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3 rd. Pier Swim
On a sunny Saturday morning, November 8, Linda and I arrived at the Ocean Beach Pier for my 3 rd pier swim. The City of Ocean Beach brags that their 1971 foot long concrete pier is the longest pier on the west coast. It may be the longest concrete pier, but it is not the longest pier. The Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf claims that title as it is 2,745 feet long. Now,…what is the difference between a pier and a wharf? A wharf is a structure that projects into a body of water where ships can dock and unload or load. A Pier is a wharf as well, except that a Pier is also used for strolling and fishing and general entertainment purposes.
Ocean Beach, a funky kind of hippy town , is on the west side of the Point Loma Peninsula which terminates in the Cabrillo National Monument. The main drag in town is Sunset Cliffs Blvd. where I was pleasantly surprised to see 5 churches. The side streets are small and cozy, many small cottages and bungalows, we saw no large houses or mansions although I’m sure there are some .The Ocean Beach Pier has long been the focal point of this beach town since it’s founding in 1888. The pier has existed in several locations, being resurrected in its current location in 1966. We paid 2 bucks for 1 hour parking in a lot about a block or so from the Pier. Our walk to the Ocean took us past a “head shop”, tattoo parlor, and a really funky clothes shop. Reggae music was blaring from a bar that opened onto the sidewalk. All that was missing was the smell of patchouli oil and some Peter Max art work.
We found the beach and I was delighted to see a glassy Ocean. She was resting and happy, relaxed, not wild and angry like she was when I rounded the Crystal Pier. A dozen or so surfers were plying their trade on the north side of the Pier and a few folks were absorbing the sun on the beach. As I went thru my pre-swim ritual Linda got comfortable in her beach chair.
Looking out at the pier I could see a small café and bait shop. The Café is about half way out. Beyond it the pier branches out in two opposite directions, each fork extends about 100 feet. From my observations I would guess that the pier is about 25 feet above the water.
Surfers are restricted to the “real estate” that extends from the Pier to about 100 yards to the right of , or north from the Pier. Swimmers are allowed to enter the water beyond this point and are expected to stay clear of the surfers.
I entered the water about 100 yards beyond the surfer’s area and headed out to sea. The water felt great and I was immediately in another world, a world where gravity had lost most of his power. The Ocean embraced me and drew me out. Each stroke seemed effortless. Being on the right side of the Pier I had it in my sight on every breath. There were no waves, merely occasional swells. After swimming in the straight out for about 15 minutes, I “alligator-eyed” a resting sea gull who was studying me from about 6 feet away.. I stopped, made goofy bird sounds, and continued on .She was not impressed. Before I knew it I was at the end of the right fork of the Pier where many fishermen were enjoying their time. The flatness of the water was spooky, but such a thrill, way too friendly, greatly appreciated.
I swung around the end of the fork, took a pic and checked the water temp, 61 degrees. I could feel myself developing goose-bumps, not from the cool water, but from my emotions. The mood I’m in before I enter the water is often magnified while on a swim. Sometimes all my demons, all of life’s troubles seem to surface and consume me. When this happen I swim hard to escape them, to drown them ,to dissolve them in the sea. Today,.I was blessed with a spirit of contentment, a feeling I did not want to swim away from.
At the half way point of my swim, I rolled over on my back and rested. Not because I was tired, but because it was soothing, otherworldly. I could have easily spent an hour floating there in that aquatic massage parlor.
After 5 minutes or so, I rolled over and pressed on, building up some speed, leaning into the harness, loving every moment. Turning towards shore just past the end of the opposing branch of the pier I took some more pics and made a determined effort to do nothing but swim hard till I could see the bottom. In not too many more minutes I could see a rocky bottom, sea urchins, sea grass. About 100 yards from shore I was in 2 feet of water, but was unable to stand and walk. The sea floor was rough and craggy, slippery, "potholes" abounded. I stayed in a prone position, crawling I pulled myself along with my hands as my legs did nothing but float behind me. Before long I was in inches of water but was uncomfortable walking as I feared taking a tumble. Linda had walked south, under the pier and I could see her standing on the beach. We walked back under the Pier and headed home, without hitting a restaurant , I might add. :^( Our schedule would not allow it. Poor planning on my part. My next swim will be the Scripps Pier in La Jolla where we will make up for my poor planning by eating at Georges on the Cove.
