This past weekend I attended the annual banquets of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation (CCSF) and Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association (SBCSA). For the past few years the two events have been scheduled for the same day, in the same city (San Pedro), with CCSF providing brunch at the Doubletree and the SBCSA providing dinner at a restaurant downtown. This arrangement seems to maximize cross-pollination between the two events – reminding everyone of the patch of ocean we share, and giving us just a little more time together.
This is my third year attending “Banquet Day” in San Pedro.
In 2011, I was a swimmer-honoree at the CCSF event, having just crossed the Catalina Channel (8:55 on August 25, and I didn’t even have to look it up). Later that day, I attended my first board meeting with the SBCSA. Rob D. and I then moved on to the Crowne Plaza bar and talked of big dreams into the wee hours.
In 2012, I returned to celebrate the new class of CCSF swimmers including my dear friend Gracie, the new record holder. Later that night at the SBCSA banquet I celebrated my own Santa Cruz Island swim and record. We watched a trailer for DRIVEN, and welcomed new board members Rob, Cherie, and Theo.
This year’s Banquet Day featured a screening of DRIVEN, now a stunning 72-minute finished product going into the 2014 film festival season. My record may have been broken, but the swim lives on. (A review is forthcoming.)
Like academic conferences, these events’ value for returning attendees is mostly for the reunions and networking rather than the speeches. I was reminded that I catch up with certain people not nearly often enough (Gracie, Forrest, Mallory). I’ll remember meeting interesting new friends, Claudia R. and Kim C.
And most of all I’ll remember an unexpected and profoundly meaningful honor from my colleague Scott Zornig, whose loyalty and conviction I’ve valued these past couple months more than ever before.
Today we are excited to announce another major step forward in ridding our sport of cheaters.
Starting with our 2013 swim season, the SBCSA will be collaborating with the World Anti-Doping Agency and its counterparts, the USADA and ENGSO, to carry out random testing for prohibited substances. We expect that our fellow channel swimming governing bodies, the CCSF, CS&PF, and CSA, will soon be following suit.
What does this mean? Very simply: When you arrive on the beach at the end of your swim, exhausted, chafed, and possibly jellyfish-stung — you’d better be ready to pee in a cup. We will have personnel there to greet you as you emerge from the surf and escort you to the nearest toilet. No stopping to chat with friends and well-wishers; no posing for pictures; you must proceed directly to the toilet.
A moderate inconvenience, perhaps – but we hope our swimmers understand it is essential to ensuring fairness and a level playing field in our sport.
In the meantime, please familiarize yourself with the WADA List of Prohibited Substances. In this era of increasingly sophisticated cheating schemes, the “I Didn’t Know” defense will not be tolerated. Ignorance is equivalent to guilt. So let’s please avoid any misunderstandings.
Chairman of the Rules Committee
Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association
If these discussion threads at the Marathon Swimmers Forum are any indication, marathon swimmers love to argue about rules. This is not surprising; rules define the boundary conditions of our sport, what is and is not a “marathon swim.” The beauty of marathon swimming derives, at least in part, from its purity and asceticism — its prohibitions against things that would make it easier.
Take the survey HERE
Debates and hand-wringing occasionally arise due to a few “local variations” on marathon swimming rules:
Concern trolls sometimes use these variations in an attempt to undermine marathon swimming, or to promote an “anything goes” policy. There may not be any universal set of marathon swimming rules (and I don’t think it makes sense to have one), but there is absolutely a universal spirit, going back to Captain Webb: to swim without artificial assistance.
Technology being what it is, new apparel and devices are always being developed, which are intended to make the act of swimming easier, but which do not specifically violate the rules.
How should we deal with these developments? How to decide whether an item violates the “spirit,” or not?
With these questions in mind, the SBCSA (specifically, Scott Zornig and I) present a community opinion survey on rules in marathon swimming:
(The survey benefited from feedback from Donal Buckley and Rob Dumouchel — thanks guys.)
The spirit of marathon swimming is defined by the “spirit” (and opinions) of marathon swimmers. But to my knowledge, there has never been any systematic study of what marathon swimmers actually think about these issues.
So that’s the motivation behind the survey. Anyone (marathon swimmer or otherwise) is invited to take it, by the way.
In closing, I’d like to quote a Michael Oram email from the Channel Swimmers chat group, which to my mind at least, eloquently captures the “spirit” of the sport:
It has always amazed me how athletes spend such a lot of time trying to stretch the rules and find aids. Channel swimming is a personal competition between the swimmer and the elements. Looking for that extra edge all the time is a negative approach as instead of working within the established parameters you are grasping at straws to get a little more assistance, or confidence.
