Birthdays and birthday suits

Sunday 10/25/09

The South Enders swam in this morning from Alcatraz in the nude. It is a custom at the South End Rowing Club to swim on your birthday in your birthday suit and about a dozen people of both genders honored the custom. The South End and Dolphin clubs share a large, partitioned building at the foot of Hyde Street and their respective piers create a semi-private beach from which both club members launch their cove swims. Given the shared quarters, the shared beach, and the shared aquatic inclinations, it’s easy to think that the clubs would be indistinguishable.

That thinking would be wrong. Most people agree that the South End membership is more freewheeling than the Dolphin membership. Swimming naked is one example. Dolphins are not inclined to do that. The South Enders also have a club-within-a-club known as the Sunrisers. The Sunrisers hike to nearby starting points around San Francisco, depending on the direction of the tide, and swim back to Aquatic Park at the crack of most dawns. Sometimes they wear swimsuits and sometimes they have pilots. The Dolphin Club requires strict adherence to a set of rules that govern a safe swim outside the confines of Aquatic Park Cove and absolutely forbids use of Club facilities after an activity of the Sunriser sort. It’s pretty funny how different the two clubs can be and still be the same. Like wildly different siblings in a close nuclear family, they are a curious mixture of intimacy and distance; compassion and competition.

Wearing a swimsuit, I started my Sunday swim. The weather was straight out of a tourist postcard for San Francisco--bright skies, clear water, and nearly glassy calm. It was a pretty strong ebb tide, so the critters were quiet as well. It should have been a great day for a swim.

For some reason, it was a big struggle instead. I went to the Bad Becky, the Flag, the Wenzel, the Goal Posts, the Opening, the Flag, the Kebbe, and in behind the Eppleton Hall and around the Oprah. It felt like I was swimming uphill for the last mile. It was probably the culmination of a strenuous business trip and trying to keep pace with Suzie the day before. At any rate, it was a little more than an hour of huffing and puffing.

The literature mentions a number of times that there is a “wall” for marathon swimmers at six hours. This is much like the runners “wall” at about twenty miles. Once an athlete has consumed the body’s stored glycogen, he starts burning fat for energy. This is reportedly a painful and fatiguing experience. I don’t know if that is what was happening for me, but the second mile was a real slog. I decided to pretend that this was what it might feel like in the Channel after several hours and gritted it out. The problem was that I hadn't been swimming for several hours in the Channel and I was still gritting it out. Oh well, put those thoughts aside and see how it goes. There’s still a lot of time before September.

I’m off to Las Vegas, so will be out of the water until Friday. This isn’t the way I had hoped to build a foundation.

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