A Little More Ocean Luvin’

Friday afternoon, May 28, 2010

me: “Babette, can I please go to Fernandina Beach and swim in that 5K ocean race?”

Babs: “Where’s Fernan.. where are you going?”

me: “FernanDINA …beach,” I said. “It’s in Florida.”

Babs: “When…?”

“…right now?”

me: “Yea.”

Babs: {sigh} “so…uh…you’re just gonna go by yourself?”

“to Florida…?”

“to swim…”


me: “uh huh.”

Babs: “ok… whatever”

And just like that, I’m off to Florida.

A visit to the Jacksonville Wal-Mart

Since it’s almost six hours from Atlanta, I didn’t have enough time to go home and pack or get swim gear or anything. Instead, I’d just leave from the office and head south and take my chances at a local Wal-Mart or Target in Florida.

That’s a cool thing about open water swimming – it doesn’t take much to play: a pair of trunks, some goggles and you’re good to go.

I rolled into Jacksonville kinda late, but Wal-Mart was still open. I scored a pair of tighty little wicking underwear things to swim in and a pair of baggy shorts to wear over them until the very last second.

Grabbed some cheap-ass goggles (mistake) and some High Protein Boost for breakfast in the morning.

I’m ready to swim.

Ed Gaw Open Water Challenge

This was the 10th year for the Ed Gaw Open Water Challenge.

I showed up, registered, got written on, secured my #536 bright green swim cap and walked out to the beach to check the water conditions.


Much more choppy than the Pensacola Bay during last week’s 5K swim along the three-mile bridge. That race had perfect glass conditions, but out here on the East Coast “open ocean” side, we had about 1-2 foot chop.

I walked around, eavesdropping on other competitors conversations who had experience with this race over the previous years. Some were concerned with the chop, some not, but everyone agreed that the water temps were perfect (78 degrees) and the current almost non-existent.

I mean, come on… It’s 7:00 a.m., already 80+ degrees with bright sunshine, light breezes, the smell and the sound of the ocean. It was my idea of total and complete perfection. I was so happy to be on the beach.

I’m always happy to be on the beach.

The mental torture of buses

In these 5K swims, it seems the organizers are always sending swimmers to the start on buses, letting them “swim back” to the finish area. This is always a mental mind mangler because as you bounce around on the bus, goggles and cap clutched tightly in hand, you really get an idea of just how far you are going to have to swim to get back.

The longer the bus rides, the longer you stare out at the ocean and wonder.

Open ocean vs. the Bay

This event was much different than the Pensacola Swim.

For starters, in open ocean swimmers start on the beach, and when the horn blows everyone dashes out into the water. The clock has started, but you really haven’t begun the actual race distance yet.

Swimmers must first fight the surf for about 100 yards out, swimming diagonally towards the starting buoy. Once you get out there, you round the buoy and begin your 3.1 mile trek parallel to shore.

Unlike the Bay race, there were no buoys every .25 mile or so. Instead, they had one starting buoy, one 2.1 mile buoy and a finish buoy. (nothing is a beautiful as a finish buoy)

This made it tough for a newbie dork like me. I bet I swam twice the distance with all the side-to-side swimming I was doing. I couldn’t stay in a straight line for anything – I had waves knocking me around, complete lack of ability to sight anything to keep me swimming straight, and an obsessive, yet unintentional, automatic attraction to heading towards the beach.

A couple of times, the kayakers had to point to me further back out to sea.

Because we were swimming south-to-north and because I breath to my right, the swells were constantly in my face when I’d turn to breath. I chaffed my neck by constantly turning my head excessively to the side to get a clean breath every now and then.

And, because of the swells and my constant attention to trying to swim straight, my rhythm was difficult to set and never really “got there.”

I had a couple of panic moments where I wondered if I was perhaps out of my league on this one. I felt like the pack was way ahead, swimming along fine, while I was constantly just trying to get something happenin’. Some kind of rhythm flowin’.


But, then there was this one moment during the race where a feeling of contentment just smacked me in the face like a fishtail.

“I’m swimming in the ocean!”

My love. The ocean.

I’ve never been more content in my life than I am when I’m at the beach. Life surrounds you 360 degrees everywhere else on the planet, but not on the beach. You’re only surrounded by “life” 3/4 of the way — 1/4 is the infinite expanse of the sea.

The ocean calms me.

Its my playground and my serenity.

The smell of the sea, the sand in my shorts, the sticky humidity… it’s all heaven to me.

I all-of-a-sudden didn’t care if it took me six hours. In fact, let it take me six hours, or 12, or all day and night.

Fatiguing or not, one thing was for sure, it would end. And when it did, I’d be right back to normalcy having to deal with the everyday things in life that we all have to deal with all the time.

I didn’t want normalcy. I’m sick of normalcy.

But in the water, it was just me and the jellies, cold-chillin’ on a Saturday morning without a care in the world.

That last buoy

And, just like that, all the uncertainty of finishing disappeared. All the worry about swimming too close, or getting too far out, went away.

I could see the last buoy.

I swam and I swam, rounded the last buoy, and I didn’t stop swimming until I could see the sand below me.

I stood up. Jump-hop-ran through the surf, up the cone-lined beach and past the clock.

2:07 …again.

Same as last week.

Actually, 2:07:26 which is about 20 seconds faster than last week; AND, I’m happy because we had the extra distance(s) from the start and finish to negotiate plus choppier waters.

* Update: official results say 2:03, …cool.

3rd place, 35-39 – but most likely there were only a few 35-39 year olds, but a place is a place and I have the certificate to prove it.

{wink, wink}

Seeing as how I just sorted jumped into this sport, I’m pleased as punch.

So Chris Gaw, you have a great race there in li’l ol’ Fernandina Beach. I learned that Ed Gaw is your deceased father and I’m honored that I got to share in the experience of a little sliver of your annual family tribute to your dad.

Thanks to you, the dude named Scott, all the volunteers sportin’ mad food at the finish and that great lady in the peddle-able kayak who kept a watchful eye on me and offered lots of words of support as I half-drowned down the coast.

I hope to get back there next year – and be a lot faster.

I really enjoy swimming. I’m happy I have this sport as yet another ingredient in my adrenaline junkie lifestyle.

Get some!

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Dear Christian,

I am so delighted that you enjoyed our swim. i am Isabel Gaw widow of Ed & mother of Chris. I totally enjoyed your mini-novel of your journey to join us & participate in our event.

Chris you are very literate. I think you should be writing books!!!! Ido hope you will come back next year. We all work very hard to make our event a success.

Hopefully you will come back for a holiday& enjoy our little island. I can help you with places to stay.

Have a happy& healthy summer.

Swimmingly yours,

Isabel Gaw

Man you are so lucky that Babette doesn’t kick you in the pills for jumping into a race a state away like that. :-)

Great report Christian! Glad you could make the event. Nothing like a Saturday morning for a little swim at the beach!

FB is a great little town and the beaches are sparsely populated. All credit goes to the City of FB for another great event.

@Caleb: dooooood, I asked on the LIST…

Dude I live in Fernandina. If I’d known you were comin down I woulda asked if you wanted to go for a run or somethin.

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