Once you have started it’s you against the elements; whatever hat you are – or are not wearing.
Related external post: “Confused” – by Jamie Patrick, Adventure Swimmer
Ashby Harper was the second person to cross the Santa Barbara Channel between Santa Cruz Island and the mainland – and the first to do so by the longer (23.5 mile) route, finishing in Santa Barbara. He did this in 1984, when he was 67 years old.
Ashby Harper graduated from Princeton University in 1939, 63 years before I did. He was considered the best all-around athlete of the Class of ’39, earning nine varsity letters — in football, baseball, and (wait for it…) swimming. He trained in a pool that has been lost to history. Dillon Gym pool – considered the “old pool” when I was at Princeton, was not built until 1947. Ashby’s coach was Howie Stepp, whose 163 dual-meet win total was not surpassed until my coach, Rob Orr, came along.
Ashby Harper served as a Navy fighter pilot in World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals.
Ashby Harper was headmaster of the Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico for 20 years, and took up channel swimming upon his retirement in 1982.
Ashby Harper was the oldest person to swim the English Channel (E to F) from 1982 (when he broke Doc Counsilman’s record) until 2004, when George Brunstad swam the Channel at 70 years old.
Ashby Harper pursued the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming before the phrase even existed. He would have been the first to achieve it, but his Catalina Channel attempt in 1988 was called off halfway across.
Ashby Harper was described in an Associated Press article in 1988 as “at best… eccentric. At worst… crazy.” And also: “A better word to describe the stately gentleman with the barrel chest might be ‘remarkable.'”
At the SBCSA annual banquet this past weekend, Ben Pitterle and Brian Hall showed a brand-new trailer for their independent documentary film about marathon swimming, DRIVEN. The film features three swims across the Santa Barbara Channel this past summer – including my Santa Cruz Island swim.
They just started an online fundraising campaign, which will continue for the next 30 days.
THE FUNDRAISING PAGE IS HERE. There are various “perks” available in return for your contributions – including a listing in the closing credits for only $100.
On a personal note…
I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog over the past nearly three years – perhaps occasionally to the detriment of my career and personal life. I’ve never made any money from it (just a few affiliate commissions). Indeed, I continuously lose money to web hosting fees.
It’s a labor of love – love for swimming, and love for writing.
Similarly, this film is a labor of love for Ben and Brian. If they end up making any money from it, it probably won’t be much, and certainly paltry compensation for the countless hours they’ve put into it.
And that’s assuming it even gets made – it may not. Filmmaking (especially good filmmaking) is expensive. Ben and Brian are not financed by a studio. They’re not personally wealthy. They are depending on the open-water swimming community to come together and make this happen. It’s the story of three swimmers; but really, it’s all of our stories.
If you’ve ever gotten anything out of this blog – a useful tip, or a moment of inspiration – this is one very meaningful way you can pay it forward.
I admit, there’s a certain selfish desire to see my swim (a life-changing experience) on the big screen. But Cherie, Fiona, and I are merely vectors for a larger story about an incredible, extreme, yet largely anonymous sport. The story will be told not just by us, but also through interviews with, among others: David Yudovin, Ned Denison, and Steve Munatones.
And the main character isn’t a person, but rather a place – the Santa Barbara Channel, one of the richest and most beautiful marine environments on Earth.
Please consider helping make this film a reality. Even $10 – if contributed by every email and RSS subscriber of this blog – would make a substantial dent in their unmet funding needs.
Sometime between 2 and 3 in the morning, I had decided to spare everyone another (potentially) 10 hours of needless unpleasantness, and end my swim. I was just waiting for the right time; a convenient excuse. If Mark or Cathy or Rob or Dave had said at some point that night, “Evan, it’s pretty rough out here. Maybe you want to get on the boat and go home?”, I can’t say I’d have insisted on continuing.
It’s a testament to the loyalty and intestinal fortitude of my crew and observer that I never got that chance. Three hours later, I was still swimming.
At 5:30am, we were halfway across the channel – 8.3 nautical (9.6 statute) miles to go. At 5:45, the first hint of grey appeared on the horizon: nautical twilight. And it changed everything.
As any Catalina swimmer knows: The dark thoughts, the “witches,” are inseparable from the literal darkness of the night. Even the slightest hint of light changes everything. Instead of resolving to quit, I resolved to grind it out – however long it took. Instead of feeling that the Channel was punishing me, it now seemed that the Channel was testing me.
