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!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Swimming to "The Other Shore"

Conditions could not have been more perfect for today's long-awaited and long-imagined "Cross-County Swim" from our home beach in Suffolk County directly across the harbor to Cove Neck in Nassau County!  The morning was overcast, but the sun kept bursting through great, gorgeous cloud formations that were as dramatic as the occasion. The air temperature was comfortably in the high 50s and rising, there was virtually no wind, and the 67-degree water looked as inviting as that opposite shore....Nearly 30 swimmers turned out for the adventure, along with a fleet of paddleboarders and one kayaker who'd volunteered to escort us across and protect us (we hoped) from the boats that regularly criss-cross the harbor.  Though we'd hoped that the late September date would mean there'd be less boat traffic to worry about, I watched with growing uneasiness as one boat after another sped northward past the distant yellow buoys marking the path where we would be swimming.  I counted ten boats by the time we were suited up and ready to go -- an unheard of number for an early Saturday morning in late September -- even in this busy harbor.  But the distant shore was beckoning, and no one was backing out despite the obvious risks, so off we went toward "The Other Shore"!

Boat #9?

We swam in three tightly packed groups spaced widely apart and kept a vary eye out for approaching boats, as did our escorts. Though the round-trip distance -- a little less than two miles -- was not much more than a typical "Sailboat" swim, which most of us do regularly, the fact that we were so far from shore and swimming across an active boat channel made it seem much, much farther....So when we suddenly saw the flashing lights of the Oyster Bay Constable's boat approaching, and watched it take up a watchful position alongside the phalanx of swimmers, we were greatly relieved -- at least once we realized he was not there to arrest us!  We all relaxed a little bit and were able to really enjoy the fabulous swimming conditions and the extraordinary view of our home beach from far out in the harbor. When we had all arrived safely at the beach at Cove Neck, without having seen another boat crossing the channel or bearing down on us, we were elated -- and then we remembered that we still had to swim back!  After a brief rest (too brief -- I forgot to look for my flip-flops which had drifted away a few weeks before on an easterly wind -- I know they're here someplace!), we started back across the harbor, in the same three-group formation, but a little more practiced at keeping ourselves together and swimming at the same pace.  The Bay Constable's boat followed us all the way back to West Neck Beach and, despite the early traffic, we didn't encounter any other boats and all arrived safely "home."  There, swimmers, paddleboarders and friends enjoyed an end-of-Summer feast of bagels, donuts, muffins, crumb-cake, watermelon and hot coffee and tea -- and the exhilaration of having completed what for many of us has been a long-term dream! Many, many thanks to our group leaders Rob Ripp and Carole Wickham for keeping us organized and in formation, and to our kayaker and fellow-Podder Nancy Reycraft and paddleboarders Sal, Nick, Edgar, Linda, Jamie, Jackie, Katie (and one other whose name I didn't get) for keeping us safe and on course! For those who missed out on today's adventure, you can count on us doing it again next year....See you in the Salt!
View from Nick's paddleboard
Arriving at "The Other Shore"
Home again....

Paddleboarder Linda with fellow paddleboarder Jamie's mom Amy

Swimming/paddling across the harbor makes you hungry!

The harbor two hours later...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

"Coney Island" Comes to West Neck Beach

The white-capped waves were plainly visible from the roadway as I turned into the parking lot at West Neck Beach this chilly September morning, and as the rest of the morning swimmers continued to arrive, they joined the growing throng on the beach incredulously watching the rolling waves as they raced past us from north to south.  The wind driving the waves was from the northwest and though the still-high tide was already going out, the wind was clearly winning the battle, and howling its victory.  The madly pitching boats in the mooring field gave some clue to the bum's rush we swimmers could expect were we to venture out there. Of course we regulars were game, but two returning "newbies" from last week's introductory workshop, and a clutch of brand-newbies, stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed on the beach as they contemplated entering the turbulent scene in front of them. Incredibly, every one of them did, joining the rest of the Pod as we pitched and yawed and clawed our way over the tops of the biggest waves only to plummet to the bottom of the wave troughs -- like riding the roller coaster, the Ferris wheel and the drop tower all at the same time!  But the water was clear and clean and still summer-warm, and we'll be back tomorrow at 8:00 to see what the open water has in store for us...!  See you in the Salt!



