18 mile solo during Shark Week

For my last long training swim before tapering in anticipation of the English Channel, I made a plan – together with the help of friends – to swim from Cardiff to Pacific Beach. My goal was to swim for 8 hours total, which together with the projected distance (18 miles), it would be my longest swim to date.

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And so, with Neil van der Byl in the kayak, Devon Clifford “buddy swimming” and Walter Scott dead-set on making it the Crystal Pier, we began our journey south a little after 5am last Saturday morning. Wally Buckingham was there to document in the dark and give a big warm sendoff.

Sometime around my first feed (6am) dawn broke. Stroke rate 62, Neil was reading 68 in the water. I felt good, if not a little anxious, and focused on slowing my stroke down. Devon soon got in the kayak and began documenting the trip.

We hit a little head current in Solana Beach and then shot through Del Mar. Near the DM Lifeguard headquarters, Cindy Walsh, Dave Smith and Jim Fitzpatrick met me in the water. We weren’t swimming long when a pod of dolphins joined us, actually leaping over Cindy at one point. Incredible.

Tom Hinds even surprised me, coming up fast on his paddleboard. I may or may not have attempted to splash him. It’s always fun to run into your friends out on the water.

Then we began to reel in the bluff at Torrey Pines. My stroke count a consistent 59 going into the 3rd and 4th hours, but the group had thinned. Walter and his kayaker, Guy, were nowhere to be seen, and Cindy, Devon and Jim had fallen back about 200 yards.

Neil: “Go on…I’m gonna go back and meet up with them.”
Me: “…Are you scared?”
Dave: “No… are you?”
Me: “Not if you aren’t.”

And that decided things. We continued on by ourselves for sometime. Eyes open, breathing primarily towards Dave on my left, but fighting a strong urge to hold my breath. This stretch of beach is a notorious breeding ground for the Great White shark. Not to mention, the very reason I did my dishes at 4am that morning: I imagined the worst, and wanted to make sure people remembered I was clean… An honest thought.

But my prayers held strong. The sky opened up and it became the most beautiful day. A family of sea lions, nearly fifteen of them, even paid us a little visit. They swam under and around us, only a hands reach away. But reaching for one intentionally would be like trusting a pack of dogs. “Go away!” I yelled. Trust me when I say they are not so cute up close.

The wind had even picked up a bit, creating some chop, but there was little-to-no swell. Mentally, we were breaking the swim into sections. First the road at Black’s, then the Roundhouse, and the Pier a 1/4 mile beyond that. I had never seen a day in the Cove so clear. At least 30 feet of visibility. Highly entertained, we swam circles in the Cove for the final two hours. It was too hard to pass up. And then we found Gracie. Her big hug and words of congratulations could not mean more from anyone else.

A successful swim anyway you spin it and a true destination swim at that.
The best.

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