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Monday, May 8, 2017

Life On The Blue Planet Defined By Its Oceans

Drone footage of the Pan-American Colibrí Swim courtesy of Pablo Argüelles along the border between Imperial Beach, California and Tijuana, Mexico.

The team crossing from California to Mexico during last week's Pan-American Colibrí Swim was in good hands under the escort of Kevin Eslinger.

Dan Simonelli described the California waterman [with a white baseball cap shown below], "Kevin is so well respected by all those who know him. But his humility and under-the-radar mentality keeps his prowess a relative secret. He paddled both my Catalina Channel crossings completely and served as my main navigator with his GPS on his paddleboard (not the pilot boat). He does it flawlessly; he is the perfect support and escort.

It is a relief and comfort to have 100% trust in your support crew and in Kevin's case, my crew chief, feeder, coach, and navigator in order to be able to relax and simply swim. Kevin has been with me in my whole marathon swimming journey and I have benefitted immensely from his mentorship and support. I feel like he's been my secret force in all my swims

Eslinger explained his role in the 7.9 km cross-border swim. "It was great and was an honor and a privilege to be asked to be a part of such a noble event with such an incredible collection of aquatic humans."

Before the event started, he gathered the pack of 12 swimmers, the Mayor, escort kayakers and support team together on the beach after assessing the crashing surf. "My advice consisted primarily of how to use the rip that was created by the pier to get through the surf.

We were fortunate that the swim was scheduled near enough to the peak of the tide that the pier, like most underwater structures, created a nice funnel effect on its north side. This was observable and confirmed by watching the surfers that were out that morning using the rip for a "free ride" to the outside. The rip had almost entirely disappeared by the time we returned to the beach, three hours later [as we returned to the start].

The other element in play was timing the sets. Having watched for almost all of the hour plus [from the beach] before we paddled out, I knew the sets were 15-18 minutes apart and had 4-7 waves in a set. Once one of the definable sets had rolled through, it was time to go

Eslinger confirmed his humility when asked about his waterman reputation. "Waterman is an oft-debated term. I consider myself more an appreciative aquatic goof-off. I started swimming competitively in 1970, surfing in 1974, coaching in 1980, and coaching/escorting open water swims in 1988. I switched from using kayaks to paddling a board for swims around 1998, which led to a few paddle adventures of my own, and I've probably been across the Catalina Channel close to a hundred times."

Kevin Eslinger and the pod of swimmers nearing the border crossing with the wall separating the USA on left and Mexico on right.

He described the strategy of the escort kayakers. "For this pod swim we, the escort craft, simply made a box and tried to keep the swimmers inside. As swimmers tend to gravitate toward those of like speed and temperament, I find it's easier to allow them to find their own sweet spot within the 'box'.

I took front left to try to make sure the box never got too long, as well as keep them out of the surf as we passed the renowned Tijuana Sloughs.

As is typical of this type of group effort, awareness and adaptation are much more important to the health and happiness of the group than strict regimen, and roles and positions of the escorts varied as we got closer to the hand-off [on the USA-Mexican border]

He explained how the American team of kayakers handed off escort duties to their Mexican colleagues at the border. "It was great pleasure to have the chance to shake the hands of and wish 'Buenas Dias & Gracias' to our cross-border compatriots. And though it was obvious that the same fears that create walls on land did not exist out on the water, the reality of not being able to be with the swimmers when we could see the finish was a little bittersweet."

He pondered future swims with the pod.* "Time and work schedules permitting, I would be more than willing to aid this intrepid band of amphibious activists anywhere they chose to swim. As life on this little blue planet is defined by its oceans, as am I. How we treat (sorry Jimmy Buffet) Mother Ocean and how we treat each other is inseparable. It runs through our veins. It is home."

The members of the Pan-American Colibrí Swim included swimmers Kimberley Chambers (New Zealand), Oded Rahav (Israel), Jean Craven (South Africa), Antonio Argüelles (Mexico), Nicolene Steynberg (South Africa), Rene Martínez Saenz (Mexico), Ben Enosh (Israel/USA), Ryan Nelson (USA), Melissa King (USA), Nora Toledano (Mexico), Neil Macaskill (South Africa), Luc Chetboun (Israel), Dan Simonelli (USA), and Mariel Hawley (Mexico) with escort kayakers Tom Hecker (USA), Kevin Eslinger (USA), Billy Carlson (USA), Matt Donoghue (USA), Haden Ware (USA), Anna Lopez and the Out of the Boat Team (Mexico), and Kala Sherman-Presser (USA) as well as Madswimmer organizers Nicolene Steynberg and Kamini Moodley (both of South Africa).

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