Swim Art - San Francisco Aquatic Park

Following my first (and an uneasy) ocean swim with Marci (read Manhattan Beach Brick Workout: The Swim), my confidence was a little shaken to get back in the open water, but I knew I had to. My first open water event, The Big Blue Adventure Lake Tahoe Swim, was coming up and I didn't want to feel unprepared. I knew I needed to get back into the open water and hopefully ease some of the concerns I felt while swimming in Manhattan Beach. There were three things I needed to work on:

  1. Swimming in my wetsuit
  2. Putting my face in the water without freaking out
  3. Not getting motion sickness

A quick Google search later and I came upon Swim Art - a company in San Francisco that holds instructional clinics and recreational expedition swims. They mainly swim in the San Francisco Aquatic Park Cove - a protected part of the bay where many swimmers practice.  

The Group Swim

Swim Art hosts a Monday Night Group Swim from May through the beginning of September. My interest was sparked because their website states:

"these swims are perfect for people who are learning to swim comfortably and efficiently in open water and want support, feedback, guidance, and instruction. Our coaches help you to prepare for your upcoming race, help you to enjoy swimming in open water just a little bit more, and address the questions and concerns that you have. Our goal is to teach you and help you as much as possible and to create a casual, supportive, friendly atmosphere."

EXACTLY what I was looking for. I was nervous about getting into the open water again, and really wanted to have support from a professional who could ease some of my concerns.

The swims start around 6:30pm so I arrived a little early to have a chat with our swim guide for the evening, Andy. Right away Andy was super friendly and listened to some of my concerns - my issue with putting my face in the cold water (a natural survival instinct, apparently), and asked what I wanted to get out of the swim. He was super chill and relaxed which helped calm some of my nerves.

There were about five of us that showed up for the swim. We were all similar swimmers in terms of our abilities, which made the swim more active than others. We all were mainly there to feel a little more comfortable in the water. 

Into The Cold Water

We set off by just getting into the 62-63 degree water (BRRRRR!) and bounced around a bit to get comfortable in the temperature. Then Andy had us swim in a line to get an idea of our strokes and swim ability. Once he deemed us all very capable swimmers, we set out for the first buoy - just to get a feel for the water. We paused, had a chat about swimming in open water vs swimming in a pool, got some tips about kicking and breathing, then were sent off to the second and third buoy. By time we got to the end of the aquatic park, the waves had picked up, and there was a definite chop in the water. This part of the park is more exposed to the open bay so the water is usually rougher at this end. We swam back down the line of buoys, practicing a few more drills, and then headed out into the heart of the cove and around a few boats where we met up again, chatted some more and had Andy point out some SF landmarks. It was pretty amazing being IN the water and looking back on the city, especially as the sun was setting and the lights of San Francisco came on. This is pretty much what the view was like:

Photo by George Post Photography

Photo by George Post Photography

We eventually swam back to shore and made our way out of the water. Not a long swim, about 0.6 miles total, but about an hour in the water. 

So, how were my concerns during the swim?

Swimming In The Wetsuit

So, so much better. I honestly didn't even notice that I was wearing a wetsuit this time around. So much better than in Manhattan Beach mainly for two reasons. 

  1. I pulled my wetsuit up much higher this time before getting in the water. I made sure to pull the legs up at least 2-3 inches above my ankles, which allowed me to pull it up higher on my torso and upper body - alleviating the tightness around my neck.
  2. I sprayed on copious amounts of TriSlide around my neck, making sure that the collar of my wetsuit could slide around and not get stuck on my throat.

Putting My Face In The Water Without Freaking Out

Honestly, I think I was much better at doing this during this swim because I had already done it before. The water in the Aquatic Park is cloudy - you can barely see your hand in front of your face, so I went into it just assuming I wasn't going to be able to see anything. Sometimes I even kept my eyes closed behind my goggles while my face was in the water. The important thing was to sight while my head was out of the water, so it really didn't matter that I couldn't see below. It did take me a few minutes to really be able to put my face in, but once I did it a few times it began to feel natural. It was just practice, practice, and practice that had me work this issue out.

Not Getting Motion Sickness

The day before I swam in the cove I was considering taking motion sickness medication. I was debating because I wasn't sure if the waves would be significant in a protective cove. Eventually I just decided it'd be better to be safe than sorry, so I took a Bonine - a motion sickness medicine I have used before traveling without any side effects. Am I glad I did. I'm not sure if I would have felt sick during the swim, but there were times when the waves were pushing me around and the current was pulling me in different directions. I felt totally fine on the swim and will probably just take Bonine before any of my open water swims.

(*Note - I have no connection with Bonine. I would NOT recommend you take any medications you have never had right before a swim, run, bike, race, or clinic. I've had luck with this medication before, so I knew I'd be ok taking it here.)

All in all the swim was a huge success for me. I definitely feel ready and confident to get back in the open water by myself and even to face the chilly San Francisco Bay.

I highly recommend finding a group like this in your neighborhood if you want to feel more confident in the open water. If you live in the San Francisco area please give Swim Art a chance - they were fantastic!