I supply the laughingstock: Footage of last spring's ICE Breaker 1-mile swim (not sure why it's spelled that way) on Folsom Lake near Sacramento, my first disorganized attempt to participate in an organized open-water swim. Turns out I got a lot of screen time; it's either inadvertent or the videographer was mesmerized by the vision of an upright sea elephant in DayGlo® hoodie.
Even amid the crowd of wet-suited swimmers in orange caps, I'm impossible to miss. That's me, testing the seams of my suit, my head the shape of a cartoon bullet, with a yellow stripe down the middle (Hm, ominous?). I'm square in the middle of the shot at the beginning, stretching like it would make any difference, scared out of my wits.
At about :58 you can see my wife, Nancy, shooting video of her own, left side of the screen. I'm oblivious to her and looking around nervously, certain that I had missed some crucial instruction; by that time I had been on site for an hour and a half, made the loooong walk to the shoreline and my car three times, introduced myself to the race director (Why? I don't know. Maybe so he can help ID me for the coroner.)
Nancy comes in again at 1:33, and then I give my half-hearted answer to the race director's call-and-repeat, "I love to swim!" I'm fairly sure at that moment that I don't love to swim, that my goggles will leak, or I left the burner on under the coffee pot, or I will drown.
Finally, notice how long it actually takes me to enter the water once the race starts. By the time the older, way more buff, gentleman appears without wet-suit, at 2:05, I'm past the point of being embarrassed and casually stroll in behind him, like I'm window shopping. I saunter along, and saunter some more … more sauntering … before eventually falling in and beginning my stroke (swim stroke, I mean), toward the right, at the end of the video.
The funniest part of the whole experience was when I returned my rented wet-suit and told the clerk that I had finished the mile much faster than I do in the pool. Out of anyone who could relate to this new outdoor adventure, the clerk would surely revel in my accomplishment, how the open water had freed me from the constraint of walls, how my spirited effort, buoyed by this freedom, had sped me to the finish line.
"Yeah," she said instead, "everybody goes faster in wet-suits." She did not get a tip.
I got back in the water this weekend, to get ready for a new season, and needed the wet-suit to keep my sanity in 47-degree water. Of course, that didn't stop one guy in our group from swimming a mile-and-a-half without a wet-suit. Somehow, he made the water colder.