Permission to Play in the Bay
Open water fun
It was a perfect day for a swim. Well, not exactly a swim—more like a race. There were about 50 of us standing in our swimsuits, goggles in one hand, neoprene black caps in the other, waiting to swim in the San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge. The Dolphin Club puts on this race once a year, and I had swum it about five times before. The key to making it to the lighthouse on the other side of the Bay is to keep looking up to make sure the bridge is right above you. The waves and the current are especially strong here where the ocean meets the Bay; it’s a challenging swim.
In the past I’ve usually finished within the top five swimmers, so I put pressure on myself to get out fast and keep my lead. How I had gotten into this competitive mode again was a mystery to me. When I quit swimming after high school, I swore I would never compete again. The Masters club I work out with is all about being social and having fun and the Dolphin Club is just another extension of that.
Maybe it was a fellow swimmer, George, who brought my competitive streak back out in me. Every time I was on the shore waiting to swim in a race, he challenged me, teasing me that “this time” I didn’t have what it takes and that he would win. Sometimes I won, sometimes he won. For this particular race I knew that I had to breathe on both sides to make sure he was in my line of sight, all while looking up to make sure the bridge was above me and that I wasn’t swept back into the Bay by the strong currents.
We all heard the starting horn. We jumped in from the San Francisco side of the bridge and starting swimming to the Marin County side. Within about five minutes the pack of swimmers had all spread out, and there was George, battling it out with me, stroke for stroke. Breathe to the right, breathe to the left, check to see where George is, put my head up to check for the Bridge, do it all again.
We stayed this way for about 15 minutes, until on my left breath, I noticed he wasn’t there. I stopped and saw his feet in the air and he was spinning around doing some weird water ballet move. Was he doing a somersault? He came back up for air and I said, “George what the heck are you doing? We’re in a race here?!” With the look of a 10-year-old boy on his face, he proceeded to do another somersault, and then more water ballet water ballet. Then he started splashing me and encouraging me to play with him. I was amazed, startled and confused.
“Karen, tell me. How often are we underneath the Golden Gate Bridge? How often does anyone get to see a view like this? I am going to take the time to enjoy it!” It was a light bulb moment for me. This event that I had done so many times, that had been all about getting to the other side, winning or bettering my time, had robbed me of the thrill and adventure of what this actually was all about for me. I wondered how much I was doing that in other areas of my life, literally burying my head and just getting through it as opposed to savoring every delicious part of it.
I decided then to do my first somersault in the San Francisco Bay, and I actually did water ballet with George. Some of the other swimmers thought we were nuts, and some joined us. Still others, who were thrilled that they would beat us, sped by hoping that victory was now theirs.
We eventually made it to the lighthouse, where we touched the rock with our hands. A person standing on the rock handed out Popsicle sticks with our place numbers written on them. We then swam to the waiting boat, climbed on, and reveled in our accomplishment. All the top swimmers were drinking coffee and eating donuts, talking all about their strategies of the race. Was I in the top five? No. Did I care? No. Would I ever attempt being in the top five again? I thought not, since this had been the most fun I ever had in the Bay. I had given myself permission to play, and now I wanted more.
Karen Drucker is a best selling positive message musician and author with 14 CDs of her original music and an inspirational book, “Let Go of the Shore.” She speaks, sings, and leads workshops and retreats around the country when she is not happily swimming with North Bay Masters or in the San Francisco Bay with the Dolphin Club.