DISCLAIMER: Open-water swimming is inherently dangerous. Open-water swimmers risk drowning, hypothermia, hyperthermia, heart attacks, panic attacks, cramping, jelly fish stings, fish bites, boat or jet-ski collisions, collisions with floating or submerged objects (including other swimmers), and other calamities that can be injurious, disabling or fatal! The "West Neck Pod" is an informal association of open-water swimmers who swim "outside the lines" with no lifeguard protection, it has no formal membership, organizational structure or legal identity, and its participants, including the author of this blog, make no representations and assume no liability with respect to its group open-water swims. All swimmers who participate in West Neck Pod group open-water swims do so at their own risk. Be careful out there!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Looks Like We Made It....Again!

January 31st swim, with Joye Brown, me, Gae Polisner, and
Annmarie Kearney-Wood -- and an anonymous harbor seal
Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it? The Winter, I mean – especially compared to the last several years of bone-chilling cold and seemingly endless snowstorms. This Winter the West Neck Polar Pod managed to eke out at least one swim in every month except February, so we’re pretty well acclimated and ready for the official start of the 2016 open-water-swimming season on Memorial Day weekend! It’s been a cool Spring, though, despite its early start, and the water temperature has been slow in making its way up into the comfort range for most swimmers. But by Memorial Day weekend, I’m anticipating that the water temperature will have nudged its way into the 60s...at least the low 60s...and that it will be tolerable for some if not most, at least in wetsuits (no, not you, "Princess Rabbi"!).
     The water conditions have otherwise been lovely, though, with extremely clean, clear water throughout most of the pre-season. On my last couple of swims with the Polar Pod I kept thinking I was about to scrape the water bottom, which seemed just inches beneath my outstretched hand, but with each panicky stop I found that the water was still well over my head, and Gae Polisner reported on our last swim that she saw a couple of crabs hugging the bottom as she swam above them. You may remember that last summer, Cold Spring Harbor and Long Island Sound were widely reported to have been visited by a number of Beluga and humpback whales, and this winter the West Neck Polar Pod was astonished when it was joined on one of its swims by a lone harbor seal, who perhaps mistook our black-wetsuited selves for its friends and relatives. These recent sightings may be signs of our harbor’s steadily improving health – or of more dire conditions elsewhere – but I am heartened to see these changes, and look forward to welcoming the dolphins when they, too, return to our harbor.  

April Fools -- me with Gae Polisner and Tony Alizzi
     In the meantime, it looks like we’ll be welcoming more newbies to the West Neck Pod, based on the steady stream of emails and Facebook messages that I received as the winter season waned. The West Neck Pod is still the only truly "open" open-water swimming group on Long Island, with no formal membership or dues, and we continue to welcome all swimmers to join us in appreciating and reveling in the many gifts of the open water. Whether you’re a recreational swimmer, a competitive swimmer, an Ironman triathlete or anything in between, you’ll find a home and fellows here at West Neck Beach. If you’re on our email list or want to be (by request only to westneckpod@verizon.net) or have "liked" our West Neck Pod Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/WestNeckPod), but you haven’t yet joined us for a swim, then maybe this is your year (at your own risk, of course, for competent swimmers only – and be sure to read the disclaimer on our Facebook page)!

     Though Summer is still nearly a month away, this coming weekend marks the official start of our open-water swimming season, with group swims scheduled for Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Memorial Day) mornings at 8:00! This weekend schedule will continue throughout the season and the post-season, and as the morning air and water temperatures continue to rise, a schedule of weekday morning swims will evolve and be posted by email or on Facebook and/or "The Water-Blog" (http://thewater-blog.blogspot.com/) (and hopefully my personal and time constraints will enable me to return to more regular blogposts, which regretfully have been few and far between of late!).

     As our Pod continues to grow and expand, so do the number of impromptu or ad hoc "Podlet" swims, and now, at virtually any time of the day, you can see swimmers ducking under the swim lines and making their way to the South or North Buoy or The Sailboat or beyond (hopefully sporting the brightly colored "floaty-bags" which have become the ubiquitous symbol of the West Neck Pod’s commitment to safety "out there"). We encourage you to post and share info about these informal swims with your fellow Pod members...(and to buy and use those International Swimming Hall of Fame-developed "SaferSwimmer" flotation devices).

