Life Lessons from the San Francisco Bay

October 10, 2021
Chris Engen

Over the last couple of months, I’ve found a new love of open water swimming. I used to MAKE MYSELF drive to the San Francisco Bay to swim if I had a triathlon coming up, because I "had to" get used to it prior to the event.  (Pool swimming is not the same at all!) 

This year, instead of being "I should” or "I have to", my SF Bay swims transformed into a "want" and then a "need"!  I reconnected with a dear friend from 25 years ago who was my neighbor when I lived in San Francisco. I deepened my friendship with a local friend who joined me for the 30-minute drive from the East Bay to San Francisco almost every weekend, for about 2 months. 

My little Team of Three decided to meet and start with a 30 minute swim, followed by coffee at Ghirardelli Square. This routine slowly morphed into 1.5  mile swims in rough water, followed by going to the Farmer’s Market, Brunch on Union St, Crepes in the Marina or Coffee on Polk Street. NONE of it was planned out, other than "Let's swim!"  It simply happened in flow.


What was simply dreamy was having the time and freedom to continue the day with my friends, versus rushing back for the next item on my to-do list.  I was mindful to not overschedule myself, as I realized my 3 kids are older now and can look after themselves. In the past, I'd have to rush home and had my life planned out in 15 minute increments. Not so on these magical weekend excursions. My daughter even joined us a couple of mornings to hang out on the beach with our dogs!

One fine morning while enjoying coffee at Philz on Polk Street, we decided to see if there were any organized events coming up. It was serendipitous that the Alcatraz Invitational Event just happened to be open with some last-minute slots! So, we signed up and just last weekend, jumped off a ferry from Alcatraz Island with 600 vaccinated and masked souls and swam to the shore at the South End Rowing Club by Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco.

Chris' Deep Thoughts from the Bay:

  1. No swim is EVER the same. (Stay present and aware)
  2. Respect the ocean.  (You're a guest)
  3. There is help if you signal for it. You are not alone.  (There was lots of kayak support!)
  4. You can only do the best you can do on any day, and it will never yield the exact same result. (My time for this swim has varied from :48 to :36 min for the exact same swim. It ALL depends on sighting and your ability to navigate the current on that day)
  5. You can try to predict what will happen, but unknown situations will always arise. (I struggled with leg cramps for the last 200 yards, something that has never happened before)
  6. Keep your eye on the target. (Sight the landmarks the experts tell you to sight)
  7. Take advice from others.  (See above)
  8. Trust yourself and let go of any expectations. 
  9. If pain arises, sit with it and move through it. Do not fight it.   (My leg cramps were really painful. I envisioned the pain washing through and out my toes, and kept on swimming)
  10. Be kind to your fellow humans and don’t grab their feet. (People touching your feet as you swim is THE WORST!)
  11. You’ll get tossed side to side and back and forth. There will be some easy swimming with the current and other times you’re fighting hard to stay on course. (Such is life)
  12. Negative self-talk will get you nowhere when you’re trying to achieve a goal.  
  13. I am not in charge but I can navigate my journey.
  14. I am enough. I really don’t need much.
  15. Do NOT go out there alone!
  16. Just Keep Swimming! 
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