Reconnoitering at the Yellow Sign

Stephanie's first OWS with the West Neck Pod

Sophia at the Sailboat

Helen at the Sailboat

Saturday, September 7, 2013

"Open Water 101"....

Orientation on the beach (photo by Gae Polisner)
The West Neck Pod’s first formal "‘Newbies’ Intro to the Open Water" was a splashing success today, with nearly a dozen novitiates gaining or honing their open-water chops under the watchful guidance of seasoned Pod "mentors," who buddied up with newbies one-on-one and accompanied them as far as their skill, comfort level and endurance permitted. The newbies ranged in age from 10 to 60, and their bright yellow caps dotted the water all the way from the dock to the Sailboat (to which three of the newbies actually ventured with their mentors alongside!). The weather could not have been more accommodating, and the newbies were treated to bright warm sun, clear blue skies, and sparkling clear water, with just a light wind rolling in gentle waves from the west (and relatively few of the nibbling brine shrimp that had been plaguing swimmers earlier in the week – most of which were concentrated around Gae today, to hear her tell it!).

Congratulations to our new "newbies" Jonathan Zeit, Gina Foglia, Anthony Sarchiapone, Amy Baker, Chris Nugent, Miriam, Alexis Napoli, Sarina Napoli and Dana and returning newbies Peter Dennin and Merry Lewin; and many, many thanks to the Pod members who volunteered as mentors: Joye Brown, Gae Polisner, Annmarie Kearney-Wood, Bonnie Millen, Margot Edlin, Dana Termini, Will Spencer, Jamie Scholfield, Joan Addabbo, Tony Alizzi, Nancy Reycraft, Karen Barbosa, Rob Todd, and Rob Ripp (with special thanks to Dana Termini for providing the delicious tea and snacks afterwards, and to Rob Todd for his early morning deployment of the foot-saving Floating Pod Sandal Station!).

The morning’s activities were documented and photographed by Sylvia King-Cohen and Heather Walsh of Newsday, which is planning a story on open-water swimming (though it probably won’t appear until next April, they warn us). Their unobtrusive presence, thoughtful questions, and obvious admiration for what we do "out there" made them welcome visitors and earned them both honorary Pod-member status (though we’re hoping that Heather, a swimmer herself, will eventually come out and join us in the Salt as a full-on member of the ever-growing West Neck Pod).

There are still two weeks left of summer and plenty of open-water swimming time left in this 2013 season....Hope to see today’s "newbies" in the Salt again soon! Next group swim: tomorrow morning at 8:00!
Heather Walsh captures Carole Wickham in the morning light

Sylvia King-Cohen of Newsday
"My" newbie, Chris Nugent

The 2013 "FPSS"
Newbies Miriam and Chris

Monday, September 2, 2013

"Newbie," or not "Newbie"...That is the question...

Dana Termini
As with every open-water season, 2013 has brought a fresh crop of "newbies" to the West Neck Pod. This year’s group – the largest yet – is a diverse lot, with, as always, different levels of swimming skill and experience as well as different reasons for seeking the open water and the company of the Pod. 2013 "newbies" Dana Termini and Will Spencer have become Pod regulars, helping to fill the gaping hole left when Karen Ruth moved back to Cleveland. Dana, a surfer from the South Shore, is an accomplished open-water swimmer who exhibits the same calm equanimity whether she’s pushing the envelope with the rest of the "Big Dogs" or hanging back with the "Pokey-Pod." Will, who had only recently taught himself to swim by watching YouTube videos (!), was already registered for his first Iron-Man Triathlon in Louisville on August 25th -- but his swimming was slow and laborious and he was afraid he wouldn’t make the swim cut come race day. He found the West Neck Pod through an internet search – and after several months of dogged training with the Pod – and being mentored by our multi-time Iron Man veterans Karen Ruth and Nancy Lipira, among others – Will made the swim cut in plenty of time...and now he’s ready to mentor the next crop of Iron-Man-wannabees. 

Will "Iron Man" Spencer
Merry Lewin
Merry Lewin – whose personality matches her name – is a newly minted sprint triathlete, but with limited open-water experience, Merry was apprehensive about taking on other challenges...Her swims with the Pod have been about exploring and expanding her comfort levels, and increasing both her distance and her sense of confidence. Merry still has "The Sailboat" in her sights – and in due time, with the support and encouragement of the Pod, Merry will add that notch to her swimming belt...just like Ian Todd did last weekend! Ian is the 12-year-old son of long-time Podder/Polar Podder Rob Todd, who decided to introduce his "poolie" progeny to the open water this season. Ian has taken to the open water like, well, his Dad, and I definitely see some "big swims" in his future!

Rob Todd and Ian Todd
Rebecca, center, with Joan, Dana, Joye, Larry & Bonnie
Rebecca Cooney – a Newsday colleague of long-time Podder Joye Brown, had been wistfully following the Pod through Facebook and The Water-Blog for eons...but it was a cancer diagnosis that finally brought her to West Neck Beach in mid-July for her first swim with the Pod before undergoing surgery and then chemotherapy/radiation....Wishing Rebecca a speedy return to the healing Salt and her newfound Pod!

Jimmy Kwong is another self-taught swimmer – whose first challenging venture in the open water two weeks ago – safely sandwiched between me and Joye Brown -- brought him as far as the "recently-repainted-building-formerly-known-as-the-‘Blue-House’-but-now-known-as-the-‘White House.’" His second outing last weekend proudly took him as far as the yellow sign – twice! – and Joye informs me that Jimmy made his first South Buoy swim this Labor Day weekend!

Other newbies to the West Neck Pod this season include Bill Byers, Marco Papaleo and Pam Algier, Eliana Themistocleous-Feldstein and "Sidestroke" Matt, Frank Caponi, Kathy Coletti (and her neighbor Gina Foglia, who still hasn’t ventured outside the lines, but promises to soon!), Joe Maccaro, Gavin Poole, Carrie Alexandrowicz, Tony Alizzi, Denise Defazio Cooke, Henry Ivarsson, Brandon Garrett, Greg Nieratka, Peter Dennin, and others whose names have escaped me at the moment...! Many of these have also become Pod "regulars," and even as the official summer season is drawing to a close, "newbies" keep showing up to swim with the West Neck Pod, Long Island’s largest open-water-swimming group!

Bill Byers
Eliana and "Sidestroke" Matt (you'll have to ask him!)

Kathy Coletti and Gina Foglia

Gavin Poole

Tri-Buddies Lorraine, and ?? (Dan?)

Tony Alizzi

Eliana and Denise DeFazio Cooke

Henry Ivarsson

Peter Dennin

Brandon Garrett

Greg Nieratka

But for all the "newbies" who came out to join the Pod this season, there are others out there who are still holding back...waiting, for...what, a special invitation?? WELL, HERE IT IS! The West Neck Pod is extending a Special Invitation to those West-Neck-Pod-wannabees who’ve been hovering on the fringes, but who’ve not yet gotten up the nerve to come out and swim with us (you know who you are!). Take the plunge and join us on Saturday, September 7th at 7:30 a.m. (before the regularly scheduled 8:00 group swim) for a one-on-one introduction to the open water! No pressure, no expectations, and no goals other than to help you get unstuck if the open water is what you’ve been yearning for. If you’re a strong, competent swimmer who wants to expand your horizons and, well, start swimming towards the horizon, email the Pod at westneckpod@verizon.net and let us know you’re coming on the 7th! Wetsuits are recommended – if you don’t own one you can rent one from Runners Edge in Farmingdale or other local runners/cycle shops. We’re also looking for seasoned Pod members to volunteer to mentor our latest crop of "newbies." Sign up on Facebook (https:www.Facbeook.com/WestNeckPod/events or email westneckpod@verizon.net.

See the rest of you in the Salt – finally!