We Are Connected By Water

Sounds so trite, but it’s true, “we are connected by water.” Saturday October 11th, paddling support for the third annual Swim the Loop in Wrightsville Beach, I was responsible to be out front of the lead swim pack for the 3.5 mile Harbor Loop, then loop again making sure all back of the pack swimmers had sup “eyes on them.” Being above the swimmers on a standup paddleboard it’s a “seagull’s eye view” and I could see hazards, jellies, eddy’s, currents or even crab pots way before the swimmers were upon them. While I was out there, they were MY swimmers and I felt an obligation for the safety of each and every swimmer, “we were connected by water.”

Watching the lead pack was exciting, comparing their tactics and strategies to paddling. This year, the front swimmers didn’t form a draft pack and everyone seemed to take a different line, just like in some sup races. The back of the pack swimmers had the worst of the water and wind conditions with treadmill currents from hell caused by a high lunar tide, just like in a sup race. There were Special Olympic open water swimmers out there chugging along and swimmers training for the upcoming B2B ironman event, everyone had their personal goals. Boat safety support and Coast Guard Auxiliary were out making sure swimmers weren’t run over by exuberant but clueless weekend boaters. Everyone was connected by water.

I Was A Nice Volunteer….then Sh*t Happened

I had a fun day volunteering. It wasn’t always perfect, but it was enlightening. I learn something new E.V.E.R.Y. S.I.N.G.L.E. T.I.M.E. I get on the water. I was a nice volunteer most of the time, one time on the edge, but most of time, a cheerful face. I EARNED my after event garlic pizza pie from Elizabeth’s, I mean EARNED it! Being a volunteer is hard work after all!

To start, knowing I was going to lead the front swimmers, I dressed obnoxiously neon. I made sure the front swimmers knew what I looked like, that while I would not be assisting their swimming, I would take the tightest and fasted line based on currents and wind. I was prepared with every piece of gear I own; I had a camelbak, snacks, pfd, leash, flip-flops, whistle, and sunscreen; let’s just say I was Survivor prepared. I also “preloaded” at the volunteer’s food table to the point I think one of the race event staff was going to ask me to stop eating until I told her mid-bite, “I’m padding support for the event today, chomp, chomp, chomp.” I didn’t want to bonk while volunteering, right?

Leading the front swimmers went easy, doubling back and making sure the back of the pack was ok was where the “fun” began. The race didn’t start until 10 a.m. with sunshine and building sw winds so the swimmers still out (3 hr time limit) were starting to get the worst of a ripping tide, boat traffic and chop. I passed my 100/100 paddling buddy, Dion Waters, who was paddling beside the last swimmer. Dion was polite enough to listen to my bossy tone when I said “please make sure that someone stays the entire time with him, Kristen (Race Director) wants someone with every BOP swimmer.” Dion responded like a true gentleman with a “sure, no problem, will do” response. Thank you, Dion, sorry for being bossy.

Continuing on with my sweep, there were three or four people I tried to lead out of running into the marsh. I yelled “head for the middle of the blue tin roof on the big building on your right” to one swimmer, who yelled back “swim straight?” I repeated what I said but louder. He repeated what he said and veered left when I wanted him to veer right OUT of the marsh, not INTO it. I came up beside him, made sure he saw my face, and said “FOLLOW ME!” Lesson learned; communicate any way you can, be decisive with what you want your swimmer to do, and when in doubt, have them follow you. He had in ear plugs and not sure he ever heard me, but he understood FOLLOW ME and got out of the marsh line and his eminent collision with some nasty oyster shells.

Then “IT” happened, at mile marker 23, swimmers were just stuck in a brutal endless tide boil. I paddled over to some ladies that were struggling and going nowhere. I was going to tell them to cross over NOW, not later when one popped up and said “WHO THE *^%[email protected] THOUGHT IT WAS A %*[email protected] GOOD IDEA TO HAVE THE FINISH OF THIS *&*[email protected]#ing RACE INTO A %*&*&@#ING TIDE expletive, expletive, expletive?” I said “cross over NOW.” She said “expletive, expletive, expletive” with no smiley faces. I was floored, my feelings were hurt and I didn’t know what to do or say. I wanted to respond with my own expletives…but…thankfully what came out of my mouth was “tell me what I can do to help you” and that seemed to work. She was tired, she’d been swimming 2.5 hours, was probably bonking and had had enough when there was just such a short way to go. I don’t believe in ever yelling at a volunteer, but I’ve certainly been in her brain zone during some training paddles and spoken just like that to anyone within ear shot. Lesson learned, “tell me what I can do to help you” is a right answer. And not personalizing the emotions of one person really struggling is another. This woman did come and apologize afterwards and that made it all better.

With that, I EARNED my pie! That after event garlic pizza pie and beer, probably the best I’d ever had! It was a freaking long day! And Sh*t happened but beer and pizza makes it all better. I also came home to find a Distressed Mullet t-shirt in the mail and a very nice note from John Beausang. That made it double all better. We ARE connected by water, I earned my pie, nuff said. Smiley face, smiley face.

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