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These Swimmers Like Their Water With Waves


Competitive swimming is usually fairly safe. Sure, you might cramp up from too many laps in the pool or feel that shoulder aching again, but there's almost no chance you'll be eaten.

But for a sizable number of swimmers, the pool doesn't offer enough of a challenge, so they take to the ocean.

And despite an occasional shark, there's still little chance of ending up as a meal. There are, however, other problems.

Such as hallucinations . . .

Veteran ocean swimmer Rod Hansen of Huntington Beach nearly had visions the first time he attempted the 10-mile Seal Beach Open Water Swim in 1993. By the ninth mile he was experiencing a serious swimmer's high.

"It was pretty crazy," said Hansen, who finished in 3 hours 31 minutes and won his age group. "When I finished the swim, I literally ran out of the water through the gateway into the parking lot where a friend was waiting to take me to work because I was late. After swimming 10 miles, my mind was in this weird state of mind. All day long I was in euphoria."

Hansen, 27, has been ranked as high as third in the Bud Light Ocean Series and has also done numerous Hawaiian ocean swims. Currently, he's preparing for his second Seal Beach 10-miler. The event is July 20.

"This is the time [summer] when most of the events are taking place," Hansen said. "I love them. There's no money in it, but it just gets me motivated to do other things."

Hansen will again be swimming the 10-mile portion of the event, which also includes men's and women's three- and one-mile races. There are also 200-, 400-, 800-, 1,200-yard events for children.

The 10-mile course starts at the Huntington Beach Pier and ends at the Seal Beach Pier. Sometimes, the races are so close that the athletes sprint to the finish line about 100 yards up the beach.

Although ocean swimming is gaining in popularity, it's not for everybody. Those attempting it for the first time need to be well prepared.

Laguna Beach's Laurel Hooper, who will also enter her second Seal Beach 10-miler, says a workout schedule is imperative, no matter the length of the swim. "It doesn't matter if you're swimming 10 miles or one mile, you have to prepare for the event," she said.

Many ocean swimmers belong to a Masters swim group, of which there are many in Orange County.

"A lot of swimmers who swim Masters prefer ocean swimming," Hansen said. "And the coaches of these groups will gear the workouts for this group with some weekends put aside for ocean workouts."

Hansen said he tries to swim twice a day with three days reserved for ocean workouts.

"I primarily work on my pace," Hansen said. "You can't go out there and swim like a madman for 10 miles. You have to pace yourself."

Hooper, 22, is the twin sister of Matt Hooper, who just missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team in swimming. She has never had any regrets about moving into the ocean after swimming for UC Irvine.

"When I did the Seal Beach swim, I was so beyond help when I finished the race," Hooper said laughing. "I ate light that morning, but when I got to the jetty, I hit the wall. I finished, but I hardly remember anything."

Though that might not sound like much fun, Hooper insists it's worth it.

"It doesn't matter that there's no money involved," Hooper said. "I swim these races because for me it's a serious accomplishment. I can say I've swam 10 miles."

Hansen has similar gusto for ocean swims, but his eagerness has limits. Cold water, for example.

"There are a few people I know who do the Alcatraz swim," Hansen said. 'The course is from Alcatraz to the mainland. Usually the water temperature is in the 50s or low 60s. And since you can't use a wet suit, that's just too cold."

Which is why Hansen and many others prefer the warmer waters of Southern California summers.

"It's just fun to get out there and swim in the warm water," he said. "It really clears your head and you get a good workout.

The granddaddy of ocean events in Southern California is the Catalina Channel Swim. Though anyone can take a stab at this 20-mile event all-year long, the peak time is August and September, said John York, president of the Catalina Channel Swim Assn.

York said they don't have veto power over who swims the channel, but hope swimmers follow certain guidelines.

For one, wetsuits aren't allowed. And swimmers must be accompanied by a rescue boat in case the swimmer needs to be pulled out.

York, who has swum the channel five times, said it usually takes between seven hours and 30 hours to finish.

"It's a very historical and demanding swim," said York, who noted that his association began keeping records in 1927. "A lot more people don't make it. It's a big commitment."

Hansen said he may try the Catalina Channel swim someday, but the thought of getting into the water in the middle of the night, gives him the willies.

"There's something about going into the ocean when it's pitch black," Hansen said. "Now that's the place a shark will probably get you."

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