Swim Report: Bay to Breakers (Part 1 of 2)

Swim Report: Bay to Breakers (Part 1 of 2)

(A belated report on — not the longest, not the coldest — but the most comprehensive test of my open-water swimming skills I’ve experienced…)

May 27, 2013. Memorial Day. Bay to Breakers Day.

The day I earned my graduate degree in Open Water Swimming.


Bay to Breakers (B2B) is the most epic event on the South End Rowing Club swim calendar. It should be one of the most iconic long-distance open-water swims in America — yet hardly anyone knows about it outside San Francisco.

Even to most San Franciscans, “Bay to Breakers” refers to the 12km footrace from the Embarcadero to Ocean Beach. According to the website, it is the “oldest consecutively run annual footrace in the world” (since 1912).

But there’s another way to get from The Bay to The Breakers – longer, colder, and far more extreme:

bay to breakers
Bay to Breakers: The Hard Way vs. the Easy Way

Race director Bill Wygant began his pre-race email memorably:

There are times I wonder if Bob Roper fell asleep one night, had a nightmare and mistook it for an idea for a swim.  



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Improving the Swedish goggle? Testing the Nootca 5

Improving the Swedish goggle? Testing the Nootca 5

Along with Strokemaker paddles, the original Malmsten Swedish goggle is a design that has withstood the test of time. While I’m generally eager to embrace new technologies, I’ve worn the same model of swim goggles for over 20 years now.

Swedes are stereotyped as a pool swimming goggle, but I’ve seen no compelling reason to embrace gaskets in the open water. Why mess with a good thing? Take note of my goggle choice in my four longest swims (clockwise from top-left, the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, Santa Barbara Channel, Catalina Channel, and Manhattan Island Marathon Swim):

At the same time, I’ll concede some occasional frustration with the cheap materials in classic Swedes – the scratch-proneness of the lenses, and the ultra-short lifespan of the latex straps. So, my interest was piqued when Steven Keegan – founder of Nootca and formerly a product designer with Speedo and Nike Swim – answered my “Super Swede” challenge and offered to let me try his Swede-”inspired” Nootca 5 goggle.…

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Index of Swim Reports, 2010-2013

Index of Swim Reports, 2010-2013

There’s an interesting story in this list, though I’m reluctant to impose a narrative on it just yet.

Major swims are indicated in bold – or at least, what I considered to be major swims at the time.

Going forward this list will be accessible on this page, accessible via the top menu (About –> My Swims), and updated as necessary.

2010

2011

2012

2013

Report: Candlestick Park to Aquatic Park support paddle

Report: Candlestick Park to Aquatic Park support paddle

The Candlestick “Nutcracker” is the longest SERC club swim – 10.5 miles – though some consider it not as challenging as outside-the-Gate swims such as Bay-to-Breakers and Point Bonita.

If anything, the most pressing challenge for Candlestick swims is support logistics – transporting all the kayaks down to Candlestick, setting the swimmers off on time, and modeling the ebb tide accurately in a relatively unfamiliar part of the Bay.

candlestick swim
Photo by Robert Campbell, with approximate swim course shown in red.

Instead of swimming, I opted to pay back a portion of my volunteer debt and sign up for kayak support. It was my first SERC support paddle, and only my second overall, after the Semana Nautica 6-mile a couple weeks ago.

Despite the main kayak transport vehicle failing to show, we managed to arrive at Candlestick a few minutes before 6am – just 15-20 minutes behind schedule. We hurriedly launched the kayaks, and soon the first pod of (slower) swimmers entered the water at 6:06am. Then pod 2 at 6:14, and pod 3 at 6:24.

Cathy jumped in pod 2, though in reality she’s more of a pod 2/3 ‘tweener.…

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Paul Newsome wins MIMS: Reflections from the escort boat

Paul Newsome wins MIMS: Reflections from the escort boat

– Previously: MIMS 2013, Part 1: A perfect storm

Last month I crewed for Swim Smooth founder Paul Newsome on his victorious Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Though we had not met in person, Paul read my 2011 MIMS report and felt I could assist him in navigating the twists, turns, and tricky currents of the rivers around Manhattan.

It was a great honor and pleasure to meet and spend the weekend with Paul, his business partner Adam, his paddler Amanda, and all the rest of the Perth squad. They treated me very well, and I left New York City with a swirling headful of inspiring memories and new friendships.

I’ll defer to Paul’s story of his own swim. Instead, these are more general reflections on the experience of seeing MIMS from on the water – quite different, naturally, than being in the water.

Hannah (observer) and Evan, before the start.
Hannah (observer) and Evan, before the start. Photo by Adam Young.

“Expect the unexpected.”

