San Marcos junior Paige Kieding swam across the Santa Barbara Channel — not on a dare, but because she wanted to
Paige Kieding comes from a family of competitive sailors, but she’s gone overboard with her own athletic challenge.
Kieding, a San Marcos High junior, would rather be swimming in the ocean than cruising atop it – even when it’s to cross 12.2 miles of the Santa Barbara Channel without a wet suit.
“I tried sailing for about a year but it really wasn’t my thing,” she said. “I’d rather compete against myself – see what I’m capable of – than compete against somebody else.”
Kieding, 16, beat all-comers in the 18-under-division at the recent Anacapa to Mainland Swim, setting a record for that age division with a time of seven hours and one minute.
“I didn’t really have a target time,” she said. “I just wanted to finish.”
Her parents, Ken and Krista Kieding, just wanted her to make it in one piece.
“She made her mom and dad a little bit nervous because of the sea life out there,” Ken said.
Paige, a member of both the water polo and swim teams at San Marcos, admits that her mom tried to talk her out of the endeavor.
“She gets really, really nervous about it, which I can understand,” she said. “But both my parents are very supportive, too.”
They were, in fact, part of the nine-person support crew which accompanied Paige on her journey from Anacapa Island to Oxnard ’s Silver Strand Beach.
Mom made peanut butter sandwiches and fed her every 45 minutes. Dad, whose sailing accomplishments include a J24 West Coast Championship, piloted the power boat that followed her.
The funny thing, her father said, is that Paige had never been a big risk-taker before getting the itch for ocean-swim marathons.
“It’s been kind of a recent thing in her life,” he said, “but it has become her passion.”
Paige spent about five years in the Santa Barbara Swim Club but switched to ocean swimming three years ago.
“I started out with the Reef and Run, did the mile swim during the summer, and decided that I wanted to go longer,” she said.
That’s included entering both the three-mile and six-mile ocean swims in the Semana Nautica Sports Festival. She placed seventh among all women and was the fastest in the 18-and-under division in the 2018 Six-Mile Swim.
She then broadened her horizons even further.
“I can’t believe all the practice she’s put into this,” Ken said. “I’ll take her out to the oil rigs and she’ll swim five miles back to the Yacht Club.
“She just keeps going farther and farther. She did the Alcatraz Swim — swimming from the city to around the island and back — against really strong currents and in really cold water without a wet suit.”
Paige’s decision to train for the cross-channel swim came after last year’s Semana Nautica Sports Festival.
Her 12-year-old sister Carly, the youngest sailor to win the Santa Barbara Yacht Club’s women’s season regatta in the last century (she’s done it twice), “thinks I’m crazy,” she said.
Paige gets the same reaction from her friends.
“Whenever people bring it up at school, they tell me that I’m going to get attacked by sharks or something,” she said. “But they also come out to cheer me on. They brought me flowers at the end of the six-mile swim.
“They support me, even if they don’t quite understand me.”
She admitted to being “really scared” as she entered the water in the dark, at 3 a.m., near Arch Rock on the east side of Anacapa Island.
“I’d been training so hard for this thing for over a year and it was finally here,” she said. “There are so many things that are out of your control: the weather conditions, the swell, the sea life, stuff like that.
“I knew I’d done everything I could to prepare, but a lot of it is in the hands of mother nature.”
The ocean was rolling high when Paige plunged into the channel wearing only a swim suit and goggles.
“It was very rough – the swells were about five-feet when I jumped in,” she said. “I guess everyone in the boat was getting seasick and the kayaker who accompanied me was struggling against it.
“I found myself going up against a super-strong current going south. It was almost directly against me and so I was moving really, really slow for the first hour-and-a-half. The swells were really big for the first three hours.
“But then the wind died down and it got flat.”
There were other concerns, however, that Paige “had to wrap my head around.” They included a recent diagnosis of tendinitis in her rotator cuff. The shoulder pain flared up after the second hour.
“I tried adjusting my stroke — higher elbows can help with that — and there are ways you can distract yourself from the pain,” she said. “I’d sing songs in my head a lot, and imagine what it was going to be like at the finish.”
She was shadowed by a kayaker — Grace Grace van der Byl paddled the first half and David Holscher finished up. Both have swum the 21 miles from Catalina Island to Long Beach.
“My goal is to swim that next year,” Kieding said. “Sometime in my life, I’d even like to swim the English Channel.”
A couple of “support swimmers” also accompanied her for an hour at a time.
“Vito Bialla was my swim buddy,” she said. “He’s a very accomplished swimmer and athlete. I’ve been training with him. He came up with my training plan and everything.”
The plan included ice baths to condition her to the cold water of the Santa Barbara Channel.
The sea life mostly kept their distance. She was disappointed to see nary a dolphin.
“I’ve swum with dolphins a few times and it’s such an amazing experience,” Paige said. “I did see a bunch of jelly fish floating underneath, all lit up in the dark with the bioluminescence. It was really cool to see.”
A fog bank cloaked the light show that she really wanted to see: “I was hoping to watch the sun rise over the channel.”
She got stung on the shoulder by one of the jelly fish, but that pain paled in comparison to the tendinitis that intensified near the end.
“I never thought about quitting,” Paige said. “I’m not a quitter. When I decide to do something, I always get it done. Even on the training swims, I’m never the one deciding to get out of the water. It’s always the crew that makes me get out.
“Pretty much every sport is more mental than physical, and this one is one of the most psychologically challenging sports there is. I did a lot of visualization in my preparation.”
Her vision of the end lived up to the hype.
“My friends and family were there to meet me on the shore, and it was really special,” Kieding said. “It was a real emotional experience.”
There was no celebratory feast, however.
“When you’re in the ocean that long, your mouth gets super-swollen from the saltwater and the layers of your tongue literally peel off,” Paige pointed out. “It’s super-painful.
“I just had smoothies for the next three days.”
For Paige Kieding, after all, success is a drink that is best served cold.
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org