Fear No Pier
Posted by Scott Zornig, 5 September 2013
Lately, I have become interested in doing what I term adventure swims. Adventure swims are “unusual” or “extreme” swims which are out of the ordinary. Ice, river or stage swims done according to Channel rules are examples of what I believe an adventure swim is.
A year ago, some friends invited me to participate in swims around various piers in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties. I was unable to attend, but they ended up swimming around 14 piers in a single day. I was intrigued and desired to do something similar. I did some research and found that there were a total of 27 piers on the mainland of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties. I also discovered that if a person swam around all 27 piers, it would be a total distance of 19,000 meters or approximately 12 miles. I learned that there were 311 miles between the first and the final pier. I wondered if it was possible to swim around all the piers in 24 hours or less. Several months ago, I was having coffee with my Oak Street swim buddies and I mentioned this idea. Word spread and things quickly went from an idea to a plan. We had 14 swimmers who said they wanted to do this. We decided to cap it at 14 swimmers as this is the number 2 RV’s could comfortably hold (7 per RV). We first came up with a name for our adventure which was “Fear no Pier.” I suggested “A Beer for every Pier”, but it was quickly shot down….I still wonder why? We then put a list together of items needed, determined costs, hired drivers for each RV, and scheduled the swim for August 17-18, 2013. We made it clear that this was a fun swim and not a race or competition. Each person set different goals…we all just wanted to do our best.
The 14 swimmers consisted of 4 former Catalina Channel swimmers, 4 swimmers who have scheduled marathon swims for this year and 6 swimmers who have done numerous Catalina and Santa Barbara Channel relays. In other words, our group consisted of experienced long distance ocean swimmers who knew the task at hand…or so we thought.
If my memory serves me correctly, 12 of the 14 people thought they would make all 27 piers while 2 said they were going to stop at some point during the endeavor. The group anticipated the obvious…we knew it was going to be hard to get wet, cold, dry and warm 27 times. The “get in” and “get out” factor was difficult….especially in the afternoon and early evening when the wind kicked up. However, we did not anticipate all the walking we would have to do. One person wore a pedometer and discovered we actually walked more than we swam. There was close to 13 miles of trekking from the RV’s to the different piers and it was all done either barefoot or in sandals….not an easy task when you think about it. Secondly, we did not anticipate all the extra swimming we would have to do. In other words, we had the distances of the pier, but I did not calculate swimming the width of the pier. If you are swimming 50 extra meters at every pier, this amounts to almost an extra mile of swimming over 27 piers. This turned our 11.8 mile swim into a 12.7 mile swim. Thirdly, we forgot that there would be people fishing on almost every pier. Some of our swimmers swam underneath the lines while others steered clear and went outside the lines. We had to stay on constant lookout for fisherman who were casting or reeling in their lines. Most of those fishing attempted to accommodate us, but we had a few mean fishermen who seemed to try to cast on us as we swam by. Every swimmer ran into lines on several occasions. Fourthly, we did not realize that some of the piers were extremely difficult to access. In Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, we battled submerged and exposed rocks. Almost every swimmer got bloody at least one time during this adventure. Thankfully, one of our swimmers had the foresight to bring a first aid kit which was used throughout the trip. Finally, we quickly learned that the greater the number of people you have, the more you need to stop for items like food, bathroom breaks etc and the harder it is to corral everyone and get them back in the transport vehicle. Although it was more fun with the size group we had, we probably would have increased our chance of success if there were only 4 or 5 swimmers instead of 14.
As a result, this swim took a great deal longer for all of us to finish. In fact, only one person, Ray Meltvedt (Catalina Channel “10”), made all 27 piers and it took him 47 hours. SBCSA board member Theo Schmeckle and I made 22 piers before quitting, SBCSA board member Lynn Kubasek (Catalina Channel “09”) completed 21 piers along with new SBCSA swimmer Julian Rusinek. Below is a list of all 14 swimmers who were part of this event:
Cherie Edborg Julie flanagn Carol Haydan Peter Hayden Lynn Kubasek Tanya Maclean Tim McFadden Ray Meltvedt Natalie Marrow Lisa Nordholm Patsee Ober Julian Rusinek Theo Schmeeckle Scott Zornig
We had many great moments while swimming and driving, but what stood out the most is how everyone got along and supported each other. It was truly a great group to be associated with. We all agreed that even though many of us have lived in Southern California for a very long time, we were able to see and experience new places to swim. The following list consists of the more memorable swimming holes during this endeavor.