A well-worn chestnut of open water swimming, of which MIMS 2013 often reminded us. The day before the race, the Daily News of Open Water Swimming reported on the apparent female domination of MIMS, proclaiming one the “overwhelming favorite.” Instead, men swept the podium, 1-2-3.…

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Stroke Thoughts

Stroke Thoughts

The swimming stroke is not unlike a golf swing: a complicated, interconnected series of fine and gross muscular movements. For the few who do it well, it appears fluid, natural, unified, and effortless. For most, the movements of swimming and golf can feel unnatural, difficult to integrate, and frustratingly unamenable to brute force.

Even those who have mastered the swimming stroke/golf swing can develop subtle technique flaws, of which they may not even be aware. One must maintain constant vigilance against these creeping flaws, ideally through a combination of mindful practice, well-selected drills, coaching, and video analysis.

One method I find useful in maintaining proper form and guarding against creeping flaws is: stroke thoughts. I didn’t invent this phrase or idea, but I define it as: simple, succinct technique pointers repeated subvocally (internally) while swimming.

In practice, I use stroke thoughts most often at the beginning of a session (while warming up), or when I feel myself lapsing (mentally or physically) in the middle of a workout or race. I repeat each thought by itself for a few stroke cycles, focusing on just that single part of my stroke, before moving to the next thought.…

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Dave Scott on open-water swimming technique

Dave Scott on open-water swimming technique

After his victory at MIMS, Paul Newsome and his Swim Smooth business partner Adam Young embarked on a cross-continental road trip to experience America via swimming.

Along the way, they stopped in Boulder, Colorado and met up with 6-time Ironman world champion Dave Scott. Paul did an interesting video interview with Dave on the topic of open-water swimming technique. It’s worth your time to watch all 7 minutes, 46 seconds of this video. Here’s the money quote from Dave:

“I’m not concerned about distance per stroke. I like an effective front-end of the stroke, on the catch.”

[youtube_sc v=ARnV-BQhgB0 w=600]…

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MIMS 2013, Part 1: A perfect storm

MIMS 2013, Part 1: A perfect storm

MIMS 2013 was a disappointing, even heartbreaking experience for a number of very accomplished and competent marathon swimmers. Of the 39 soloists who started from Pier A, only 11 made it around the island unassisted – compared to 100% finish rates in 2011 and 2012.

I’m not in a position to grasp all the factors that contributed to the situation on race day – I daresay none of the swimmers are, either – but my sense is that it was a perfect storm of bad luck. Perhaps some human error (as should be expected in chaotic, stressful situations), but mostly just bad luck.

- A storm (literally), producing several inches of rainfall that swelled the rivers, inhibiting the predicted flood tide and amplifying the predicted ebb.

NYC-region weather radar - the day before MIMS.
NYC-region weather radar – the day before MIMS.

- Unseasonably cold water temperatures (61F/16C in the East & Harlem Rivers; a couple degrees warmer in the Hudson). The qualifying swim of 4 hours in 61F is designed to weed out unacclimatized swimmers; nonetheless, some swimmers were unprepared for the cold.…

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On the South End Rowing Club “Pride Swim”

On the South End Rowing Club “Pride Swim”

This Sunday is the annual South End Rowing Club “Pride Swim,” a short ~1.2 mile flood-assisted swim from “Coghlan Beach” (fronting the Golden Gate Yacht Club) to the SERC beach. It is one of many LGBT Pride-related sporting events in San Francisco, the Proudest among cities, and one in which I will Proudly take part.

Course route: "Coghlan Beach" to SERC
Course route: “Coghlan Beach” to SERC

Recently long-time SERC member Daniel M. sent the following message to the club email list, detailing some interesting history, placing SERC in the context of gay rights, AIDS, and the progressive tradition of San Francisco.

This email is one of many reasons I am Proud to be a South Ender.

Full names have been abridged in the interest of privacy.

This “Pride Swim” Sunday is in and part of a great progressive tradition of the SERC.  So everyone knows, in the early 1980s, Rich “Richy” P. was an out front gay member of our club and always stood up for gay rights.  He was a swimmer and a rower.  I met and befriended him in 1984 when I joined the club as I was immediately drawn to him as one of the most progressive members of our club at the time.



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MIMS 2013

MIMS 2013

It’s that time of year again! In the weeks leading up to the annual Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, the solo field starts trawling the internet en masse, looking for free last-minute advice. I always know MIMS is approaching when the incoming search-engine hits start spiking for my MIMS 2011 report.

I figured I’d save everyone some time and put all my MIMS posts in one place.

Race Report: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2011

Other MIMS Posts

Photo by Hannah B.
Photo by Hannah B.

I’m excited to return to New York City this weekend for the first time since the Ederle Swim in 2011.…

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