The Bay isn’t known as a swimmers paradise, and it can be dangerous, but for skilled swimmers like Kira Halpern it offers a kind of therapy.
Swimming in the San Francisco Bay is like hanging out with a moody best friend—a capricious but dependable companion. Foggy mornings are like submersion in a bowl of cotton balls. From land, that monochrome sky feels oppressive. In the water, it’s a soothing balm for my soul. Other times, the sun spills amber sparkles onto the water and illuminates the City skyline and Golden Gate. I watch flocks of brown pelicans in the summer, Canadian geese in the fall, and starlings in their synchronized dances in the winter.
Open water swimming offers all the benefits of any exercise: increased energy, stress reduction, and a mood booster. But there’s something else. It takes me out of my comfort zone.
For the first couple years, I was apprehensive every time I entered the water. That’s also what kept me coming back. The chop, the wind, the bitter cold, the eel grass and muck at low tide, and the possibility of bumping sea creatures—they offer unintentional resilience training. During tough times, I tell myself: If I can face these Bay conditions, then I can face the “waves” of life. Of course, you should know the area you’re swimming—the boat traffic, the currents—since conditions might be dangerous, not just challenging.
Some days, going against a headwind with waves slapping me in the face, it’s an exhausting trifecta of splash, thrash and gasp. I wear myself out and feel frustrated. I’ve learned to notice this and to ease up, relax the effort, focus on finding a rhythm with the waves instead of against them. The beauty is, that on the opposite direction of this kind of swim, I am literally going with the flow. And it’s fun!