No wetsuit? No problem!

I love to meet people that are highly intelligent and a little quirky (that’s a compliment).  Maybe I am hoping it will rub off.   When you put together this combination and then ask them about what they love above San Francisco, the answers are always enlightening.

Take a friend of mine from Livermore, Guy.  Guy has worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (as we Livermorons’ call it, The Lab) since 1984 as a physicist.  He holds a Ph.D.  in nuclear physics from Princeton making history in the form of “large laser things”.  He collects quilts and owns two turtles.  Guy has raised possums in the basement of his 1920s bungalow that he and his wife have owned in downtown Livermore since 1987 – the same house that they raised their two boys.  His hobbies include gardening, rebuilding old VWs and Mercedes.  He once fixed my own Mercedes, circa 1997, with aluminum foil — a solid fix that kept my car legally smogged for years after.   He and his wife are cool cats.

One of Guy’s favorite hobbies is swimming; more specifically he likes to swim in the San Francisco Bay (The Bay).  I met him for lunch today, a new favorite sushi restaurant in our Livermore town.  I wanted to know more about his love affair with the The Bay.   He orders a sashimi plate for two.  This fish eats his fish.

Guy was never a competitive swimmer; however, he was the fastest swimmer in his high school P.E. class.  He swam at The Lab pool in Livermore and then moved over to the new sports club that opened.  He got to know the regulars there and a few of them suggested that they train to swim from Alcatraz.   That started Guy’s treks to the Aquatic Center, sometimes multiple days a week, from Livermore to swim The Bay.  This cool cat does not wear a wetsuit.  Many who swim The Bay do not.  Guy is not adverse to it, but just chooses to swim non-skins (the term most casually referred to as sans wetsuit) and is not too serious about himself to strip down to nothing for the annual birthday swim — a tradition among swimmers of The Bay.

There are many types of swimmers that hit The Bay.  Some love it for the rules – no fins and no wetsuits equals a legitimate swim/sport.  Add fins/wetsuit, you’re a rookie and non-legit.  Guy has spent time with Pedro, a regular teacher at Aquatic Park and Chrissy Field, the South End Rowing Club and the Dolphin Club and provides kayak support when not swimming.  He is also an avid white water rafter and swam Lava Falls in the Grant Canyon – not intentionally, but it counts when your kayak tips and you are now swimming class 5 rapids.

Yet, Guy humbly insists he is an average swimmer.  It is more to him to just “do it” than to finish it in record time.  Or even on a less than perfect swim, to climb back into the boat after an unfinished swim knowing today was just not that day.  His best Alcatraz swim was 30 minutes.  Guy recalled another swimmer who finished at a best time of 19 minutes.  My own time was 58 minutes.  I would say Guy is more than average.

So why the love of The Bay?  Guy keeps an 1847 and 1878 bird’s eye map of San Francisco in his office above his desk—a map that shows a bigger Bay than San Francisco has now.  Guy, like many of us, enjoys the deep history of our great San Francisco.  Imagine this cool cat with a full head of (now) silver hair, driving his 1966 VW bug, often times with a kayak on top, over the Bay Bridge at 5:00 in the morning.  He pulls his car into a parking space off a side street near Aquatic Park.  It is just prior to sunrise as he boards a boat that drops him somewhere into the dark waters of The Bay depending on the tides.  You can barely see the hand in front of you.  You use sighting to guide your swim into the cove of Aquatic Park.  Depending on your location, you pick one of many lights that dot the San Francisco cityscape in the darkness — maybe Sutro Tower, Coit Tower or Fort Mason.

There are great stories.  Guy shared a few of his favorites.  A story of the camaraderie of a group of die hard swimmers who completed the 24 hour relay earlier this year with the Dolphin Club – swimming late into the evening with a full moon through to the colors of the morning sunrise.   Another story of a group swim under the Golden Gate Bridge with a 100-year old row boat following the group.  An approaching tanker was incoming.  The swimmers were told to veer one way, and fast, only to have the tanker change course indicating the swimmer’s to again change course, the other way and faster.  A swim to Coghlan Beach with a 5.5 knot ebb (6 miles per hour for us non-nautical folks) pushing you sideways.  A young woman was out for her first swim outside the cove.  Not ideal.  She was thankfully reeled in far off course by the Golden Gate Bridge and has not ventured outside the cove since.

It is the idea that no matter how many times you jump into the same Bay, it is different every, every time.   Seems to me that the San Francisco Bay is the same as its very own City — it is different every, every time.

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