Always Ready

Swimming in Aquatic Park
Swimming in Aquatic Park

One Day in September

I jumped in the water
cold water
I swam in a circle
not a small circle!
I fought the current
something that might seem like a battle
but I held the water’s hand
and it pulled me
I pulled myself
I felt free
not for the first time
for the first time
I felt strong
not for the first time
for the first time
I was not afraid
swimmers and surfers don’t talk about sharks
the water of the Pacific is not cold

I swim in my own skin
I embraced the open water
I took in the view of the sky
and the taste of the salt

I rounded the corner
Alcatraz to my right
the Gate in my sight
I went with the tide
and flew with my friends
back inside the arms of the pier
a little safer
but again the current challenged my strength
I had been in the water now
for more than an hour
my right foot was numb
and yet my arms felt long

things always get harder for me when the end is in sight
at a mile and a half I had to pull hard
the tide rushed out through the pilings behind me

the remarkable thing is that I would say that I struggled
but it wasn’t a fight
it was hard
but I loved it
I felt awake and alive
long and lean
warm and wise

once we finished our swim I walked slowly inside
I sat in the sauna for what seemed like an hour
my brain slowly reconnecting
to my body as it thawed

I reflected on a decision I had made only just a week before
to not wait and test the water before jumping in
to not feed my fear by feeling the cold
before feeling the cold
I had said to my self: no hesitation
at the water’s edge

my dad told me not long ago that “I’ve had it easy”
yeah right
I’m sure that’s his own trip
although it’s true that many things have come easily
I always thought I was just good at… everything
or some kind of genius
and so he’s right in a way
it’s hard to seek challenge

one day in September
I learned something more about what I’ve long said
that I’ve believed it, and felt it, but I didn’t quite know why
always ready

Bowen and IN-Q
Bowen and IN-Q

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

The athletic mind

I’m not totally sure that “sports” is the right word, but I can’t think of what else covers climbing, backpacking, hiking, trail running, swimming, sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, and all the other things that I love to do outdoors. Perhaps I could be more specific and say “outdoor sports”, since I’m not really into football, baseball, basketball, golf and that sort of thing. But, for now anyhow: “Sports”.

We are our bodies. While we can philosophize about the universe of the mind, the mind is carried around in the meat of the brain, and the brain by the body. And: our bodies need to be active. Physical activity keeps us healthly, stimulates our senses and literally gets the blood flowing to the brain. Being active is enlightening – and usually helps to keep us lighter. 

God is Nature. You might have some other idea about God also is, but it’s pretty had to argue that – if you believe in some sort of God – that God doesn’t include Nature. And if you don’t believe in “God” (I don’t), well, then, Nature is God. And, Nature is the ultimate inspiration.

Put the two together, and it becomes clear that it’s hard to beat being active, outdoors. I was lucky to have parents that introduced me to the joy of outdoor activity at a very early age, and as much as I love business, software, people and all sorts of other things, I want to spend as much time outside as possible. Nothing makes me feel more awesome than being active in nature.

Foiling in the Marshalls
Foiling in the Marshalls
Foiling in Pohnpei
Foiling in Pohnpei

These days the sports I focus on most are kitesurfing, open-water swimming, and paragliding, with a bit of trail running, indoor climbing and cycling thrown in. (Actually, I love to ride bicycles and I feel increasingly that I want to ditch my car and ride everywhere, but it’s hard to be a kitesurfer without a car…) I’m a team rider for Boardriding Maui, Alpinefoil, Kurtis Eyewear, and Surfin Sem Fim. Ask me anything – I love talking gear, technique, and travel.