Not Exactly a Glamour Sport

Open-water swimming isn’t glamorous. I was reminded of that today while attempting to pull on a new wetsuit. 

Does anyone else sweat like a cold Corona on a hot beach trying these things on? And why is there ALWAYS a good-looking, incredibly fit 30-something triathlete/sales rep helping you try them on? Is shaming part of the sales tactic? 

The new suit was a thermal version of the suit I usually swim in. Thermal means lined in synthetic orange fuzz, which is supposed to be warmer for those winter days here in Puget Sound when the water is down in the 40s. Great idea, right?

And even though it was a bigger size than I normally wear, it was still “an umph and a prayer” to get it over my hips. And when I say hips, I mean my ass. We all have our demons. And when I say “we”, I mean women.

Have you seen what men swim in? At least Australia can dish the truth; they call the mens brief-style swimsuit a Budgie Smuggler. If you haven’t heard the term before, just give it a minute….

Budgie, Friendship, Affection, Love

Men’s swimwear could be an entirely separate blog topic. Oh, if only I had the time!

Lately in our swim group, we’ve had some discussions of modesty at the picnic table. The picnic table is where we all meet and chat while changing into our gear before a swim. Every open-water group has its own form of picnic table.

Unfortunately ours is right below a family pizza joint, and a few days ago one of our dear members inadvertently exposed his member to a family trying to enjoy their pie in the restaurant above.

Another swimmer in the group ran into the father of the family after the swim. He said his daughter had a few questions about “that naked man.” He wasn’t upset, but he was curious about why people were swimming in “that really cold water.”

Why do we do it? (I mean swim, not forget our towel and expose ourselves, but that too I suppose.) The question becomes louder to me in these days of dropping night temperatures, the shortening daylight, and finding gear that will best get me through the tough swims of winter. 

The group at the picnic table is already growing smaller. Soon it will be just a handful of us that answer the call to keep getting in. I believe we would all say it isn’t a choice to swim, but a necessity. 

I’m going to have to ask those friends why they keep swimming. And remind everyone to bring a towel.

–TJ Wiley Forsyth

Why Lion’s Mane Jellies Are the Best!

The title here reflects my suspicions that I somehow offended our scarlet-armed friends of the sea with my previous post (Then There’s These Bastards). How else to explain the 27 (twenty seven!) encounters our group had soon after I posted?

Assuming that an invertebrate can read is a stretch. I don’t think they can even steer themselves, they just float along the currents. I have friends like this.

But many things exist in the world that defy explanation. Like swimming with a swim buoy, I saw no reason not to be overly cautious, and decided to give them some love in this title. They most likely just skim and only read the big print anyway. 

No one was stung in the face, no one swam directly into one, so it obviously was just a threat and demonstration of strength in numbers on their part. 

Being of a certain OW swimmer mindset (see “Definition of Insanity” in previous post), we returned the very next day, same time, same place, to swim. 

The beach was littered with their fallen. And I’m not saying beach as in a long swath of a few hundred yards. There were 12 washed up within a 30-foot length directly below the stairs where we always get in.

It was obvious to me then that some serious reconnaissance had been taking place. They’d been planning an attack for awhile.

We all, of course, swam anyway (see “Definition” above, again). Yet the water was crystal clear, and of the eight of us that got in, no one saw a single jelly. Not one.

After getting out, someone had the gallant and thoughtful idea to collect the ones washed ashore in a plastic shopping bag and throw them into the nearby blackberry bushes. 

But we shouldn’t have.

As much as we find lion’s manes a scary stinging nuisance, the sea has a plan and a place for them. We just might not be smart enough to understand that plan yet. Maybe we’re just reading the big print for now.

As humans we treat the Earth’s bodies of water and the life in them like entitled children, always expecting to receive but rarely giving back. What belongs to the sea must remain with the sea. 

Except Dungeness crab, because they’re delicious.

–TJ Wiley Forsyth

Then there’s these bast@rds….

When it comes to deadly, highly poisonous, sudden-death kinds of critters, the Pacific Northwest is pretty lame. The best we can do is a super highly toxic mushroom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite glad about this. But it kind of lacks in the sexy thrill department, if you ask me.

But we do have red stinging jellyfish! Lion’s Mane. Big ones, some as large as garbage can lids once they wash ashore, like this one that blobbed up on Useless Bay. They’re far from deadly, but can leave a burn to remember if you happen to be swimming in their path. 

I have so far (and luckily) only cruised by or over them. In the water they’re gorgeous, floating silently along the currents like a scarlet ballgown missing its evil princess. 

They’re most common in the Fall, when winds bring the colder water up. Also, when crabbing season starts in June, I will often pass through a severed arm or tentacle, broken off by a trap or pulled-up rope. 

While no longer attached to the main body of the jelly, these pieces still pack a bit of sting. The burn is brief but surprising on the backs of my hands or across my face.

But it’s not enough of a threat to keep myself and most of my friends from swimming. Even when some of us have been stung on successive days in the same area, we still show up and swim in the EXACT same place. (What’s the definition of insanity again?)

The sea is dangerous and its storms terrible, but these obstacles have never been sufficient reason to remain ashore.

Magellan

Besides knowing the seasons, and hoping a fellow swimmer shouts and points one out in the water ahead of me, there’s really no tactic to avoid a Lion’s Mane. My swim trajectory for the day and theirs will either cross or not. 

All those gazillion different paths through the water from point A to point B on a swim, and I might be unlucky enough to smack straight into one. 

I like to think about this idea. It reminds me of life. How sometimes everything aligns in a way that is perfectly horrible. Or tragic.

Or glorious. 

–TJ Wiley Forsyth