On a recent Monday afternoon, the water temperature was 60.8 degrees at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. Chilly enough to raise wall-to-wall goose bumps on most people's skin. But just right for Hervey Yurak, a 67-year-old San Pedro professional photographer and former King of the Cabrillo Beach Polar Bears, an organization of year-round ocean swimmers.
Yurak splashed around in the surf with Ray Falk, 65, a fellow Polar Bear, before the two swam out about half a mile and returned to shore, not shivering at all and claiming to feel invigorated.
To prepare for the cold-water swim, Yurak and Falk had inserted earplugs, donned swim caps and orange safety caps and shampooed and rinsed their goggles to decrease the chance of fogging.
Ocean swimming is the backbone of Yurak's fitness program, which also includes stationary bicycle rides, runs on the sand, walking with his wife, at-home calisthenic sessions and occasional bicycle riding. Boasted Yurak, who says he takes no days off from fitness: "I'm a much better athlete now than when I was 40."
In the last year, Yurak said, he has earned three first-place awards in his age division in United States Masters Swimmers events, including 1-mile, 3.5-mile and 5-mile ocean swims.
In recent years, he's also made the plunge with other Cabrillo Beach Polar Bears, starting the New Year by jumping into the ocean water on Jan. 1. In 1986, Yurak was named King of Cabrillo Beach Polar Bears, an honor determined by voting club members.
What keeps him moving?
"I love life," he answered quickly during a recent interview in his San Pedro studio. "Healthy life."
His daily routine is fast-paced, alternately filled with work and exercise. In the morning, he does at-home stretching, push-ups and other exercises and then pedals a stationary bike for about 20 minutes as he watches the news. He opens his studio about 10:30 a.m., works until 1 p.m. and then closes shop and heads for the beach until about 3 p.m.
Yurak usually swims with two or more Polar Bear buddies, and their distance depends on how they feel and the water conditions.
"In summer we take a long swim, usually five miles," he said. "We swim around the lighthouse and back. If the water is too polluted, we go swim in the pool (at the local Elks Club)."
After an ocean swim, Yurak usually runs on the beach one or two miles. "Barefoot, in the sand," he said, smiling at the thought.
He works again until 7:30 p.m., returns home for dinner, takes a walk afterward with his wife, Vera, and then sometimes returns to work until midnight. His studio, specializing in wedding, portrait and environmental photography, is basically a one-man operation, although he gets help when needed from one employee, his wife and daughters, Melanie Ziegler and Lana Cvitanovich of San Pedro.
Yurak, who says he has always been active, has kept up his present routine for three years and has been a consistent exerciser for more than 15 years. In his younger days, Yurak, a Croatian who moved to Vienna and then immigrated to the United States in 1951, swam and rowed and participated in a variety of other sports. "In every sport, I was good," he said. "Not excellent, but good."
The Rancho Palos Verdes grandfather said he would like to retire soon, mostly to give himself more time to pursue his physical activities. His wife goes along with his retirement plans, he said, but thinks his present exercise routine is more than adequate.
"She thinks I'm overdoing it (exercise)," he said with a shrug. "But I say, 'No one knows better than I.' "
"He's gung-ho," said his wife, who admitted she does think her husband exercises to excess. "But don't get me wrong, I think it's wonderful (that he keeps active)," said Vera Yurak, a manager at TRW in Redondo Beach.
She especially enjoys the evening walks together. "It gives us a chance to communicate. We both live very full lives."
At 6 foot, 1 inch and 175 pounds, Yurak looks trim and admits to loving good food. "I believe in eating a variety of foods, a little bit of everything. I like everything. I love sweets, and I like meat, but I curb myself." Yurak said he doesn't smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol and limits himself to one cup of decaffeinated coffee a day.
He believes his exercise regimen, along with his good diet, helps keep him healthy. His last cold, he guessed, was more than three years ago.
His devotion to exercise, he claims, is based on his positive addiction to it: "I can't be without it." His natural love of the ocean also helps keep him faithful to fitness. "I'm a romantic by nature," he said. "I'm in love with the ocean. Out there, we coexist with fish, seals and whales."
And his competitive drive plays no small role in keeping him on the move. In 1984, the San Pedro Polar Bear Club gave Yurak a plaque citing him as "most competitive." Fellow Polar Bear Ray Falk believes the award very appropriate.
"If he walks to the corner," Falk said of his friend, "the next time he has to beat that time."
Fitting in Fitness
Occupation: Professional photographer
Regimen: Seven ocean swims, seven stationary bike rides, seven runs, seven walks, seven calisthenics sessions a week, occasional bike rides
Fitness Motivation: "I love life--healthy life."