Birthday swim

by Andrew Malinak

I have an embarrassing and…given the image I try to maintain…shameful secret. It needs to get out in the open so I can start the recovery process.

Here it is: as of a month ago, I had NEVER been skinny dipping.

Stop your judgment right there, mister. I’ve already said I’m not proud of this. Looking back at my life it is easy to see how it happened; trips to the beach were mostly family related, and every pool I’ve had access to frowns on that sort of behavior during lap swim. But this is no excuse. Add in sad fact that back in my early teens I lost the ability to do “just for fun” swimming, the idea of swimming in birthday attire never registered as sensible. But again, I’m through making excuses.

To further inhibit more recently contemplated attempts, the water at my local beach is super clear. Oh, and super cold. Super cold and super clear are not the conditions I want when I unexpectedly bumped into a fellow swimmer.

The good news is, this all ended a month ago. Thanks to the Suzie Dods 24-hour SERC-a-thon in San Francisco at the beginning of February, I found my first real opportunity. In brief, the SD24hSERCat1 was a 24-hour team relay held in Aquatic Park, San Francisco Bay, a sheltered cove sandwiched between Crissy Field and Fisherman’s Wharf occuring between 9am on 8 February and 9 February 2014. Unlike the Puget Sound, the Bay is turbid, with visibility just past the finger tips. It rained the whole time.

My first shift after sundown came around 8:30pm, at a time when the idea of again jumping in the 51 degree water still seemed like a fun idea. I’d just returned from having a drink with a few friends coincidentally visiting town that weekend, and rushed in to the South End Rowing Club to get ready for my turn in the water. Still debating whether or not this was a good idea, I put in my ear plugs, donned two swim caps, wrapped a towel around me to deck change, and part way through the process grabbed my goggles and walked out the door into the rain. When my teammate came ashore, I walked to the far side of the beach, about one hundred feet from where our rugged support team kept a vigilant watch despite the weather, tied my towel to the Dolphin Club dock, and dove in.

In my mind, it was subtle and stealthy. If it wasn’t, nobody has mentioned it to me yet.

Two loops of Aquatic Park, a mile and a half later, I came ashore, grabbed my towel, and headed to the sauna.

Here’s what I learned:

  • The cold takes over as it always does. As usual, there was nothing sexy about my first few minutes in the water – just the same old self-control and instinct-repression I’ve become so familiar with in Seattle.
  • After that, it is just swimming. I still dealt with the same mental issues as in every other swim that weekend, the same swimming-related issues, and the same personal issues that the sensory deprivation of swimming is so good at letting me dwell on. There wasn’t anything different.
  • When a kayaker shines a flashlight at you, consider using modesty.
  • People are usually too busy to notice what you’re doing. If you don’t make a big fuss, you’ll get away with a lot. (Turns out public nudity was banned in San Francisco a year prior to this event.)
  • If you are with the right group of people, no one really cares what you are wearing.

And now that I’m an experienced veteran at skinny dipping, did someone say Solstice Swim?


1 I don’t think we ever came up with an official title.