Gae Polisner and Joye Brown
     As you begin to "get in the swim" again this year, here are some important upcoming events to post in your calendar:

     This year, for the fifth time, our home West Neck Beach will be the site of Long Island’s premiere open-water swimming event, the "West Neck Swim," with one-mile, two-mile, and 5K events. This year, the Swim will be held on July 31st (race organizers changed the original date from June 26th to avoid conflict with the Huntington Tri and to take advantage of warmer water temperatures and the high-tide schedule). Registration information will be posted on the West Neck Swim website (westneckswim.com) and the West Neck Pod Facebook page.

     Then, in August, the West Neck Pod will once again be participating in the annual "Sound-to-Cove" Swim Across America in Glen Cove. Since we first started participating in 2012, "Team West Neck Pod" has raised nearly $100,000.00 to help support local cancer research, treatment and support services. Like so many Long Island families, our West Neck Pod family has been deeply and personally touched by cancer, and many of our members have lost friends and family members to this disease or are cancer survivors themselves. Each year, the members of Team West Neck Pod pledge our swimming bodies to the fight against cancer – a fight the recent research shows we are winning! To help in the fight against cancer in our community, join Team West Neck Pod – or make a generous donation on behalf of the Team or your favorite swimmer. (http://www.swimacrossamerica.org/site/TR/OpenWater/NassauSuffolk?team_id=18308&pg=team&fr_id=3944).
     See you in the Salt!
Paul Coster and Kevin Flannery

Friday, January 1, 2016

Waving-In the New Year

Jimmy, Sharon, me, Tony and Stephen
The sun had almost but not quite burned its way through the clouds, so the air was decidedly chilly at 41 degrees. A west-northwesterly wind was roughing up the surface of the water, which looked stern and cold as the West Neck Polar Pod arrived for its annual New Year’s Day swim. Jimmy Kwong, Stephen Leung, Tony Alizzi, Sharon Berg Hochberg and I were there to swim, but bikini-clad Pod-member Nancy Aboff was there, too, hunkered in her SUV, steeling herself for her first-ever polar plunge. Her friend Karen, who was there for moral support, decided to join her at the last minute, and as we wetsuited swimmers huddled at the shoreline adjusting gloves and goggles and nerves, Nancy and Karen, both wearing only bathing suits, ran headlong into the swells, laughing and shrieking like...well, like they were running nearly naked into ice-cold frigid water!

 The rest of us soon followed suit as fellow Pod member Mark Heuwetter, there just to cheerlead, encouraged us from the beach while taking pictures and videos of our progress (including the ones posted here - thanks, Mark!). The wind-driven chop made swimming difficult, and several of us struggled with leaking, fogging goggles that were impossible to adjust with cold, gloved hands. Back at the beach, Jimmy’s friend Bondy waited for our return, intent on taking her own first polar plunge, which Jimmy had promised he’d join her in after our swim. That was all I needed to hear to be inspired myself, and when the Polar Pod’s brief but exhilarating excursion was over, Jimmy and I both stripped off our wetsuits and joined Bondy in a bathing-suit-only bone-chilling New Year’s polar plunge before dashing back to our cars to dry off, warm up and drink hot tea.
Cold-water swimming certainly isn’t for everyone. For the members of the West Neck Polar Pod, our compulsion to push the boundaries of the "open-water swimming season" is motivated less by a fondness for cold water and goosebumps than by a stubborn unwillingness to relinquish the delicious freedom of the open water for the finite container of the pool (though the cold water definitely kicks up our endorphins!). That’s why we were out there today on this first day of 2016...and why we’ll be out there again as often as the weather and our personal constraints allow. So if you weren’t able to join us today (Gae Polisner, Annmarie Kearney-Wood and Joye Brown, you know I’m talking to you!), don’t worry – you’ll have 364 more chances this year!
Happy New Year, everyone! See you in the Salt!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Goodbye, June-uary...Hello, Summer!

