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My Spot: Braving the Icy Waters of San Francisco Bay

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Paul DeAngelis on a recent swim around Aquatic Cove in San Francisco. (Greta Mart/KQED)

Our “My Spot” series shares personal experiences with special places in California.

At least three times a week, San Francisco attorney Paul DeAngelis heads to Aquatic Park to swim in the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay. He wears a Lycra top and swim shorts, earplugs, fins, cap and goggles -- but no wetsuit.

Regularly splashing around in the salty, brisk bay keeps him in good physical shape and nourishes his soul, he says.

A San Francisco resident since the mid-90s, DeAngelis, 48, says he learned to swim as a child in the local ponds and lakes of his native Connecticut. After moving to Northern California, he took up surfing.

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"In 2005, I started to swim with a friend using my surfing gear. And then, as I did it over the next couple of years, I started to learn about swim wetsuits, and then swimming without a wetsuit," DeAngelis explains. "By 2009, I had rid myself of the wetsuit."

South End Rowing Club members Jenny Hoffman, Clark Chelsey and Paul DeAngelis celebrate another energizing swim in the San Francisco Bay. (Greta Mart/KQED)
South End Rowing Club members Jenny Hoffman, Clark Chelsey and Paul DeAngelis celebrate another energizing swim in the San Francisco Bay. (Greta Mart/KQED)

In 2008, DeAngelis joined the South End Rowing Club, the historic athletic club founded in 1873. Located next door to the rival Dolphin Club at the western end of Jefferson Street, the club sponsors rowing, swimming, running and handball. For DeAngelis, membership in the club has brought a wealth of close friends, regular exercise and competitive fun to his life.

When he gets to the club after work or on Sunday mornings, DeAngelis changes into his swim gear and wades into the bay from South End's sandy beach. He and his fellow club swimmers usually do laps around Aquatic Cove or head out into open water to Fort Mason. Several times a year, he joins organized races to Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge or Angel Island.

"When you sit in front of a keyboard most of the day, you don't really get a chance to go outdoors," he says. "So you come down here at night and get in the water for an hour. It's a big injection of nature. It makes you forget about the stresses of the day and puts you at peace again."

What does DeAngelis like best about swimming?

"The smell of the sea," he says.

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