Lifestyle

BLUE 42

A team of six local swimmers becomes the first to complete an epic 27-hour aquatic relay along the length of Orange County Coast

By Audrey Vier

While most of the world was sleeping at 2 in the morning on a Saturday in October, six Southern California swimmers were two miles offshore along the coast of Laguna Beach. If you were to look out towards Main Beach around that time, you would have seen a 45’ Catamaran lit up with red, green, and white gumdrop lights bobbing along with the swells. History was being made in those dark hours of that night by these intrepid men: Scott Zornig, Brett Hillyard, Mike Mitchell, Matt Mauer, Tom Hale, and Marc Horowitz. 

Pictured left to right: Swimmers Brett Hillyard, Marc Horowitz, Tom Hale, Matt Mauer, Scott Zornig, and Mike Mitchell.

Each swimmer is an athlete in his own right, including an active duty Marine rescue swimmer currently stationed in Camp Pendleton, accomplished marathon swimmers, and experienced open-water swimmers from Laguna Beach. They trained for the past six months, each ready for their turn to jump into the ocean to swim a leg at all hours of the day and night. For 27 hours straight, these bold athletes embarked on a journey that has never been attempted by a group of swimmers—an attempt to swim in relay the entire length of the coast of Orange County, from Seal Beach to South San Clemente. 

The plan was for each person to swim for an hour at a time, while never touching the boat or escort kayak for assistance, pursuant to rules established by the Catalina Channel Federation, whose jurisdiction is the channel between Catalina and San Pedro. Each teammate was only wearing a standard swimsuit—no wetsuits allowed. When the swimmer’s hour is up, they must high-five the next swimmer before exiting the water. They did this continuously, starting at 7:55am Saturday at the Seal Beach breakwater, ending at the south end of Trestles Beach at 11:16am Sunday. 

Through fog, swell, chop, seasickness, and darkness, the team prevailed. There were no singular conquerors on this epic swim, no one person was the workhorse. Each problem or conflict was met openly and collectively. When a teammate was taken down by seasickness, each swimmer offered to extend their leg so the sick swimmer could rest. When a paddle was lost en route to the start, a group decision was made to try to make it into the Los Alamitos Bay to send out for a new paddle. When the fog descended, the group pressed on with hope that it would lift as they went along their journey. When the team ran low on drinking water, a friend who is a Newport Beach lifeguard carried over 20 gallons to the end of the Newport Pier to be dropped into a lifeguard boat and passed on to the team. 

The perseverance each swimmer showed with every stroke helped the others gather the strength to move forward. Even when the current was directly in their faces and the fog was obscuring their paths, they pushed on. Each obstacle was met with optimistic caution and was discussed as a group to determine the best course of action. 

As part of the seven-person support crew that included two kayakers, three observers, and two captains, I had the pleasure to witness this incredible feat from the very beginning stages of planning, all the way through to the very end when the team touched the beach. These guys have touched my heart in all sorts of ways, and I consider all of them to be great friends. Watching them take every stroke was a testament to their focus and strength, while each breath they took filled me with joy as I witnessed the journey to their united goal.

When the sun set into darkness, each swimmer strapped a blinking light to their goggles so the boat and escort kayak could see them. These lights were the only source of direction each swimmer saw in those night hours. With the water shining in the inky black darkness, each breath allowed them to catch a quick glimpse of the coast where they train each weekend. Below them, the sea exploded with light with each stroke: the bioluminescence was in full bloom. Every movement brought a brilliant show of sparkling trails, and each relay shift change elicited exclamations of awe and amazement at the wonder of nature. 

Sunrise brings a sense of grace and peace to those who are blessed to experience one. It brings harmony to your soul, a congruence of new opportunities for success and new chances in life. If sunrise had a melody, it would start softly quiet while gathering its strength and energy until it becomes overpowering with new life and sensations.

Not every moment was perfect; there were difficulties and emotions ran high. The team relied on each other every stroke of the way to turn this shared dream into a reality. From the planning stages six months ago to the finish in the high surf at Trestles, everyone had a voice. Everyone had an opportunity to express their ideas in an open and honest way, which fostered a group dynamic of mutual love and respect not only for each other, but for the ocean as well. 

If you ever find yourself at Shaw’s Cove in the early morning hours and you see this group of swimmers, make sure you say hello, wave, or throw a shaka to these incredible people. They will welcome you with open hearts and a love for the ocean that is matched by few.   

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