Swimmers race by Leadbetter Beach
By IRENE RUSSO, SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-PRESS
Editor’s note: A local swimmer, Irene Russo, contributed this story to the News-Press. The photography is by News-Press Photo Editor Rafael Maldonado, who regularly swims in the Pacific Ocean.
“Why are all the swimmers at Leadbetter Beach?” exclaimed Eric Engebretson, Harbor Patrol supervisor.
“The parking is free, 90 minutes free; the beach is clean; the water is clean; and there are fewer Great Whites hanging around,” explained Tony Scholl, assistant director of the Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department.
Steve March, owner of the Shoreline, described huge crowds of swimmers starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 5:30. “The pools are closed, and Los Banos is really busy, too busy; instead of waiting in line in front of the pool, the guys jump in the sea.”
The lost boys of Los Banos are all here at Leadbetter: the aquatic cheetahs of pool swimming.
Now they’re marine cheetahs.
They park in the 90-minute parking, change their clothes, walk to the sea in a line and swim really fast to the point. They wait for everyone, except me because I’m slower than kelp, and they race each other back to where they started. This takes about half an hour from start to finish.
Yep, half an hour to go over a mile and lounge at the halfway point. This is the competition of the season!
Free competition! What’s better?
No fee for Los Banos, no fee at Night Moves! No fee at Reef and Run. No entrance fees for triathlons. Just good old-fashioned free racing! Like the olden days.
The days when boys raced to the buoys and back — just for fun. The big boys sprint the buoys and back — just for fun. A brief respite from the ignominy of viral Armageddon. A half hour of pretense of normalcy.
Every day, Monday through Friday, about 15 to 25 swimmers race to surfers point, hang out and talk about their new gear, Dan’s funny cap or why Gabe splashes so much.
We wait for everyone and swim back — really fast. We walk in a line to our cars, get dressed with kelp hanging from our shorts and head off to work. This sacred ritual is performed daily – Monday through Friday. It’s our job, like swimming at noon at Los Banos Pool. Like managing a business.
The nooners don’t have to wait in line outside. No lane lines. No workouts. Just free swimming, to the point and back. There are some fanatical triathletes to compete with.
The same guy comes in first — way ahead. Brian Alderman cruises in ahead of everyone else. He takes off his wetsuit and waits for the rest. A one-time Olympic hopeful, he cruises like a gargantuan dolphin. No stress; I wonder how he does that. He looks like he is just cruising.
He glides gracefully past me like he isn’t even trying to swim. No one has beat him.
When I first saw the guy on the beach, I laughed.’ “Can that guy even swim? I bet he doesn’t make it to the buoys! Oh yeah!!!”
OMG. That guy is the fastest guy out there! I mean the fastest swimmer in this town! Nobody comes close! My mother always said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Now I understand what that phrase means.
The nooners are joined by the Masters swimmers. They swim faster than dirt. The UCSB masters and Los Banos master show up .
They all race to the point at breakneck speed. The Indianapolis 500 of swimming. One never knows who is going to show up.
Coach Mark Stori, an infamous mellow guy and UCSB coach, started the Leadbetter surfers’ Point Swim in April. Mike Smith, Jason Smith and Ronnie Gosnell all swim together and train together as triathletes.
The sea is just part of their training. They are tough.
Leadbetter is the therapists’ couch. There’s no talk. Just swimming. The sea is the therapist. The patients are a bunch of very fit athletes who need a break from COVID reality.
No signing up. Just old-fashioned workouts.
Come join us. Join the 11 a.m. to Nooners Swimmers and Masters and Triathletes, and swim with the dolphins.