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.
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. Bite on dorsal chest and another on pelvic area. Shattered pelvic bones. Animal died 16 August;
14 August 2012 (0930): Eight-foot shark approached paddle boarder closely off Carpinteria. Lifted head out of water to look at person;
**14 August 2012 (1720): Shark approached within 5 feet of surfer. It was 5-6 feet between dorsal and caudal fin; girth estimated at 3 feet. Estimated shark at 10 – 14 feet total length;
15 August 2012 6-foot great white seen underwater by urchin diver off Santa Barbara light in afternoon (west of Leadbetter Beach about one mile); and 15 August 2012 Another shark reported seen by surfer friend of urchin diver off Leadbetter. No other details.
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:
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.
My new beach is a special place; at certain times of the day, even magical. The water seems cleaner; the landscape more wild and natural. Without crowds, cars, or any sign of development, one feels more directly the magnificent power of the ocean; the vertiginous sense of standing on the edge of a continent.
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.
Neither series distinguish between wetsuits and skins in the results – which is an argument I may never win. In the organizers’ defense, these events are logistically complicated enough without sorting out who’s wearing a wetsuit and who isn’t, week in and week out.
Anyway, it was a glorious evening – about 24 hours before the summer solstice. Air temp in the mid-70s with lots of sun. Water was 63F with incredible visibility – close to 15 feet, which is almost unheard of close to shore in this region.
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.
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.
Then, I spend the next 5-7 minutes clawing my way through slower swimmers – at first much slower swimmers, then only somewhat slower swimmers. After I run the gauntlet I finally have some clear water – but am even further behind the leaders, who had clear water the whole time. Usually, it’s too far to make up during the remaining 500m.
At the finish, if I’m in any sort of close race, I will lose. Notice the two guys who placed 4th and 5th (6 and 3 seconds ahead of me, respectively). I beat both of them out of the water. And then they passed me running up the beach. At Nite Moves, I figure I need at least a 10-second lead out of the water to avoid getting passed on the beach.
I’m pleased to report I narrowly held off a pair of hard-charging 13-14 year old girls. Score one for wisdom and brute strength. Well, mostly the latter.
Beach starts and finishes have a long tradition in lifeguard competition… so perhaps I’m being overly literal, thinking an open water swimming event should test, you know, swimming. Not swimming-plus-a-beach-run. Is it too much to ask, to move the finish down to the high-tide line?
Afterward, I caught up with Mark and some other old friends over tacos, live music, and free-flowing, locally-crafted beer. Beer makes everything better.
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).
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.