Back when the beaches first reopened, I decided to plan a local swim so that I would have a training goal. I picked this particular swim because my normal training spot was contained within it and because 15 miles felt like the longest distance that we could do safely with only kayaks.
So this “brilliant” idea is how I found myself standing on a beach in Malibu at 5:30 on a Saturday morning, getting ready to walk out into 59 degree water. We had arrived at the beach around 4:45 and it was so dark that all I could see were the lights on Malibu pier. I had to remind myself every few minutes that this swim was indeed a good idea. We brought the kayaks down to the water’s edge and I saw that there was almost no surf and the water was very cold, my guess would have been 56 but the thermometer told us it was 59. When Jax said “go” I waded out into the water, keeping my breathing even despite the temperature. My goggles immediately fogged up and I concentrated on trying find my stroke rhythm in the water and following Jax and Steve around the pier.
The water was so cold that I was holding a higher tempo than I usually do at the beginning of a long swim but I knew I needed to create heat to have any hope of staying warm. At the first feed, I told Jax that the water was really cold and that I
was not yet warmed up. I shivered my way through the next half hour and started doubting my ability to even finish this swim if I was so cold already. I don’t usually doubt myself at the beginning of big swims, but I was already starting to claw up at an hour in and really did not think I could handle many hours in that water. At the second feed, I told Jax that I was still cold. I told myself that the water would get warmer for every mile I could cover, even though I had no reason to believe that it would. At least the water was glassy, even if it was cold.
By the third feed, the air started to warm up and the swim started to be a little bit less miserable. Despite the temperature, I felt like I was flying across the glassy water with a bit of swell at my back. I was taking the swim in 30 minute segments and they seemed to go by surprisingly fast as I enjoyed watching the fancy houses pass by and tried to guess where we were. Finally, about 2.5 hours into the swim, I started enjoying myself and while still cold, my hands and feet were no longer numb.
I knew we were still a ways off but I wondered when we would be able to see the Santa Monica Pier. We could not yet see it but we saw two buildings in the distance that we thought were the buildings behind Tower 26, but later turned out to be a different apartment building in north Santa Monica. Finally I saw a landmark I recognized, as we passed the Getty Villa. Looking at a map later, this was about the halfway point of the swim.
The buildings in downtown Santa Monica loomed out of the fog and I was really happy to be able to see buildings that I knew. They did not seem to be getting any closer, though, and I could tell the swell was no longer at my back. At the same time the chop was picking up.
I could finally see the pier in the distance but I felt like it wasn’t getting any closer. I felt like we were stuck in a swirl, where one minute I would get a push, just to be drawn backward the next moment. We pressed on toward the pier with rocks on our right side.
Passing the pier, I saw the buildings behind Tower 26 welcoming back into my home training area. While I was excited to be “home,” my stroke was struggling in the chop and I was starting to hurt. In addition, I now knew exactly the distance that I had left to cover and how long it would take. The baywatch boat was attached to the Tower 26 buoy so we headed straight for it.
As we passed the buoy, there were suddenly three other swimmers behind me and to my right. At first, I thought they were just other random swimmers and then I saw that it was actually Rebecca, Colin, and Iris coming out to keep me
company. I was so happy to see them that I almost cried into my goggles. I picked up my stroke to stay a bit ahead of them and having them nearby finally pulled me out of the funk I had been feeling since being stuck in the current before the pier.
We stopped for a feed about halfway between the buoy and the rocks and Iris and Colin peeled off and I thanked them for joining me. Rebecca stayed with me and I was hoping to make it to the Venice Pier for the next feed. As we were passing the rocks, Jax moved to my other side, because she could see my parents on the beach and wanted them to be able to see me. After the rocks, Rebecca said goodbye and I was alone again but in much better spirits than before my friends had joined.
We stopped for another feed right before Venice Pier and the chop was picking up. I was really feeling ready to finish the swim but was also enjoying the sun and the blue sky. As we got closer to Marina Del Rey, there were lots of boats and people on jet skis and I was especially grateful to have Jax on Steve on either side of me. I knew that they would not let me get run over.
The north jetty was visible and I was disappointed when Steve said it was time to stop for the 7.5 hour feed because I just wanted to get to the end. I fed quickly and powered forward toward the jetty. I passed the edge of the breakwater and tried to pick up my pace and headed to the rocks. I could hear people on the beach cheering for me and put my head down and sprinted. I carefully swam up to the rocks and climbed up on them to get a hand on a dry rock and finish. I was so happy to see my parents and my friend Katherine waiting for me at the beach! I also had a cheerleader standing on the jetty as I swam in, but couldn’t see who it was behind their facemask, so if this was you: please let me know and thanks so much!
I am so grateful to everyone who helped make this swim successful! I could not have done it without my parents’ support, my kayakers amazing skill, and my friends’ encouragement, both along the way and in every training session. Overall, some parts of this swim were harder than I expected and I am really proud to have completed it, despite my unusual training this year!
F&#! yeah, Abby!! Great swim!! And as a writer and author of two published books…I’m of the opinion that your report is a terrific summary! Efficient, impactful and descriptive!
You did an amazing job, Abby! You have every right to be proud of yourself for finishing it. Well done! I like to point to you (and many of my swim friends) and say, “See, I know this person. They are incredible and inspiring.”
I’m so impressed that you endured the unusually cold water for a SoCal summer swim! But honestly, deep down I knew you would make it, regardless. You are so admirably determined.
It was fun to swim along with you and the kayaks and all, brought back good memories of my swim last summer.