Channelling dolphin energy
On October 7, 2011, the Long Beach Swim Focus Catalina Relay led by Hank Wise set the new overall world record for a crossing of the Catalina Channel in a time of 6:53:04. The relay started around 8:20pm at Point Vicente on the California coast and arrived at Doctor's Cove on Catalina Island a little after 3:00am. They enjoyed a sailboat as an escort vessel and two paddlers. In addition to setting a record, the swim also raised about $1000 for Habitat for Humanity.
In addition to Wise, 44, of Long Beach Masters, the swimmers were: Lyle Nalli, 52, of Pacific Northwest Aquatics, Ted Bramble, 41, of Novaquatics Masters, Matty Mitchell, 44, of Long Bach Shore Aquatics, Parks Wesson, 50, of Southern California Aquatic Masters, and Lexie Kelly, 24, a member of the Southern Pacific LMSC. Their alternate swimmer, who dove in for 20 minutes to accompany Kelly, was 25 year old Samantha Sears of Long Beach Shore Aquatics.
In addition to being the mastermind behind the swim, Wise (pictured right) took the first leg. Conditions were good from the start, thanks to a well-chosen start time, designed to coincide with an outgoing ebb tide which, according to Wise, can create a subtle current toward Catalina Island. That kind of water knowledge, which he came by honestly not only as a swimmer but as a surfer, can make or break a swim.
Wise not only led off and set the strategy for the team, but also swam the anchor leg when most people are sound asleep. He graciously agreed to answer USMS’s questions about the relay below.
USMS: How did you decide on the relay?
Wise: We started talking about the relay shortly after I did my solo crossing in October of 2010. The solo crossing went well, so I figured, why not do a relay with our local Long Beach crew? We were just finishing a practice on a Saturday and most of us were there and it was like, “Duh - We should do a Catalina Channel relay crossing – just an hour each – just to see how fast we could go.”
USMS: Best part of the actual swim?
Wise: About 30 minutes before starting, while the sun was setting, a dolphin jumped twice on the starboard side of our sailboat, almost exactly in the spot where we would be swimming (about mid-ship). I was prepping in the cabin, and I missed the first jump but my teammates alerted me, and just as I looked out the porthole window I saw the dolphin jump, perfectly parallel to the boat. As a way of being, on all ocean swims I channel the spirit of the dolphin to guide and protect me and my fellow swimmers. His presence added much joy, comfort and confidence as we began the relay.
[Another best part was] when I was signaled (a flashlight signal) that we had 10 minutes to go until the 7 hour mark. I thought to myself, “I better get to shore in the next few minutes” and then before I could believe it, about a minute later I saw the massive searchlight going out over the sea towards the island and my paddler said, “They’re looking for a spot for you to swim up!” I was like “Oh man!! We are there! We got it!!” And then sure enough, I was directed to a good step up spot and up I went, and bam – stop the clock! – We’d set the record! I was so stoked and the whole boat was yelling and cheering. That was quite a moment.
USMS: Worst part?
Wise: There really wasn’t a worst part, except that at the beginning it was rough seas.
USMS: What did you all eat before and during?
Wise: We drank a satisfying homebrew mix of fluid replacement with electrolytes (Cytomax - Orange), protein powder (Hammer Perpetuem- Orange Vanilla), and a high calorie gooey white liquid that triathletes use on endurance races (EFS - Vanilla). We called it “orange drink.” During the relay, Lyle brought pre-mixed tuna and soft wheat bread and we scarfed that stuff up too. I drink a lot of tea too – both Yerba Mate and ginger tea. Tea is warming and tasty on long ocean swims.
USMS: Which do you like better, surfing or swimming - and do you think they are good cross training for each other?
Wise: They balance each other. Surfing blissfully for multiple hours allows me to zen out, clear my mind, refresh my spirit, and be ready to get in good mental and physical shape for the swim season. Then when I return to pool swimming, I like the straightforwardness of the sport – streamlining off the wall with the black line underneath and the white pace clock on the side of the pool gives you automatic feedback. Pool swimming is so black and white. Ocean swimming is somewhere between the mindless reactivity to natural oceanic conditions (similar to surfing) and the technical, self-evaluating qualities of pool swimming.
USMS: Did you see any other sea life?
Wise: Other than the dolphin presenting itself at the beginning of our swim we didn’t really see much in the way of sea life. The thing is dolphins and sharks don’t do a lot of business together. They don’t really like each other. They respect each other and leave each other alone. Since I channel dolphin energy, that’s how I like to roll with “man in the grey suit.”
USMS: Who's your swimming hero?
Wise: My swimming hero is the same as my surfing hero – a humble and true waterman who epitomized the balance of both sports. A multiple gold medalist over five Olympics, an ambassador for the sport of surfing, a man who broke through racial divides… Duke Kahanamoku is my swimming hero.