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Mexico to Oregon Pier Swim

My 2nd pier swim

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by , October 9th, 2008 at 03:26 PM (3430 Views)
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 dont 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 couldnt help but think about my safety. In the past two years Ive 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 crawlthe 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 backsideI 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 attentionDavid 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.shes 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, Im 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!!

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Updated October 10th, 2008 at 03:06 PM by Ron Lockman (spelling)



  1. knelson's Avatar
    This is a great read, Ron! I really felt your excitement and nervousness. I think it's funny you already missed a pier on just your second attempt, though

    I'll be down in San Diego visiting my parents this weekend. Don't think I'll get in any pier swims. If I visit PB I'll definitely be thinking about your swim, though!
  2. ViveBene's Avatar
    What an adventure! It's great you are writing everything down. Did you swim a pier this past weekend, Oct. 18-19?
    I'll try to look at the photos (dialup leaves one "trying," for the most part). Good luck on the next!
  3. Ron Lockman's Avatar

    I didn`t swim a pier this week-end,.hopefully I`ll swim the Ocean Beach Pier next week-end. Here is an interesting video,,I believe the shark is a maco, not a tiger.