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!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Farewell to "The Pod-Father"

Rob Martell, appropriately costumed for our harrowing Halloween 2010 OWS
It's hard to say when, exactly, the "West Neck Pod" came into being, but that it did at all is principally the doing of Rob Martell, who was unquestionably the fledgling Pod's founding father....Though people have been open-water swimming at West Neck Beach for eons, it was Rob who in 2004 or thereabouts began organizing the "lone wolves" into a loose pack whose "every man for himself" ethos was gradually replaced with an awareness and then eventually a concern for the other swimmers "out there." Scheduled swims, communicated to a small but growing group by email, made these open-water swims accessible to a wider audience -- an audience that I became a part of in 2005 or 2006 thanks to the support and encouragement of Rob and others, who helped me overcome my terror of the open water. Though Rob was a fast and strong swimmer who was always at the front of the pack, he would often double back to check on the rest of us as we struggled against a strong current or a rough chop that he sliced through with seeming ease. Eventually, his concern for his swimming brethren became the norm for all of the West Neck open-water swimmers, and when I began writing the email exchanges known as "The Water-Log," it was inevitable that this now cohesive collection of swimmers would bear the eponymic appellation of a "pod" -- a family of marine mammals.

In acknowledgment of his country of origin, The "Pod-Father" Rob Martell was also known as "The Crazy Canadian." Seemingly impervious to cold, he continued to swim in the open water long after the rest of us had retreated to indoor pools. His December solo swims -- memorialized in the Huntington Masters Swimmers' blog (http://hums.blogspot.com/2006/12/robs-2nd-annual-december-ows.html) -- laid the groundwork for what later became the "West Neck Polar Pod."  
Rob Martell finishing his December 2, 2006 OWS -- photo by Mike Engel from the HUMS blog

But Rob was also infamous for his late-night solo swims, his long-distance exploratory swims around the point and beyond, his swim-to-run junkets with his sneakers tucked into his suit (sorry, no pictures are available of that!), and especially for his long-rumored (and now confirmed!) open-water swim while Hurricane Irene was raging....While most Pod members did not push the swimming envelope as far as Rob did, it was Rob's exploits that encouraged and motivated the Pod to test their own boundaries, following the paths that Rob had paved.  Under Rob's planning and guidance, half a dozen Pod members swam their longest distances ever, completing their first 5K or 5-mile swims last August -- and the Pod will be forever grateful for his invention and deployment of the first "Floating Pod Sandal Station" and his provision of electric heaters to warm the space under the overhang for post-season swims.

Rob Martell (with Rob Ripp) looking like raw meat after the jellyfish infested 2008 "5K in the Bay"
But now, Rob is leaving us -- he's moving to Denver to pursue a new life and new opportunities, and is bidding farewell to the West Neck Pod and the open water....We will miss him terribly, and the inspiration he provided, but we wish him well in his new inland life -- and look forward to his visits home to his Pod-family and friends....

Rob Martell: "Gotta go!"
See you in the Salt, Pod-Father!

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