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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Swimming On The Leeward Side In Laguna

Women over the age of 40 are the fastest growing demographic group in the open water swimming world. This trend is true in nearly all of the regions of the world.

Laura Lee (left) and Jeannine Chomyn (right), mothers and swimmers, are representative of many of these women who are flocking to the sport.

"I grew up playing in the Orange County beaches and waves," said Lee, a 45-year-old Southern Californian.

"But I did my first open water ocean swim with Carol Hayden of the Oak Street Streakers a year and a half ago in Laguna Beach. I was on a high for the rest of the day that first day."

That initial experience is quite common...and so is the aftermath especially when a swim buddy is cooperative. "I was hooked. We swam a mile that day in an hour. I am slow and Carol was patient with me."

But while open water swimming is thought of as a solitary sport, it is the camaraderie before, during and after the swim that is enticing. It is a social endorphin of sorts. "I talked Jeannine into her first ocean swim last March, during spring break. She hadn’t been in the ocean in many years. It took a little coaxing and calming."

And with swim buddies, the inevitable encounter with nature is something to talk about. Together in the ocean, there are so many mutual experiences that forge common bonds that cement friendships in profound ways. Lee explains, "At first I got spooked when kelp hits my foot or something, but that fear faded with each swim. Now my biggest fear is jellyfish. I saw a massive Black Nettle jellyfish at Corona del Mar, I initially thought it was a giant, black/plumb wig. I kept staring at it until it slowly occurred to me that it was a jellyfish, trailing with long tentacles. I have never gotten out of the water so fast."

And certain swims always stand out. Occasionally embarrassing, but later hilariously memorable. Nothing Hollywood dreams up could match the realities of the most memorable open water swimming experiences. "One time I did a morning swim heading south. I did not realize, there was a surf competition ahead, complete with cameras, crowds, and sponsors. It was [a huge] swell, the biggest I have ever swam in. It was like being in a massive washing machine. Once I realized there was a surf competition, I didn’t want to get out of the water. I felt I could quickly swim past the competition. It was not a wise decision.

Just as I hit the surf line up, a rip tide worked against me. I felt so insignificant in comparison to the pull of the water. It washed me right into the line up. I swam right through the line up painfully slow with my bright yellow cap and goggles. I almost needed to ask for help. One surfer did a shocked double-take at me. His look told me I had no business being there. My husband said the newspaper headline should have read "Middle-aged lady ruins viable waves for competing surfers". It was a terrible swim on many levels. I had difficulty exiting the water that day and was thrashed by the waves that broke onshore. I was discouraged and didn’t swim for about 10 days afterwards
."

But the draw of the open water is too powerful to stay out forever. "We swim out past the wave breaks to calmer water. And we see marine life. It's my favorite thing. I'm always bummed when I find the water is murky. I love clear water. I see Garibaldi (fish), sting rays and leopard sharks. It only happened one time, but a grand-daddy 5-foot leopard shark swam leisurely right underneath me. I usually see smaller Leopard sharks, but they scurry away as soon as they know I am there."

Their goals are at once specific and generic. "When I first started ocean swimming in 2010, I took two private lessons to improve my technique and speed. I found that when I focused on my technique, I started obsessing and stopped having fun. I decided to just swim for myself, for the joy, for cold water endorphin rushes, for my health physically and emotionally. My current goals include to swim every Saturday at 9 am. at least 1.2 miles. If time allows, I'll swim more.

I'm quite slow [but] I'm happy being a sea turtle."

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source

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