By Michael Michaud
People Actually Swim in the Ocean?
Maybe, like me, you’re not from Rhode Island, or maybe you didn’t grow up near the beach, or maybe, also like me, it just never occurred to you that people might actually swim in the ocean.
Regardless, maybe one night you’re frolicking in the water at the town beach with your kids when a kayaker paddles by, trailing a swimmer behind him. Maybe you point to the swimmer and shout to the kayaker, “What’s he doing?”
And the kayaker says “Training for the Save the Bay swim.”
“Ocean swim. Newport to Jamestown. 1.7 miles.”
And maybe you stand there as they paddle off into deeper water thinking, 1.7 miles? For real?
Those People Swimming Out by the Buoys
And then maybe at some point later that summer you’re back at the town beach, look up from your book and notice a group of people swimming out by the buoys. You watch them for a minute and then you remember, the Save the Bay swim! They must by training for the Save the Bay swim! But then you’re also thinking, How the hell did they get out that far? Is that even safe? And then as you watch them go from buoy to buoy, momentarily disappearing in the surf and then reappearing, maybe you find yourself thinking, I wonder if I could…?
Next thing you know you’ve joined an open water swim group and you’ve become one of those people swimming out by the buoys. You’ve got your wetsuit, your swim cap, your goggles. You’re doing it. Three swims a week. Before work. After work. On weekends. Once you get over your initial fears (Um, sharks…?) you find you really love open water swimming — the look of the beach from so far offshore, the camaraderie of the swimmers in the water, the exhausted feeling you get as you pull your body towards the setting sun at the end of a long swim.
Then one night, another swimmer asks if you’re doing the Save the Bay Swim and you say you’re not because you just aren’t sure you’re ready for it yet and so he asks if you’d be willing to kayak for him at this year’s swim. Yes! you say. Of course you’ll kayak! Great!
And on race day, a few weeks later, you find yourself sitting in your kayak in the shadow of the Naval War College, surrounded by swimmers and kayakers, waiting for the canon to go off and the race to start. When it fires, your swimmer takes off and for a few seconds you can’t see him, but then he stops and waves you over and you paddle in his direction and then the two of you head out across the bay and the sun is shining and the water is streaming past your boat and all you can hear is that little voice in your head repeating, Next year! You’re going to do this next year!
And then next year comes! You’ve trained all summer! Found your kayaker! Raised your $400! And now you’re in the water, waiting for the cannon to go off, ready to swim. You look across to Jamestown and then up at the Pell Bridge. You glance around at all the other swimmers and you think about how far you’ve come since that first night that you saw the swimmer and kayaker at the town beach, since your first buoy swim.
When the cannon fires you lower your head below the surface and begin to swim. You feel the cool water slide past, feel your body, energized, as you pull it forward. You break free from the weedy beach, find a rhythm, sight on the far shore, and move out into open water, your kayaker trailing behind.
That’s how you get to the swim. Or, that’s how I did. Your story will be different, but just as meaningful, and just as fun.
Mike would like to thank Fred Bartlett and the Narragansett Open Swimming Enthusiasts for allowing him to join their group and to believe that he, too, could swim the buoys.