"Welcome to ‘June-uary,’" my cousin posted in response to my recent Facebook lament that I was still wearing flannel pajamas to bed (thanks for the coinage, John Austin Totter!). It’s been that kind of a schizophrenic month weather-wise, as air temperatures repeatedly ping-ponged from the 50s into the 90s and then back down to the 40s. The water temperature never had a chance, and it held a narrow range between the low 50s and low 60s while Spring-minded Podders and triathletes with looming upcoming events blinked and shrugged as weekend after weekend they tiptoed into water that still felt like the ice floes that had thronged the harbor throughout the seemingly endless winter. One of the earliest events of the season, the Huntington Sprint Triathlon, held on May 31st, saw numerous swimmers pulled from the 52-degree water at Crab Meadow Beach, several of whom were taken to the hospital to be treated for hypothermia. Reportedly most of those were not wearing wetsuits, and I’m guessing this might have been their first venture into the open water since last season. (The best defense against hypothermia? Acclimate, acclimate, acclimate! – but not on the day of the event!)  

Happily, all swimmers recovered, and so did the temperatures, with this weekend of more "seasonal" weather and water temperatures in the mid-60s finally giving swimmers a taste of the Summer to come and, for those who are so inclined, an invitation to shed bulky full wetsuits for long-johns/janes or just bathing suits. Tony Alizzi kindly volunteered (i.e., was drafted!) to step in as "Podmaster" this weekend while I was away, and in addition to offering guidance on the tide and the suggested route, helped to orient a fresh batch of "newbies" and provide loaner "floaty-bags" for the unprepared.

More good news: Weekday swimming has resumed at 6:00 ("in the water") on Wednesday and Friday mornings and, for us lazybones, at 8:00 on Friday mornings. And of course our regular weekend schedule of 8:00 a.m. swims continues until...well, until ice floes return to the harbor!

Next weekend Summer officially begins, with the Solstice this year taking place on Sunday, June 21st! As the water temperature continues to rise (look for temperature postings on the West Neck Pod Facebook page), we’ll look forward to seeing more and more of our "poolie" brethren joining us in the Salt, along with the "newbies" who continue to seek out the West Neck Pod for their first open-water experiences.

The following weekend, the Fourth Annual West Neck Swim will take place at West Neck Beach on Sunday, June 28th. This highly acclaimed event offers 1-mile, 2-mile, and 5K events with both wetsuit and non-wetsuit divisions. If you’re registered for the Swim, you still have time to check out the venue and "test the waters" with the seasoned swimmers of the West Neck Pod.  If you’re not registered, what are you waiting for? Visit the West Neck Swim website at westneckswim.com for details and registration link.

Next Sunday, June 21st, is also Father’s Day. Not to be a downer, but on Father’s Day 2010 I was nearly chummed by a speeding motorboat as I swam towards the south buoy with a bunch of fellow swimmers (see my blogpost at http://thewater-blog.blogspot.com/2010/06/happy-fathers-day.html?m=0). That close call (I mean, close: I could read the serial number on the boat’s Evinrude motor as the boat driver swerved to avoid me at the last possible second!) ultimately led me to discover and purchase the "SaferSwimmer" flotation buoy from the International Swimming Hall of Fame, which they developed to help protect open-water swimmers from boats and other hazards in the open water. Now, five years later, nearly 100 West Neck Pod swimmers have purchased "floaty-bags," which you can see dotting the surface of the water virtually any day at any time! That’s my long-winded and roundabout way of wishing everyone a Happy Father’s Day, and of doing my part to help ensure that those among us who are fathers, or who have or had fathers, always come home....
Speaking of families, all of us in the West Neck Pod family have friends, family members, colleagues or co-workers who have been affected by cancer in some way, or are themselves cancer survivors. That’s why for the fourth year in a row, the West Neck Pod is participating in the annual "Sound-to-Cove" Swim Across America to raise funds for local cancer research. Last year "Team West Neck Pod" raised more than $38,000.00 to fund the cancer research and treatment and family-support efforts of institutions and agencies right here in our own backyard, including Cold Spring Harbor Research Laboratory right across the harbor. This year, Tony Alizzi will be our Team Captain, and I urge you to join our team and help your fellow swimmers raise money to fight cancer, stroke by stroke by stroke. For more information about the Sound to Cove Swim (at Morgan Park in Glen Cove on Saturday, August 8th, follow this link: http://www.swimacrossamerica.org/site/TR/OpenWater/NassauSuffolk?pg=entry&fr_id=3383

To register as a member of Team West Neck Pod, follow this link: http://www.swimacrossamerica.org/site/TR/OpenWater/NassauSuffolk?pg=entry&fr_id=3383

For more information, contact Tony Alizzi at anthonyalizzi@gmail.com.

