Swimming the Gate

I’ve been training all year to swim the Golden Gate. It’s about the same distance on the map as the much more popular Alcatraz swim, but the currents in the Gate are even wilder – there’s simply no such thing as slack tide in this massive funnel where San Francisco Bay pours in and out of the Pacific every six hours. I finished dead last but only one of a few who swam in “skin” i.e. without a wetsuit, my time was still perfectly respectable, and I felt great throughout the swim and afterwards.

Ansel Adams, Golden Gate Before the Bridge (1932)
Ansel Adams, Golden Gate Before the Bridge (1932)

As a San Francisco native and lifelong denizen of our beautiful bay, swimming the Gate has been in my mind for some years. I put the idea off repeatedly, shelving it under “foreign concepts” and “unnecessary hardship”, but it persisted. This year I got the message again and finally had the courage to commit. I really don’t believe in putting things off, but it sure can be easy to do, especially when faced with a calling that requires truly new skills. There’s something else about swimming – it’s not fear, and it wasn’t just getting past the point where swimming was simply unpleasant because I wasn’t that good at it. Swimming requires a huge amount of head game.

This past Saturday morning was probably the most beautiful morning on San Francisco Bay yet this year: sunny, warm, and relatively calm. Absolutely perfect conditions and I had no fear, no anxiety. And yet during the swim I was constantly confronted with a voice saying “just call it, this is unnecessary, what are shu doing here, the current is pushing you the wrong way, what’s the point, there’s no need for this, why bother” even while another voice was simultaneously saying “wow, this is amazing, the water is perfect, I’m not tired, check out the view, no problem, you got this, it’s not even that far, this is amazing, no worries, have fun, you’re almost there”. I’ve experienced this before while climbing and perhaps I’ve just forgotten how that felt – or perhaps that’s why I stopped climbing. And I’ve experienced it more recently while paragliding, which almost made me stop flying. In both of those cases I can attribute a large portion of the feeling to the situation that those sports entail: halfway up a 1000’ cliff, or dangling in the middle of the sky from bits of fabric and string. While you might think being in the middle of SF Bay in nothing but your sunga is similar, I feel quite comfortable in the water, and so I’m left to face the truth directly. The truth is that it’s not the situation, and it’s not fear. It’s reluctance to sincerely accept a challenge of unknown dimensions. To not postpone, beg off, be distracted or unprepared, to not quit or fail. To not commit to try, but to simply say yes.

My dad said to me not long ago that he thinks I’ve had it easy. I think that’s bullshit. A lot of things have come fairly easily to me, and I give him credit for teaching me so many physical skills early on, which gave me a great deal of physical ability and self confidence. Swimming, however, has not come easily. It was hard to choose to do this, even though I wanted to. I don’t mean to make any more of this than it is – lots of people have swum the Gate, and for a decent swimmer it’s no big thing – but for me, this was a real accomplishment. And – I had an awesome time. Super fun to be able to do something like this and enjoy it!

2016 Golden Gate Bridge Swim - San Francisco, CA, USA
2016 Golden Gate Bridge Swim – San Francisco, CA, USA

EO SF Swim and Black Sabbath

I’ve had several days lately that have blown my mind, and yesterday was one of them.

I got up at 6am and led an event as part of EO SF’s 25th Anniversary where I took 20 entrepreneurs from all over the world (not a dirty word btw, entrepreneur means business owner not “tech douche”) out in SF bay and treated them to a swim/float under the Golden Gate on a massive 4 knot flood tide. We jumped in by the red nun buoy outside the south tower and were swept in through the gate right next to the base of the tower in a roaring rip of whitewater, and then spent 20 minutes or so being spun around by upwellings and whirlpools in the middle of the bay.

This event was the culmination of many years of event production and experience creation, as well as the unique combination of my perspective as an SF native, a salt water hog and an EO member leader. I was so stoked to share my vision and love for the bay and the Bridge and incredibly gratified to see how others GOT IT in such a big way. We had an incredible time and definitely blew some minds.

EO SF Golden Gate swim
EO SF Golden Gate swim

Back on shore I raced back to my place, had a quick shower, changed and then to the Legion of Honor for EO SF’s 25th Anniversary celebration. I had to have a quadruple espresso to compensate for the change in venue. Fantastic event and I’m proud to be a member of EO and former chapter President of EO San Francisco. So cool to see so many fellow independent thinkers making their unique way through the world.

We had to leave the party a little early because I had tickets for a rock show. Black Sabbath in Oakland. Bloody amazing, as I imagine Ozzy might say. I can’t really describe how incredible it was to see them play. Sabbath is the soundtrack to so much of my life. They put on an unbelievable show, especially considering that Ozzy, Tommy and Geezer are all about freaking 70 years old. Thank you guys.

The end of the show was very emotional for me. I saw how affected the band was by their performance and the massive love from the audience. I looked around and saw every fucking person in the hall stoked out of their brains and just pouring love and rock sweat out in all directions. And I thought: what a crying shame it was that I had never seen them play in all those years when I was younger, when they were younger, when they were some of my idols. I wanted to go to those shows. I went to some – I saw Van Halen play at the same arena in 1983 – but I didn’t go to very many. Why? Partly because I wasn’t sure if I was cool enough. I had some cool friends and some of them went to a lot of shows but I didn’t get invited to the coolest shows. I didn’t realize at the time that all I had to do was show up.

Black Sabbath - The End
Black Sabbath – The End

But most of all because I was simply too fucking wasted too much of the time. Growing up here in SF was incredible and it was also an unholy mess in a lot of ways. Last night I simply got in my car and drove to Oakland, parked, went to the show, drove home. When I was 16 or 18 or 20 I could have done the same, except I would have been trashed before, during and after the show, unable to drive to or from, not to mention unable to remember much of what I saw or heard anyhow. And taking the bus or BART to Oakland or the Cow Palace is a lot less attractive when you know you’re going to be super fucked up. Getting wasted was standard operating procedure for all of us in those days, and it caused me and a lot of my friends to miss out on a lot of living. It also killed a lot of us. I have way too many dead friends from those days.

So it was heavy – and it could be no other way. Black Sabbath is the heaviest cornerstone there is. The soundtrack to my darker side, yes, the side of wasted youth, but that is long ago and now the dark side is just part of who I am. Now it’s dark joy. I was there with a million friends – my old college buddy Dave Pehling who I ran into in the crowd, the guy to my right who passed me a joint, the two screaming-hot chicks in the row behind us, and everyone else who was there to receive and re-transmit Sabbath’s unique rock message. A day and a night to remember – and this time, I will.