My gps says that I traveled .66 of a mile in 32 minutes, but a good deal of the swim was not recorded due to “poor coverage”. “Poor coverage”…there was nothing between me and the satelites except blue sky,..go figure.
Updated November 23rd, 2008 at 06:59 PM by Ron Lockman
Sunday afternoon, October 4th, Linda and I drove to Pacific Beach for my second pier swim. The Crystal Pier is a wooden pier built in 1938 and is 872 feet long. The first section of the pier has Cape Cod style cottages for rent that are part of the Crystal Pier Hotel. After you pass by the cottages there are no other structures on the rest of the pier. Pacific Beach is know as a rowdy beach town, lots of sports bars, fast food joints, some hookah-bars as well as some good restaurants. You don’t see many old folks, mostly college age young people.
After a 40 minute drive we parked on Garnet St. right next to the Pier. Parking spots are hard to come by on a Sunday afternoon. We walked about 50 yards to the Pier and took the stairway down to the beach. As we walked down the steps, I could see a pier several miles to the south,. a long pier. It suddenly dawned on me that I had somehow skipped the Ocean Beach Pier . Looking down the coast towards Point Loma was a bit disconcerting. There were large waves whose crests were collapsing into the troughs at their bases and then surging their way to the shore. I studied the view from the steps and could not make out any discernable pattern or frequency in their arrivals. They came one after another, no real grouping of sets. A lifeguard was sitting in his truck on the sand next to the pier. As my wife set up her chair and was getting comfortable I walked over, introduced myself and asked him about the surf conditions. Being next to the pier one cannot help but to notice the odor of the pier, that pier smell, tar and creosote, fish. its an odd smell, but a pleasant one, pleasant because you know that you are at the beach. He told me that these waves were much bigger than normal and that there was a current working from the north to the south hitting the beach on a 45 degree angle. As we spoke a wave broke right at the end of the pier. It traveled to shore with its crest reaching the top of the piers horizontal support members that are about 10 feet above the level of the resting sea. After seeing that, I felt anxious and momentarily thought about calling the swim off. It was high tide, there were a few small clouds, the air temperature 72 and according to the Lifeguard the water temp between 60 and 65. The breeze coming off the Ocean was fresh, pure, relaxing.
I always put my Speedo on at home and over it a pair of trousers. When I get on the beach I strip down and put on my rash guard , turn on my gps , put in my ear plugs, pull on my swim cap, goggles and swimp3 player. Having everything in order I started a rapid walk into the Pacific . As I speared the water I couldn’t help but think about my safety. In the past two years I’ve swam Alcatraz twice, done the 5 mile Tour of the Buoys in La Jolla, and many solo 1 mile Ocean swims. After reviewing that reservoir of experiences I hesitantly co-signed for my safety.
Getting out thru the breakers was a chore. Having to dive under broken waves made progress slow. Efforts to establish my stroke and attain a pace, were met with opposition , in fact I couldn`t do the crawl…the waves were one after another. The water felt cool but not cold and tasted extra salty. It seemed like all my senses were working at more than 100 percent. Looking towards the pier I realized that I was about half way to its end when a moderate wave that had already broken found me and tossed me about,…not bad,. kind of fun. There was a significant, wave generated current which drew me back towards the shore. I pressed on and seemed to be making no progress… I was getting worried.
There was a lull in the action and I made recognizable progress. Moments later as I scanned the horizon, I could see a wall of green, a huge wave building higher and higher. As I found myself being delivered to the bottom of the trough in front of this wave I made the decision to swim as fast as I could straight at the wave in order to climb its face and be “safe” on the other side. This wave must have been about 15 feet from crest to trough. I was pulled straight up its face, the water was crystal clear I could see out the backside…I MADE IT THRU my heart was pounding.
