At Home in Santa Catalina Island
I grew up on and in the water. At the early age of 3, my family started me on swimming lessons in our pool at home. I remember how much I enjoyed the time playing, kicking and eventually diving for rings at the deep end of the pool. This was my early mermaid training that introduced me to my love of the water.
In high school I swam on the Junior Varsity swim team. I wasn’t the fastest but I found I had an incredible endurance and I could swim forever. I loved the flow of the free-style stroke, turning my head at just the right time, taking in all the air I needed to fill my lungs to continue propelling myself through the water. Carving the water with my hands and pushing below me, I fell in love with the feeling of stretching my body’s entire length from my fingertips to the end of my toes.
Around the same time I was introduced to the Crew team at school and soon found myself on a team racing in regattas in Southern California. We worked so hard! Jogging all around the bay and practicing our form and strength on an “erg” machine (aka a rowing machine) before we were on the water. Then we would pull down a large 8 person boat and each of us teen girls would take our share of the weight, balanced on our shoulders. We walked from the boat house to the water, a quiet ritual I always loved before we lowered the boat off our shoulders and slid it into the bay. We’d start by rowing slowly out into the open area and get into formation. The coxswain (who sat in the stern facing us) would communicate to us rowers via a megaphone. When we were ready, she’d shout the encouraging phrase “Pull, PULL!” My hands gripping the end of the wooden oar, I’d pull rapidly towards my body. This sport is not so much arms, as it is legs and core. I would push with my feet with each pull, feeling the strength of my flexed calves and thighs thrust me back in my seat. I loved the group effort of it all - being a part of a team, pulling our oars in perfect succinctness, the sea water misting our faces and arms. We were a powerful vessel charging across the surface and nothing could break us.
For some reason I became fearful of the ocean and never set foot in it again, until I met Robbie 15 years later. Rob loves the water and one day sent me a photo of himself at La Jolla Cove - one of the most gorgeous and world renowned locations for open water swimming and diving. I remember it was a particularly hot, steamy summer day in San Diego and the water behind him looked so refreshing. “That’s it!” I felt inside. “I’m getting back in.”
Open water swimming took on a whole new meaning for me. Without the constraints of line dividers, like in an olympic training pool, I was free to extend my stroke, play in the “deep end” again and explore. I started slow, splashing around and snorkeling with harbor seals through 25 foot tall kelp forests. Soon I was swimming up to 4 miles at a time, enjoying the world of life and its vivid colors just below the surface. The ocean embraced me and healed my heart and soul. There were times that were frightening - like once on a swim towards the pier over the deepest section of the undersea canyon (some 300 feet deep) I noticed a larger shark swimming about 30 feet away. The shark’s dorsal fin matched that of a great white, although my lifeguard friends didn’t believe me when I got back and told them what I had seen. A few days later, there were multiple reports of a great white shark sighting near the area and I knew that what I had experienced was real - and powerful. How many times do you get to say that you swam alongside a great white shark?
I was starting to train for my first open water relay, the Catalina Island swim but had to press pause. My life shifted course and I ended up spending more time on land, focusing on social activism and homelessness. Starting the Voices of Our City Choir with my friends took every bit of my energy and time. I no longer had the luxury to explore the ocean and build my endurance on long, open water swims. That was 4 years ago. Where I am today in my life is a very different place.
Currently I am sitting on the beach here on Catalina, typing this out on my Mac under an umbrella. I am on a sweet getaway with Robbie, celebrating his birthday and exploring the island. My new love is paddle boarding and the place we are staying at came equipped with kayaks and paddle boards. (Yessss!) I am about to close this up and spend the next 6 or more hours in the water, swimming freely and paddling around the island. Yesterday we paddled about 5 miles along the coast. It is gorgeous here. The water is tranquil and I am enjoying the opportunity to practice my SUP technique. At home I have a racing board and focus on my SUP training. Here, it’s more about cruising and I love that too.
Balance, rejuvenation and realignment of my mind, body and spirit is what I get out of paddle boarding. Back on the water, my soul is fulfilled, my body is active, and my mind is clear. I can say with gratitude that it was worth every bit of sacrifice it took to get here. To have formed the team and garnered the support we now have as an organization is a dream come true. I finally feel allowed to get back in the water. And that is everything to me.