Lynne Cox holds the world record for the cold water mile. Wearing only a swimsuit she swam over one mile in the arctic temperatures of 32 degrees or less. To understand how astounding this feat is you first have to know that the average open water swimmer can last only a few minutes in 50 degree temperatures without a serious wetsuit. To cross the line into forty degree temperatures without protection is to court death. 32 degrees – no wetsuit – Arctic Ocean – 1.2 miles from a boat to shore. Insane.
I am nothing like Lynne Cox. I have never swam in the Pacific in February. I have never done a long cold open-water swim with anything less than a 5mm wetsuit (7mm is recommended for longer immersion). I’m just a skinny white guy from Utah.
For years I swam the Pacific in winter. The water was so cold I had to spend five minutes submerging my head until the pain gave way to numbness, just so I could do a mile. You knew it was really cold when I got home wearing my fish face: blue and swollen it looked like I’d gotten a collagen injection from Dr. Frankenstein.
The coldest waters were probably only 50 degrees. The waves were sometimes so big a drop to the rocks on a short shore would result in a broken neck. The swells in February often give birth to epic surf days. I think I did pretty good. Every month but February.
Last week the last part of my wetsuit arrived along with the warmest February I’ve ever experienced in any part of California. We took the family to spend some time at the beach. There it was again – the ache. Part heart ache, part gut pull: I need to get back into the Ocean. Just looking at it doesn’t help, it only makes things worse.
“But its cold as hell,” my sane self tells me.
“I have a new, thicker wetsuit,” my ocean crazed self says.
“Yeah, so stiff you can barely turn your head. Look at those waves. You’re lucky if you can get out at all and you’re sure as shit not getting back to shore without getting trounced.”
“Lynne Cox could do it in a bikini.”
“Lynne Cox is an Orca.”
“Screw tomorrow, go back to the pool Grandpa!”
The conversation continued into the next day. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to get back into the Ocean because its cold and scary. Its especially scary when you’re out there alone which seems to happen often to me. Swimming alone=stupid even if the wife is watching from the somewhat distant shore. Unfortunately the Ocean beckons, sanity will not stand in my way.
Today I checked the surf report: water temp 54F (warm for this time of year), turbidity low (not too much bacteria), poo patrol gives a clean thumbs up (ecoli from birds, cats, dogs and anything else that flows out is low), waves 8-11 ft. Ouch.
When you launch from shore getting in is not so much the problem as getting out. Even though you try to conserve energy and body heat, inevitably you’re at your weakest when you’re trying to leave. Without a surfboard its easy to get swallowed up. First rule: respect the Great Mother Ocean. I’ll have to try again on Thursday.
Crazy Ocean self: “Thursday! Thats forever. You’re wimping out on us.”
Sane human self: “You’re taking care of yourself! Thats important.”
*UPDATE: 1/2 way to the YMCA I turned the truck around, went home and got the new wetsuit and headed for the Slough. Hey its not the Ocean exactly but at least I can test the new suit. Didn’t do too bad. Turbidity was too high to do much. But at least I got in the salt water and swam with the wildlife. Grandpa my ass.