Off in the distance another was forming, I swam towards it and made my way over before it had a chance to build and collapse. Now I found myself beyond the breakers, past the end of the pier and anxious about how I was going to navigate my way back without getting absolutely clobbered. People on the end of the pier had spotted me and I could tell that they were amused. Along came another huge unbroken wave which I rode up like a cork and then slid down its backside into the trough behind it. I was in the bottom of a bowl, a bowl made of water. This swell rose up and blocked the pier from view. . seconds later the pier seemed to rise up out of the water only to disappear again as a wave broke on its end sending up a geyser of water. I reached for my camera, snapped a few pictures and noticed that the water temp was 61. It was comfortable, I had no sensation of being cold.
At this point in time the music I was listening to caught my attention…David Lanz, “Behind the Waterfall”, a piano solo, absolutely soothing, peaceful new age music. It was totally out of context. “Night on Bald Mountain” or “Sorcerers Apprentice” would have been appropriate . This peaceful music reminded me to relax and to not panic. As I bobbed up and down I was continually looking for that rogue wave with my name on it,.. I knew it was out there .
I breast stroked, dog-paddled, side stroked, treaded water, did every form of swimming except the crawl as I was making my way parallel to the shore and about 50 yards past the north side of the pier. I finally got smart and floated on my back , kicking with my feet and slowly doing the back stroke. This allowed me to see what was out there. The added buoyance you receive from saltwater is a blessing. I traveled up and down the faces and backs of swells, immature waves.
It was time to head to shore, I had gone far enough north of the pier to make my journey back without getting washed under the pier. I started to turn and parallel the pier, heading home, with the pier on my left side as I floated on my back. Keeping my head towards the shore and my feet pointing out to sea I watched for the wave that I knew was going to have its way with me. When I saw no looming waves, I rolled over from my back and started swimming hard and fast but only got in about 20 strokes when I was compelled to roll back over. I was afraid of being snuck up on and blindsided. Soon I was about even with the end of the pier on its north side, and was feeling a much appreciated, yet much feared pull towards the shore.
As I looked to the shore I could see the backside of breaking waves,white foam , rooster tails of wind blown water. Looking out again towards the ocean, I could see another green wall forming taller and taller. I had finally been caught in no mans “land”, in the sweet spot for being pummeled. This one, about 10 feet tall, was just breaking as I was in the deepest part of the trough at its base. I took the biggest breath of my life and dove for the bottom. The sound underwater was deafening as the wave broke. The surge forced the camera I carry on my butt all the way down the back of my speedo to behind my right knee. I was pulled down into the depths yet toward shore,…. no sense of up or down.. After what seemed like an eternity I found the surface but was unable to make any sort of headway, I was swimming in foam, half water, half air. I was now about 100 yards from shore, I could see people on the beach. I decided that I had to sprint to the sand.
As I was just getting underway I got another pounding by a wave that had broken probably 20 yards behind me. This one pushed me down; my foot hit sand, I WAS ALMOST HOME. I swam hard, till my hand struck sand . As I tried to get to my feet I got knocked down. Suddenly I was in knee deep water,” Thank you Father in Heaven!” As I walked south on the beach and under the Pier I was struck with the fact that the ocean who had always embraced me had just giving me a display of her wildness….she’s a harsh mistress. My Garmin told me that I had just spent 23 minutes and 17 seconds to travel .53 miles.
Within a half hour we were sitting in the sun on the patio of “Gringo`s” a restaurant around the corner from the pier. Their main menu was not available till 4 so we had their buffet lunch of Mexican food. Having not been able to sample their menu, I’m reluctant to give a rating . Our waiter was pleasant, the beer was cold and the sun warm. My next swim will be around the Ocean Beach Pier. Attached is the GPS record. The pictures were not of good quality,..I`m having a photographer try to clarify them and will post them shortly. If you go to Motion Based Agent and in the upper right hand corner in "search" ..enter rvlockman and click on Activities and you will find this swim under Crystal Pier
Life is grand!!
