By fortuitous circumstance, I’ve been fortunate to observe two out of the four successful solo swims in recorded history between the Farallon Islands and the California mainland.
In April, Craig Lenning stunned the marathon swimming world with the first successful Farallons solo in nearly 50 years (read observer report). And then 12 days ago, Joe Locke claimed Ted Erikson’s record on the longer, trickier course to the Golden Gate Bridge.
I recently completed the observer report for Joe’s swim
Craig and Joe are two of the toughest swimmers I’ve ever seen, and I was honored to accompany them on their respective journeys.
The Farallons, a grim rocky outcropping at the edge of the continental shelf, are similar in land mass to Anacapa Island but more than twice as far out, across far angrier seas. They’re often visible on a clear day from San Francisco, especially from elevation, but I think most San Franciscans hardly notice them. Living in the Outer Sunset (which my girlfriend, a Farallon relay swimmer herself, jokingly calls the “Inner Farallons”), I can see them from my living room, and I watch them every chance I get. Because why not? It breaks up the horizon. Nothing else between here and Japan.
Having been out there twice now, I’ll just say: It’s an otherworldly place — creepy, but also vibrantly alive, with some of the world’s densest colonies of seabirds, seals, rodents, and most notoriously, large white sharks in Autumn. And hardly any humans to be found, with the exception of a few research scientists occupying a spartan building on southwest-facing flats.
One would never expect the Farallons to be as loud as the loudest parts of human-occupied San Francisco, especially in the middle of the night, but it is. So loud it was nearly impossible to sleep amid the ruckus while we waited for Joe to begin his swim:
I’ll always remember Craig Lenning, following his successful swim to Muir Beach, remarking on the “magic” he sensed before jumping in the water at the Farallons… “but it’s a dark magic.”
Ted Erikson was one of my first friends in marathon swimming, a fellow Promontory Point swimmer, and I was glad to be there for the passing of that particular torch. Because speed records in marathon swimming are destined to be broken. I would think Joe has earned it, after seven (often gruesome) attempts.
Ted will always be the first (to the Golden Gate), and Stew will always be the first to the mainland. Hats off to the pioneers, and to the two men who carried this swim into the 21st century.
An appendix of sorts:
An interesting San Francisco public radio (KQED) report on the Farallons:
Lynn Kubasek’s video of the women’s Farallon relay:
Vito Bialla’s video of the same relay: