his swim. A swim around the Wharf in December? It’s unlikely I’d decline such an offer :) I think I may have been the first or among the first of the out of towners to sign on. By the time the swim came around we had swimmers from points further north in California along with swimmers from Oregon, Virginia and Hawaii. The thing I really liked about this event for those of us coming from other areas was that we could raise funds for the foodbank of our choice. I raised money that would go back to San Luis Obispo County and do something good at home.

Cathy and Allison bundled up pre-swim

Saturday morning Allison and I drove north to Santa Cruz and it was cold. Not the usual Monterey Bay chilly, actual mid upper 30′s cold. I realize that’s no big deal to a lot of you, I grew up in Wisconsin and have a solid grip of actual cold, but for around here that was almost a major emergency. It may have been proof of the impending end of the world for some native Californians :p We parked on the wharf and explored on foot a little bit to see what was going on. We were early and things were just starting to get set up. Shortly thereafter my friend Cathy pulled in and we hung out with her and went in search of coffee for the girls.

The crowd on the wharf got bigger and bigger as the morning went on. I had no idea there were going to be so many people there. I was stoked to see the local Santa Cruz crew, many of whom were involved in the Monterey Bay relay crossing attempt from 2011, along with friends from other parts of the state. It was all smiles and high fives despite the chilly air. Eventually we had a little safety briefing for swimmers and then paddlers (of which there were a ton!). We even got a little talk from the new mayor who would be swimming with us, that’s kind of fancy right? While we were all amassed right there we also took a second to get some group shots with our ducks. The ducks are for event sponsors and $150 donors to decorate and then have a swimmer tow around the wharf. Nick tapped me to tow the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s duck. I was honored to be the one to shepherd the duck although I have a severely imaginary case of anatidaephobia.

The group of swimmers, paddlers, volunteers and well wishers marched down the wharf and onto Cowell’s Beach in front of the Dream Inn. We were basically doing the Santa Cruz Roughwater route backwards. I mainly breath right which would be away from the wharf on this route so I’m glad I was eavesdropping when Nick gave Cathy some navigation advice on how to hit the finish as you come around the bend in the wharf. Aim for the drop tower on the boardwalk and then the dome of the Cocoanut Grove once you get far enough around to see it.

On the beach I started to get ready finding my goggles and lubing up. Although I’ve been avoiding caps much of this year I felt this was a good day for the spiked swim cap. It’s the swim cap a Santa Cruz outing deserves. While getting ready all of a sudden the swim started! Apparently I missed something, I’m easily distracted by shiny things… like the swimsuit I was wearing that day :) Luckily this wasn’t a race and it didn’t really matter when I got started. I finished prepping, set the GoPro, Allison tied my duck to the tag of my suit, and I ventured into the water fake water fowl in hand.

Cathy and I stood in the waves a bit acclimating watching other swimmers go on their way. Some were wetsuited and some weren’t. The good news was that the water was actually pretty “warm” considering the air temperature and the time of year. I heard 57-58 which is rather nice for the Monterey Bay. Once Cathy started swimming I did too. It took a little while but we started to catch up to other swimmers. Eventually I passed a pair of rubber chickens… this is where I began to dilly dally. I took the occasional break to try and set up pictures, or I’d swim off line to get someone on my right side so that they’d be in view of my GoPro.

Out at the tip of the wharf there was a kayak with a coffee station on it. I passed on coffee, I don’t drink it, but I thought it was a pretty fun idea to have on a swim like this. After posing my duck for some pictures I started the swim down the other side of the pier. I could hear sea lions and smell breakfast cooking. I continued my meandering dawdly swim stopping here and there to just check things out. I’ve gone around the pier 4 or 5 times over the last few years but it’s always during a race so I never get to stop and soak in the view.

Back at the beach I waded out of the small surf with my duck happy and accomplished. I met up with Allison who was my mobile swim stuff station. I air dried for a bit and talked to some folks, eventually I towel changed back into normal clothes while watching other swimmers make their way in. Everyone was having a good time and enjoyed the swim, even if a lot of them needed to shiver it off for a while.

My sandals had been accidentally abandoned back at the start of the swim so we went to go retrieve them and then made our way down the wharf to Vino Primo for the swim’s after party. We all gathered in the bar and Nick gave us one last talk about the swim and how outrageously successful the fundraising was. As of that afternoon the group had raised $45,555!!! Wow! I’m seriously impressed. Nick said that donations would stay open for a while and another $2000 have been donated thus far. If you want to add to that a bit please do! You can donate via me here.

I’ve been to a lot of different events and this swim really has that magic only a few ever manage to capture. If you get a chance to do Will Swim for Food next year I really recommend you do. It’s a great event for a great cause put on by a great crew. You can’t go wrong. Big thank yous go out to Nick Alaga, I’m glad you got me involved and I hope to join you again in 2013!

*hat tip to my buddy Sully for the word Anatidaephobia, a word everyone needs to use in a sentence sometime this week :)

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