Open Water: Fall in Love with Exploring the Unknown

As we head into open water season for many swimmers and triathletes, there is always a certain amount of angst that builds before that first dip. What is in there? How cold is it going to be? I don’t want to see the fish, are there fish in there? Where’s the bottom? What if something runs into me?

I have lots of answers for lots of questions, but in place of answering questions I rather describe what I see and what I feel when I’m in the water.

Last weekend at Alki was the first sunny day since I can remember when. Yes, I said it, that three letter word, SUN. And it was glorious! I had my first “long” swim of the year, long being relative considering I could have thrown a stick further than the yardage I’ve been swimming at Alki with the water so cold. Not seriously though, I never got to that Tony Phillips / Al Kaline echelon of baseball….. meaning I can’t throw a stick very far. It was metaphorical :o)

I knew it was going to be a good day. I had just eaten my routine French toast, eggs and bacon for breakfast with the gang, had my fill of coffee and was ready to get in. That first step was cold as usual with muttering of a few words, but there was something in the air, something in the wind, you could just tell today was going to be different. The tide still had about a half an hour of going out and as I got in and put my face in the water it was clear as crystal. I allowed my chest to relax and tried to figure out how long I was going to swim before I got distracted by a…. oh wait a three legged purple starfish. There we go, I’m distracted already. Despite having three legs, it was healthy and beautiful. It laid there on the sand like it had been waiting for us to find it and admire its beauty.

Off I go, the wind was minimal, the water relatively calm and current slightly against me. As I swam over the sand bar, I dragged my hands through the ripples like I was flying and waving my hands through the clouds. The sands kicked up, did a do-si-do, and each grain glistened in the sun. A short while later I came over my favorite spot marked by the orange building on land. It has the most amazing seaweed and sea grass. The sargassum, my favorite seaweed, made a path just for me, I dove under and swam through the forest bumping into the seaweed leaves as I went by. A jellyfish stopped to say hello, then a small school of fish, silvery green that blended in with the sea grass, but shone like emeralds on the sea floor just the same. My anemone friends waved hi in the current and off I went to continue my swim.

The tide had just about gone out all the way at the stairs, I turned around to head back to the lighthouse and did a few backstrokes. As I laid there on my back, the clouds raced me against the endless blue of the sky. I’d like to say I won, but the clouds beat me in the end. They technically got DQ’d because they went off course and dissipated in the sky. Let’s face it, they couldn’t handle the competition!

As I swam back, the sand was about two feet beneath me and I could see a perfect reflection of myself on the floor. Like Peter Pan, I had a shadow to keep me company for the next 2000 meters. My shadow seemed so graceful, I could watch the fingers slightly spread creating a web of water, I could check her stoke, form, like she was my own coach. We glided over the sand together smiling and I thought, I never want this to end.

Once at the lighthouse, I marveled at the quiet roll of the waves, the peace, the silence. On the swim back to shore, my shadow had long departed, but I was re-accompanied by thousands of tiny minnows that surrounded me for a short second. I felt in that moment I could breathe under water and gave it all my might to try to hold on to that moment for just a little longer. Though I was swimming by myself, I was never alone. I had the power and my relationship with the water along side me for the duration of the swim. In swimming you have to respect the water, talk gently to her, and let the water take you where you are going. I have learned to swim with the water, never against it.

The next time you enter the water and aren’t sure of what is in there, feel nervous, or afraid, think of all the amazing things you have to discover. You are in a new world that is inviting you in to explore. Let the water surround you and show you what it has to offer. Relax, calm your chest, calm your breathing, soak it all in. This will be the best experience you ever have.

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