If you want this, you’re gonna have to work for it.
It was a test – and it had nothing to do with time or records. It was about confronting the darkness and vastness of the ocean, my own physical vulnerability and mental weakness – and finding a way to the other side.
When the sun rose on September 15th, I was more than halfway across the channel, and – despite all – still on pace to break Ned’s record (10 hours, 27 minutes). At that moment, I honestly couldn’t care less about the record.
Cathy replaced Mark in the kayak. It had been a stressful, physically demanding night for Mark, but he handled it like the Olympian he is. I think he felt responsible for keeping his old friend safe in a situation that often seemed anything but. He commented a few days later to Presidio Sports:
It was a humbling admission when I eventually told Evan that I needed to go rest on the boat, and it’s a true testament to his determination and conditioning that he didn’t quit along with me.
Everyone from the boat captain to Evan and definitely everyone in between hoped that the conditions would get just a little worse, so we’d have a good excuse to stop. Unfortunately, the conditions were just barely good enough for us to keep trudging along.
After the sun rose, the filming kicked into gear again. I occasionally noticed Ben – decked out in full Frogman attire – cruise past me underwater with his GoPro. It was startling at first, but actually kind of fun. I can’t wait to see the footage. A preview frame:
Cathy paddled for the next three hours, until around 9am. A more patient, nurturing presence… and a comforting change of pace from Mark’s more verbal, taskmaster style (he is, after all, a swim coach – and a very good one).
At 9am I had about 2.5 nautical miles remaining – less than an hour and a half of swimming at my current pace. Cathy sensed I had hit another rough patch, and she was right. My shoulders throbbed painfully, and I was resorting to increasingly long stretches of backstroke. It was clear now I would finish the swim, but the record was in the balance.
Cathy and Rob made the call to wake up Mark and put him back in the kayak. His Olympian strength, his ability to motivate, was now needed.
Evan, we’re less than three miles out. You’re still under record pace, but there’s a good chance, if you pick it up, that you can break 10 hours. The choice is yours.
Those were Mark’s words shortly after he re-joined me. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
Almost simultaneously, the wind shifted… the chop settled down… and the swells were at my back. For the first time on this swim, the ocean let me find a rhythm. There was nothing left in my shoulders… but at the same time, there was nothing left to lose. I could see the beach.
9 hours, 47 minutes, 39 seconds after pushing off a vaguely menacing rock near San Pedro Point, my feet found dry sand on the shores of Oxnard.
I collapsed. Not because I lost consciousness, but because the weight of the past 10 hours was just a little too much to bear standing up.
The sun was high in a cloudless sky. A nice day at the beach.
The shortest-line distance from Santa Cruz Island to the mainland is 16.4 nautical miles (18.9 statute) – starting at San Pedro Point, finishing at the southern end of Hollywood Beach, north of the entrance to Channel Islands Harbor. Capt. Forrest actually plugged in a slightly more distant waypoint – the resort at Mandalay Beach – which made it a 16.6-nautical mile swim. I don’t know why, but that’s what he did.
To break Ned’s record, I had to average 1.59 knots (2:02 per 100m, 2945m per hour) across the channel. To break 10 hours, I had to average 1.66 knots (1:57 per 100m, 3074m per hour). My neutral-condition (i.e., pool) pace for a swim of this distance, at my current fitness level, would be approximately 2.3 knots initially, fading gradually to ~2.05 knots.
My progress for the first five hours (corresponding to the nighttime portion of the swim) was as follows:
Hour 1 — 1.4 nautical miles
Hour 2 — 1.8 nmi
Hour 3 — 2.0 nmi
Hour 4 — 1.8 nmi
Hour 5 — 1.5 nmi
Given my average progress over hours 1-5 (1.69 knots), the conditions may have been as much as a 20-25% “tax” on my swim speed. These conditions included a consistent Force 4 blow out of the West, only abating near the end. There were some currents, too, especially in the first couple hours. Here’s the SCCOOS model for that morning (click to enlarge):
After a slow “witching hour” (4-5 am, only 1.5 nautical miles), I made better progress after sunrise:
Hour 6 — 1.6 nautical miles
Hour 7 — 1.7 nmi
Hour 8 — 1.7 nmi
Hour 9 — 1.7 nmi
Hour 10 — 1.8 nmi (pro-rated)
Here’s a chart of my “rolling” speed, averaged over six consecutive 10-minute SPOT tracker intervals:
My stroke rate was my typical 64, with patches of 60. Nothing exciting there.