Updated October 10th, 2008 at 02:06 PM by Ron Lockman
Sunday afternoon @ 1:30 in Imperial Beach I started out on my quest to swim around all of the Piers on the California Coast. I plan on documenting my swims with a Garmin 305 Forerunner GPS, and by taking pictures of each Pier,..from the water. Savon sells a $14 waterproof camera which is easy to use as well as carry. I tuck it in the back of my speedo and have attached to it on a lanyard a small thermometer. When I`m about 50 yards or so past the end of the pier and about 100 yards parallel, I`ll snap a photo and check the water temp. After each swim, my wife Linda, who does not swim, but is my moral support and safety officer, will find a local restuarant and perhaps a winery . We will report back here with our impressions.
I don`t write very well., but hopefully this will be an opportunity for me to improve my communication skills. Bear with me.
This afternoon I`ll develop the film from yesterday`s swim and post pics shortly ( that is if I can figure out how to do so).
OK,..here we go. I live in Escondido and it took 45 minutes to drive to Imperial Beach,..and no time to find a parking place,..we parked right next to the Pier, where there is a nice park. The air temp was around 72 degrees, no clouds but a little haze in the air..we could not see the Coronado Islands which are about 10 miles off shore, but the view of San Diego to the north was impressive. There were not too many folks on the beach. It was windy, with lots of chop/whitecaps but only small waves. A few Pelicans were dive bombing into the water about 200 yards out, which means bait-fish,which can mean sharks, which makes these swims exhilorating. I started my swim from the south side of the Pier, which turned out to be a bad idea. The small waves and swells were coming directly to shore parallel with the Pier. As I got under way and established my pace ( listening to an eclectic variety of music on my Swimp3 player ),my mask fogged over ( I used a new anti-fogging paste which was not working). The water had a greenish tint, no kelp or sea weed.. I`m always fasinated by the little bubbles that trail thru the water as I stroke...I understand that there shouldn`t be many :^( Soon I could not make out the Pier and had to stop every 100 yards and wash the fog off. My sinuses cannot tolerate water so I wear a snorkeling mask which covers my nose. PLUS, I do not bi-lateral breath ( something I`m going to learn). I breath on the left side so I had no view of the Pier other than sneaking a peak now and then. I found myself being pushed away from the 1,491 foot long pier and heading south, the chop was severe at times. I drank more than my share of saltwater. Linda lost sight of me in the whitecaps despite the fact that I wear a bright orange swimcap and a long sleeved white rash guard . It took me 15 minutes to reach the end of the Pier , where I took a photo and checked the water temp.....64 degrees,. It felt good, energizing. As I rounded the Pier I took care to navigate to the north so as to not be drawn into the Pier. The fishermen stared at me like they are seeing a crazy man, some waved. When I figure out how to post the satellite view of my swim (captured by the gps I wore under my swim cap as suggested by Gary Emich. Thanks Gary! ) I`ll post it.
After 28 minutes my hand struck sand around 25 yards north of the Pier, a little too close for my comfort. The current was deceiving, the waves did not reflect what was happening with the surface layer of water...seems like the wind was pushing the upper foot of water in a southerly direction. I walked south on the beach, under the Pier to my wife and we headed back to the truck. The swim, at that moment seemed unfulfilling for some reason, I can`t figure it out. Oh well,..now I see it in a different perspective and feel like I`ve just started to lean into the harness so to speak.
We drove north and had a great lunch at the Old Town Cafe in Old Town. "Tacos a carbon" and Dos Equis beer topped off our afternoon.
Next week,...the Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach. If any of you are around, I`d love to have company on a swim. Just send me an e-mail.
Updated September 30th, 2008 at 04:26 PM by Ron Lockman