See you in the Summer Salt!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy (*eeeeeek!*) New Year!

The annual New Year's Day open-water swim at West Neck Beach has become a hallowed West Neck Pod tradition, and the newly arrived 2015 was no exception.  Despite near-freezing temperatures, white-capped waves and a ferocious wind, three other mermaids answered the siren call of acting mermaid-in-chief Joye Brown on New Year's Day, and took the Pod's first plunge into the 2015 Salt (I was away on vacation and missed the swim, alas!). Gae Polisner, the only one of the four not wearing a wetsuit, stripped off boots and pants and ran in barefooted and waist-high, staying in only long enough to utter the high-pitched, pitiful scream you can hear distantly at the end of this video, taken from the dashboard of Gae's parked car. Sorry for the poor image quality, but it's worth sticking through to the end just for the audio! Gae was followed into the churning waves by Joye and her wetsuited cohorts Kathy and Carole Wickham who went for the full monty (no, not the movie kind!)...The icy rain that's falling now is predicted to last into tomorrow, so prospects for a reprise on this first weekend of January 2015 are dim...but we'll keep you posted!  Happy New Year -- See you in the Salt!


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Team West Neck Pod "Makes Waves to Fight Cancer"...

Proud Team Captain displaying
our Team plaque

Weather conditions were perfect for this year's "Sound-to-Cove" Swim Across America, an annual event to raise funds for local beneficiaries in support of cancer research, prevention and treatment. A total of 160 swimmers, inspired by the courage and strength of loved ones fighting cancer, or the memory of those who'd lost their battle, waded into Long Island Sound in Glen Cove on Saturday, August 9th, to swim distances of 1/2 mile, 1 mile, 5K or 10K. The swim marked the culmination of months of inspired and dedicated fund-raising, and for the third year in a row, a team of swimmers from the West Neck Pod ("Team West Neck Pod") participated, collectively raising more than $35,000! to fund local organizations like Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Fighting Chance, The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and the Feinstein Institute of North Shore-LIJ.

This year’s team members included Evelyn Cruise, Kara Horn, Bonnie Millen, Alice Rogers and Teri Tiso swimming the one-mile; Tony Alizzi, Paul Coster, Margot Edlin, Joe Kasper, Steve Moskowitz, Vincent Tophoff and me swimming the 5K; Annmarie Kearney-Wood and Gae Polisner swimming the 10K; and David and Maureen Birnbaum kayaking alongside us. As of this writing, the total amount raised by this year’s "Sound-to-Cove" swim is nearly $304,000!

Many, many thanks to the valiant members of the 2014 "Team West Neck Pod"; to our families, friends, fellow swimmers and coworkers who supported and encouraged us and contributed so generously to this cause; to the SAA organizers and volunteers, and the kayakers who guided us from buoy to buoy and kept us from straying too far off course; and to the beneficiaries of Swim Across America, whose dedicated research efforts – funded by our contributions – bring us ever closer to a cancer-free world! See you next year when Team West Neck Pod once again "Makes Waves to Fight Cancer! 

5K swimmers Steve Moskowitz, Carol Moore,
Paul Coster, Margot Edlin and Tony Alizzi

Top individual fundraiser Joe Kasper(!) with fellow 5Kers Carol Moore,
Vincent Tophoff, Margot Edlin, Tony Alizzi, some guy, and Steve Moskowitz
One of our kayakers
Bonnie Millen, Margot Edlin & Tony Alizzi chatting with
photographer Steve Pfost, who covered the event for Newsday

Our exhausted but triumphant 10K+ swimmers,
Gae Polisner and Annmarie Kearney-Wood

10K swimmers pose with their plaques

Buoys in a straight line?? I don't think so!
(Note: donations to Swim Across America are still being accepted through the Fall! You can still donate on behalf of Team West Neck Pod or one or more of your favorite open-water swimmers at: