Facing Fears (Day 2)

One of my most memorable swims of 2021 was at Avila beach along the central California coast. My daughter Hazel and I drove down to San Luis Obispo for the weekend to meet my cousin Kathleen and her daughter Rory. I must have been in a particularly obsessed period of swimming at the time because I sought out a local place to swim and found the Avila Beach Dolphins–a group of open water swimmers who swim year round. Their website said they meet every Sunday at 11 and so at 11 on Sunday my family cheered me on as I crept down to the beach, quivering in my Birkenstocks. I was SO scared! Afraid to swim with a group of strangers; afraid I wouldn’t be fast enough; afraid I would be too cold (most of the other swimmers were wearing wetsuits). But above all I was afraid of the waves. I’m basically petrified of surf. An unsupervised childhood in Laguna Beach pummeled by waves left indelible scars on my psyche. Now even the most mild surges send my heart racing.

The swim was every bit as terrifying as I anticipated. Getting past the waves was a flurry of panicked freestyle strokes where I could barely catch my breath. Then, I spent the next thirty minutes worrying about how I was going to get back in, which, itself, was just as frightening as I feared it would be.

But it was also a thrilling swim. It’s rare for me to do something that scares me these days. Along with the fear I felt brave and proud and positively buzzing with life. It somehow it accentuated the beauty of the ocean, of my place in it. Also, the other swimmers were the kindest of people. They swam alongside and encouraged me; at the end one literally took my hand as I slogged in terror out of the surf.

(me buzzing with pride after my October swim)

Well, friends, I woke up today in Pismo Beach. To break up the long drive from Baja we stayed here for the night and January 2nd came in gorgeous on the central coast. I took an early morning walk along the sea wall and looked up the coast to see the pier of Avila Beach in the near distance. That was when I realized it just happens to be another Sunday morning.

So off we went to Avila beach. We met Neil, one of the long-time Avila dolphin swimmers at his usual spot next to the pier. We made the mistake of asking him about the recent Christmas Eve fatal shark attack up the coast in Morro Bay, which led to some discouraging stories about past shark attacks, including a 2003 one right there at Avila beach. So that gave us another thing to worry about as we plunged into the surf.

But, again, the fear just added to the experience. The water was gorgeous, the surf pretty mild, the sun beamed down on us. It was thrilling and invigorating and by the time we trudged out 25 minutes later, Angie and I felt like we’d conquered the world.

Photo by Neil

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