- Coldest Water – Gaviota Pier in Santa Barbara (63.0 degrees).
- Warmest Water – Seal Beach Pier in Orange County (70.8 degrees).
- Most accommodating lifeguards – Seal Beach Pier (they not only supported our endeavor, but escorted us in a boat).
- Most unaccommodating lifeguards – Belmont Pier in Los Angeles County (they told us that we could not swim around one side of the pier when we were ¾’s of the way done…we pretended we were deaf and continued swimming).
- Best visibility – Newport Pier in Orange County (We easily had 30’ visibility and could see the ripples on the sand below us).
- Most intimidating – Carpinteria Pier in Santa Barbara County (this pier is located smack in the middle of a seal rookery. There was a sign posted of a shark attack 7 days earlier. Every one of our swimmers had completed each pier until we reached Carpinteria. Many of our swimmers elected to sit this one out).
- Most eerie – Richfield Pier in Ventura County (This pier actually is more like a bridge, but since it is called a pier we swam around it. At the end of this pier is a man-made island which you have to swim around. It is hard to describe why, but we all felt helpless and alone out there. I don’t think I will ever swim around this one again, but am glad I can say I did it once).
- Bloodiest – Richfield Pier in Ventura County (Since one side of the pier has numerous submerged and exposed rocks, you can’t avoid getting scraped and cut).
- Most Difficult – Elwood Pier in Santa Barbara County (This pier had everything you could want, numerous rocks, cold water and the thickest seaweed I have ever encountered¬).
- Best Audience – Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara County (We had several people who watched and cheered as we swam around this pier).
- Nastiest Water – Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles County (We swam around this pier at nighttime, but the water still looked and tasted bad. This was the second pier that some wisely decided to pass on).
- Easiest Pier – Paradise Cove in Los Angeles County (This is an unusually short pier that took less than 2 minutes to swim around).
- Longest Pier – Ocean Beach in San Diego County (This pier is 1500M and is considered the longest concrete pier on the west coast of the United States).
- Most beautiful Pier – Carpenteria in Santa Barbara County (I will never swim around this one again because I decided a few years ago that I don’t swim next to seals anymore, but this pier’s beauty stands out).
- Most Sea Life – Scripps Pier in San Diego County (This was not even close….there were schools of fish everywhere in high visibility water).
- Most Fun – Crysal Pier in San Diego County (This pier has everything from high visibility to surfers, sun bathers, great restaurants, awesome stores and a motel actually built on the pier).
Although we did not complete this swim in less than 24 hours and most of us did not finish, I still believe it can be done within 24 hours. It will not take faster swimmers…..we had fast swimmers after all. Rather, it will take a smaller, coordinated group of 4 swimmers (with two drivers) who are all strong minded. It will also involve scouting the course beforehand so one knows exactly where to park and how to access the beach. All meals will need to be eaten in the car (not in a restaurant) as your driver takes you from one venue to the next. It will also involve using a comfortable van which can maneuver in and out of parking lots easily.
With marathon and adventure swimming growing the way it is, it is only a matter of time before swimmers repeat our endeavor with more success and even test the 24 hour barrier. Although I don’t intend to do this particular swim again, I would enjoy seeing others have fun and success.
Footnote: Julian Rusinek and I went back a week later and finished our incomplete piers so the final times are Ray Meltvedt 46 hours, 52 minutes, Scott Zornig 171 hours, 10 minutes and Julian Rusinek 172 hours and 33 minutes. Shortly after, we learned that our 27 pier adventure should have been 31 piers as we inadvertently missed 4 piers we did not even know existed….or at least had forgotten about (Dana Point, Shutter Island, Coronado Ferry Crossing and the Embarcadero Marina Pier). Therefore, have fun making up your own course, piers, rules etc. After all, this is what Adventure swimming is all about.