Interview with Coach Mark

Interview with Coach Mark

As I mentioned, Mark Warkentin (2008 10K Olympian, crew member on my Catalina swim, crew member on my Santa Cruz Island swim, and all-around good guy) was recently named head coach of the Santa Barbara Swim Club, the team we both grew up swimming with. Mark has been on the job a couple months now, and by all accounts things are going great. The future of swimming in Santa Barbara is bright indeed.

Here’s an interview he just did with SwimSwam:

[youtube_sc v=17YQaTIwePo w=600]

Mike Lewis (author of other hard-hitting works of journalism) does a pretty good job keeping the conversation relevant to open water swimming, given the irony that Mark coaches mostly sprinters.…

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The landlord’s in town, and the rent is due

The landlord’s in town, and the rent is due

A sobering summary of recent shark activity in Santa Barbara County by Peter Howarth, director of the SB Marine Mammal Center (courtesy of Shark Research Committee):


  • 14 April 2012 Shark attacked adult female sea lion off Stearn’s Wharf, Santa Barbara Harbor.  Sea lion rescued by harbor patrol, then it was brought to the dock to Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center (SBMMC) volunteers, where it died from shock and blood loss;
  • 20 July 2012 Male southern sea otter attacked at Guadalupe Dunes. Rescued by ranger and brought halfway to Santa Barbara, where it was picked up by SBMMC volunteers. Transferred to Mike Harris of CA Dept. Fish & Game for necropsy;
  • 15-20 July 2012 Adult female California sea lion attacked, received two bites on pelvic area;
  • 25 July 2012 Sea lion above reported on mooring buoy off East Beach, Santa Barbara. Sea lion left when harbor patrol approached too closely;
  • 25 July 2012 Sea lion attacked by shark off Leadbetter Point, Santa Barbara (Properly called Santa Barbara Point). Reported by Dan Collie, charter boat captain;
  • 27 July 2012 Sea lion attacked during period 20-25 July rescued but had to be euthanized;
  • *10-11 August 2012 Male Pacific harbor seal, 5-6 months old, attacked off Carpinteria sea rookery;
  • 12 August 2012 Above harbor seal reported on beach at rookery but washed away before rescued;
  • 13 August 2012 Harbor seal rescued.


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Race Reports & Wrap-Up: Semana Nautica 2012

Race Reports & Wrap-Up: Semana Nautica 2012

Saturday, 30 June 2012, 9am. East Beach.
3-mile Ocean Swim
Water temp: 61F. Air temp: 65F.

The course: Bathhouse –> Stearns Wharf –> end of East Beach –> Bathhouse
Wetsuits = DQ
An unusual east wind gave us a nice ride to Stearns Wharf. But then the real fun started: A 1.5-mile grind against the current & a head chop. At this point I was leading by ~20 seconds.
First out of the water, 1:27 ahead of a 2008 10K Olympic Trialist.
Santa Barbara News-Press article, Part 1 (click to enlarge)
Santa Barbara News-Press article, Part 2 (click to enlarge)



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My New Beach

My New Beach

I recently moved across town, and my new digs have one especially compelling feature: It’s walking distance from the Pacific Ocean! Fifteen minutes from door to sand: Two minutes along a sidewalk to the access trail; 11 minutes along a dirt path through an open-space preserve; two minutes down a cliff to the sand. As the crow flies, I’m about 2/3 of a mile from the water.

And it’s a gem of a beach:

Click to enlarge

Even on the sunniest days, it’s nearly deserted due to its vehicular inaccessibility. On the entire stretch of coast shown in the photo above (6pm on a weekday – prime-time for the after-work crowd), there were about five people. While tourists crowd the downtown beaches – East, West, Butterfly, and Leadbetter – this beach remains remarkably off-the-radar, even to many Santa Barbara locals.

I hesitate to reveal the beach’s name or location because – probably for good reasons – it rarely appears on the internet. But it shouldn’t be difficult to deduce with a little sleuthing, using the clues I’ve already provided.…

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Revenge of the Skin Swimmers

Revenge of the Skin Swimmers

As regular readers know, I can be irritable on the subject of distinguishing between swimming and wetsuit-assisted swimming. So, I should offer credit where credit is due.

Today begins the 75th annual Semana Nautica sports festival – a grand celebration of the Santa Barbara lifestyle, with most events taking place in or near the ocean. Growing up, I participated in the age group swim meet at Los Baños Pool; nowadays, I do the open-water swimming events. Semana Nautica offers three ocean swimming races: 1 mile, 3 miles (both at East Beach), and 6 miles (Goleta Beach to Arroyo Burro Beach).

Semana Nautica ocean swims do not offer separate categories for wetsuits and skins. Actually, wetsuits are not allowed at all. If you show up in a wetsuit, your name will show up in the results next to the letters ‘DQ’. The entry form states bluntly: No swim fins, hand paddles, or wet suits allowed.

The 6-mile entry form takes it a step further:

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.

