The Beauty of Open Water Swimming

Yesterday, I competed in an open water swimming race in Guaymas, Mexico in the Sea of Cortez. It was the Cruce de Bahia Miramar event and more than 200 swimmers participated. I swam the 1800 meter race, which began at the beautiful old Cortez Hotel and ended at the Miramar beach. The race started at 7 AM.

My husband was slated to help with kayak support, so he needed to drop me off early at the start. At 6 AM, I stood on the dock on the water at the hotel. The sun hadn’t yet risen and the sky was purplish pink, the sea smooth as glass. Water lapped over rocks the nearby beach, where dozens of pelicans soon took off, gliding over the water in search of fish. The competitors gradually arrived. Some plunged in the water right away, wading in from the beach or somersaulting off the end of the dock. People greeted each other with a cheerful “Buenas Dias”–and often hugs and kisses. I spoke to some of them in Spanish. Competitors weren’t from San Carlos or Guaymas–some had driven an hour or more from Hermosillo or Obregon or Kino Bay.

Swimmers began performing various warm-up activities under the palm trees on the beach–stretching, arm swinging, jumps.¬† Even with hundreds of people gathered–the event lacked the noise and chaos of a pool swimming event. People spoke quietly. There was no loud whistling, screaming or horns. I still felt connected with nature. I heard birds singing and could watch them dive for fish. All around were pelicans, cormorants and terns. I watched the brilliant orange sun slowly make an appearance over the arid volcanic peaks in time to cast an orange glow across the water. I waded into the shallow water to warm up, watching fish–parrotfish, sergeant majors and puffers–swim below me. People were lining up along the dock now. The race was about to start.

And then it began. There was a flurry of arms and legs splashing at the beginning. I jerked to a stop when someone not used to swimming straight in open water came at me on a direct collision course. Gradually, the crowds disappeared. I was back to swimming alone in the water just like my regular mornings training at San Francisco beach. I could still see fish below me, stretches of rocks and rippled sand. I felt the water flow past me as I swam. I tasted salt. Smelled it. Experienced it. All my senses were thriving on this experience of propelling myself through this marine world. The water rushing past me made me aware of every muscle. I sensed the instant my hand first connected with the water each time before it began to pull through the heavy water. I felt it flow over my shoulders and back. I felt my calf muscles contracting with every kick. With every stroke, the thick, salty water was massaging my body, energizing me, making me feel so vibrant, so alive. I live for this experience! It’s like nothing else I ever experience. Only the water can make me feel this good.

I sited on the buoys to stay on course. There were seven of them–some bright orange, the¬†others neon yellow. I swam next to a young girl for a while, matching her stroke for stroke. Then she pulled ahead of me. I drafted off of her for a hundred yards or so until she pulled further ahead of me. I was back to being alone in the water. I could see the colorful inflated balloon arch of the finish. I couldn’t believe the race was almost over already. It felt so good to be swimming, I felt as if I could just keep on going. For another 30 minutes, an hour, maybe the rest of the day.

The sand was just a couple of feet below me now. People were walking through the water toward the finish, too tired to run. Others made the effort to run. I swam a few more strokes. Swimming is always easier for me than moving on land. Finally, I stood up. Ran for the finish. The water slowed my legs. They felt heavy as I dragged them through the shallow water. But I was almost there. I smiled and waved to all the spectators as I ran through the arch. Exhilaration rushed through me. This was so much fun! In Mexico, athletic events aren’t just attended by spouses and kids. There were grandmothers on the sidelines. Aunts and uncles. Neices and nephews.

I was expecting some friends to come and meet me later, but I didn’t see them when I finished. I strolled down the beach a ways, noticing how good the water felt on my skin in the morning breeze, how soothing the sand felt squeezing between my toes. I knew then, as I’ve known for some time that open water swimming is the perfect realm for me. I’ve always loved the water. But swimming through water where I can experience the full range of sensory experiences that the natural world delivers is quite simply amazing. Every single time.

Me with a wonderful friend, Veronica Garcia, after our races.

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