I stood on the deck and watched the waves break against the wooden steps that would lead to the beach.
As I looked out over Aquatic Park the swells were quite strong and the creaking of the dock as it rocked back and forth by the pounding surf told me that this was going to be a bumpy day. But I knew that I had to get into the water. I knew that I had to begin training in earnest for my solo attempt of The Cook Strait in 2012.
In the world of open water swimming there are many difficult and diverse long distance swims. Some are more famous like the Catalina
Channels, where you are only allowed to wear a bathing suit, goggles, and earplugs. Where you are not allowed to touch your support boat or use any flotation devices like fins or pull buoys. Few swimmers have successfully completed these two swims. In fact less than 2000 total have done so for both combined.
Others you can only do by lottery and proven ability such as The Manhattan Island Marathon
swim, a 28 mile circumnavigation swim around the Island that must be completed in 8hrs or the swim will not count.
These are three of the most famous marathon swims that open water swims have attempted. They are the triple crown of open water swimming.
But there are others that - in my opinion - are just as, if not, more difficult than the bodies of water mentioned above. One of them is The Cook Strait
. The Cook Strait is 16 nautical miles with immense tidal flows and water temperatures that range from 57F to 65F in the summertime.
This swim is considered one of the most difficult for even any seasoned open water swimmer to attempt. Only 74 people have succeeded in this swim - two of whom Lynne Cox
and Penny Palfrey
are good friends of mine. Both are open water legends and bot struggled with making this crossing. The organizer of the swim, Philip Rush, himself a great marathoner who did a triple crossing of the English Channel and a double crossing of the Cook Strait told me that although The Cook is shorter that than the English, its much harder.
Penny Palfrey swimming The Cook Strait
Well for one thing, the weather is unpredictable. It can start out nice and flat as you set out on the swim but over time storm clouds could descend or the winds might pick up making the water choppy, "You just never know." He informed me via email.
So, this leads me back to standing on the deck looking out at the rough water that was about to greet me. I walked down the steps and began to walk deeper and deeper into the 53.4F water of San Francisco Bay. I splashed water on my arms, legs, and chest and dove under the water as a breaker neared. I began to sprint as hard as I could to get warm. I could feel a sting on the back of my neck that felt like salt being washed over an open wound, "Don't think about it. Just keep swimming the stinging will go away eventually,"
I told myself, but it didn't it only increased. "My gosh that's hurting why isn't it going away?"
The swells began to pick up more and more. Every time I rolled to breathe on my right, I was hit with salt water in my mouth and nose. I turned to my left and began breathing from that side, but quickly found that I wasn't as relaxed on the left when I rolled to breathe. Frustration began to set in, "Come on what the hell's the matter with you? This isn't a game concentrate! Try and relax. Relax. Slow everything down. Every time you recover, hold your glide a little longer. That's it hold it a little longer. Look up. Remember to sight every once in a while to make sure you don't bump into another swimmer out here. Get use to these conditions because there is a good chance that the Strait is going to be like this."
After about a half hour I reached the beach and exited the water. I had sum only a mile and knew that I was in the early phase of my training for the Strait. But I knew that I needed to step things up. I knew that my mental preparation had to be as strong as my physical. More importantly, I knew that I wanted to inspire kids of color to get involved with swimming for life. I think often about how cool it would be to be one of those select few that successfully crossed The Cook Strait, and how much greater would it be to have many Black and Latino swimmers follow and go on to greater things.
As I walked back to the club house I came across a couple of my friends as they were preparing to enter the water. "How did it go out there Naji?" one asked, "It's rough, but the Black water is rising." He smiled and patted me on the back and replied, "Yes it sure is."