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Race Report: Reef & Run #1

Race Report: Reef & Run #1

My sleepy little beach town of Santa Barbara has not just one – but two! – weekly summer evening splash n’ dash series. Nite Moves, now in its 23rd season, is Wednesdays at Leadbetter Beach, and involves a 1000m swim and/or a 5km run up Shoreline Drive. Reef & Run, a more recent addition to the local scene, is Thursdays at East Beach and offers the choice of a 500m, 1000m, or 1-mile swim followed (select weeks only) by a beach run.

Last week I participated in the season-opening Reef & Run, which was free to all comers. From a swimmer’s perspective, it has a lot to recommend it:

  • meatier, 1-mile swim (plus 500m and 1000m options)
  • locker room and showers at the Cabrillo Bathhouse
  • more affordable $120 season pass (or $15/day)
  • large, easily-sighted buoys
  • East Beach is, quite simply, a great beach – one of the best in town.
East Beach and Cabrillo Bathhouse. Photo by Flickr user Damian Gadal

Neither series distinguish between wetsuits and skins in the results – which is an argument I may never win.…

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Race Report: Nite Moves #2 (of 18)

Race Report: Nite Moves #2 (of 18)

Nite Moves results are here. I was 6/115 in a mostly local field – though a “local field” in Santa Barbara typically includes some pretty decent swimmers. Mark W. was first. He’s not really in shape right now, but apparently still has enough to hold off the pretenders.

leadbetter beach
Leadbetter Beach, viewed from Shoreline Park

I haven’t been in the ocean much lately, so the water felt a touch brisk. The closest channel buoy said 57, but I’m guessing it was closer to 55. The overcast skies offered no solar relief. I opted for an in-water warm-up, which was a mistake. By the time I lined up at the start, my feet were numb.

Oh, and I forgot to bring a cap. Mmm… brain freeze.

Beach-start, beach-finish races almost seem designed to punish me. Nite Moves is even more cleverly designed to punish me: the finish is a 70m trek uphill across a soft-sand beach. Here’s how it usually pans out:

After the mad dash into the water, I’m immediately behind like half the field. By the time I’m past the breakers, the leaders have 15-20m on me.…

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Open Water Season Begins in SoCal

Open Water Season Begins in SoCal

My first open-water race of 2012 is this evening, the weekly Nite Moves 1000m swim / 5K run at Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara (I skip the running part).

leadbetter beach, santa barbara
Leadbetter Beach. Photo by Instagram user "woooks"

Nite Moves is (are?) organized by triathlon-types and doesn’t (don’t?) offer separate categories for wetsuits & skins. This is sort of offensive, but whatever, I’ll play by their rules.

The “swim” portion of Nite Moves ends with a 70m run up the beach, which is also offensive (my hip replacement precludes me from running). But afterwards there’s food, beer, music, good company – and hey, it’s Santa Barbara - so I suppose I can’t complain too much.


Almost every weekend this summer, there’s an open-water race somewhere in Southern California. The first one longer than a mile is a 2.5-miler at Lake Mission Viejo on May 20.

I’m not aware of any good, complete list of everything going on (SPMASan Diego-Imperial Masters, and Active.com all have parts of the story) – so I decided to make one myself:

Sharks Live in the Ocean

Sharks Live in the Ocean

So, there was this local news item last week. While Santa Barbara isn’t typically a hotbed of shark activity, this was a reminder that indeed, sharks do live in the ocean.

That’s right, readers. Sharks live in the ocean.

great white shark

It’s always interesting to observe how ocean swimmers deal with this fact.

Some take a spiritual, new-agey approach: If you just, you know, become one with the ocean and don’t give off the “fear signal,” the sharks will leave you alone. Fittingly and rather ironically, these people often are residents of San Francisco. (It’s OK, I used to be one.)

Others avoid the issue with euphemisms: “Man in the Grey Suit,” or “The Landlord,” or “Old Whitey”… or, most comically of all, “the S-word.” I guess the idea is, if you don’t talk about it, maybe it’ll go away.

Others put their faith in technology. Because obviously, the 6-meter, 2-ton “fish” attacking from below at 25mph is going to respect the little Shark Shield zapper dangling off the end of the kayak. Good luck with that.

And then there are kooks like this guy.…

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Swimming with the Ocean Ducks at Goleta Beach

Swimming with the Ocean Ducks at Goleta Beach

The blog has been rather text-heavy lately. This post should fix that.

The Santa Barbara Ocean Ducks gather Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at Goleta Beach County Park, and Sundays at Butterfly Beach in Montecito (plus Saturdays in the summer). It’s a diverse, friendly group of folks, and even this late in the year you can expect to see 8-10 of us in the water during the week; more on the weekends.

Goleta Beach

Typically we head out in groups of 2 or 3 according to speed. There are a variety of possible swim routes. Here’s one of my favorites (click to enlarge):

Goleta Beach to Campus Point

From our meeting place next to the shower head (west of the restaurant and pier, east of the restroom), we make our way beyond the surf line, 100-150m offshore. Then we turn right, towards UC Santa Barbara and Campus Point. On the outbound trip, we try to maintain a constant distance from shore as we bend around the cove. In the image above I’ve noted four intermediate landmarks, which offer convenient turning-back points if someone is in a hurry.…

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