Swimming with a Polar Bear

December 4th 2011

I had just completed a 90 minute Masters swim workout and my friend Jordan asks what my plans are for the rest of the day.

“Vito invited a bunch of us to join him on his boat and jump in for a swim for a couple of hours, beginning 12 miles outside the Golden Gate Bridge” I beam with excitement.

“Woah. Sounds epic.... but aren’t you worried about sharks?” “Its still shark season and my buddy saw one at Pacifica just a few days ago… be careful” he warns.

Shit. Sharks.

I really REALLY didn’t want to think about them – especially today before my swim. In general I prefer to not think about them. I know they’re out there, but worrying does nothing. One of the many exciting challenges about swimming outside the Golden Gate Bridge, miles off shore, is controlling your thoughts. Because the truth is, that’s all you have control over. Not the weather, not the currents, not the water temperature, and certainly not the wildlife.

But now, sharks are firmly on my mind; once those guys in grey suits are on my mind, they’re hard to shift.

And, in about 1 hour, Joe, Karen, Dan and I will jump in and swim from the Lightship Buoy – the beginning of the SF Shipping Channel and SMACK DAB in the middle of the Red Triangle.

It’s a beautiful and clear Fall afternoon and the usually wild seas are strangely calm. So incredibly calm, in fact, it looks like a lake out there. The sun is shining, sea birds are resting on the water… its picturesque. It’s all a little TOO perfect…

5 minutes until we jump. My heart is pumping. PUMPING. God I love this. In a few minutes I’ll be swimming in the ocean. Not the Bay. The OCEAN!!!!!

Vito wants to take a picture - “this is history everyone” he declares. Oh shit. Now this swim is most certainly jinxed. Here I am - about to jump in the water with 3 INCREDIBLE world-class open-water swimmers – and our last moment together is captured on camera. Great. Did I mention how eerily calm the water is? This is too good to be true.


The boat is in neutral and its time to jump.

I jump in….

OMG. The water is just as beautiful and clear as I remember from earlier in the year. THIS is the ocean. THIS is what its all about. WOW. I put my head in the water and, looking to my right, 20 feet away, I can see Joe swimming beside me.

I start swimming…  I see the boat on my left. Check. I look for Joe, Dan and Karen… everyone is happily swimming along. I find my rhythm and relax into my swim. I love this, I love this, I LOVE this.

Suddenly it seems as if no one is around me… Joe and Karen are swimming ahead… they look so happy; out of the Bay, out of the pool (off-leash), in the ocean and free to swim. It’s an amazing sight.

I keep swimming. Shit. I'm not swimming as close to the boat as I would prefer. I stop swimming, look far to my left and spot Dan. We swim at a similar pace so I swim quickly towards him.

It’s important to note that Dan is a 280lb adventurer from England who is attempting to swim across the Atlantic. Next year.  Yes, you read that correctly. Dan is 280 lbs. And, yes, he plans to swim across the Atlantic Ocean. And that’s about 4,000 miles. He never gets cold and trains for hours. I call him The Polar Bear.

I swim close to the Polar Bear. I can’t shake the thought of sharks from my mind.

I see a small wave break and almost convince myself that it’s a dorsal fin, of the not-so-friendly kind. Shit. I look towards the boat… everyone on the boat looks relaxed. Surely they would be alarmed if it were a shark. So, okay, it’s NOT a shark, its NOT a fin. It’s just a wave.

I keep swimming.

I swim closer to the Polar Bear. Although we swim at a similar pace, to be perfectly honest, my reason for swimming so close to the Polar Bear is simple math. Surely a 280lb snack is MUCH more appealing than a 145lb snack.

Think about it. If  YOU were a Great White Shark, what would you prefer?