Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Many who drive along the California coast gaze out over the horizon to the California Channel Islands and wonder what is it out there on the islands.

I had the opportunity to join Emilio Casanueva, founder of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association, and 55 people on a channel charity swim,” recalled Steven Munatones.

Emilio’s passion for adventure and challenge combined with his engaging personality and a desire to give back was as clear as the Pacific Ocean on that day. Back in 2008, he organized a channel crossing in the designated national marine sanctuary in his backyard of the Pacific Ocean.

Instead of hard-core, hardened marathon swimmers swimming for hours solo from Santa Cruz Island, Casanueva challenged the local community to raise money for a good cause. Each donor had the opportunity to participate in The Big Swim. The donor who gave the most money was given the choice to swim first, second, last or somewhere in the middle. Each donor was given the opportunity to swim as far or as short as they wished.

Some swam fast for a while; others just got in for a short bit,” described Munatones. “Some wanted to swim near the starting point on the island; some wanted to swim at night; others wanted to swim at sunset or sunrise. Some swimmers were veterans and would go on to do great things in the ocean. Others just wanted a taste of what channel swimming was all about. It all worked out extremely well and was great fun for a good cause.”

55 swimmers participated in The Big Swim (Santa Barbara Channel Relay Swim) and donated funds to benefit the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and Heal the Ocean. “The food upon the escort boat was outstanding. The safety crew and logistics of it all were all dialed in during the 42 km crossing.”

The swimmers gathered on the large escort boat and took turns swimming based on their personal preferences. Some swam at night; some swam a very short distance only for a few minutes; some swam with wetsuits; some swam under traditional channel rules.

The collective swim from Santa Cruz Island to East Beach in Santa Barbara that raised tens of thousands of dollars. Occasionally, the low-pressure swim relay took stops along the way as the swimmers and crew marveled at the beauty of the California Channel Islands.

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is a reserve area off the California coast that provides protection to its extraordinary natural and cultural resources so that nature can thrive, historic shipwrecks and artifacts remain respectfully in place, cultural connections remain strong, and careful public use and enjoyment can be sustained. Designated in 1980 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the sanctuary spans 1,470 square miles surrounding five of the Channel Islands: San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Barbara.

The Big Swim was the subject of a beautifully filmed documentary by Michael Hanrahan of The Ocean Channel.

That year, Casanueva also organized the Santa Barbara Channel Swim 6×6 Relay Race where US$1,000 was awarded Felipe Rivera, Cindy Braden, Corey Chan, Jerry Mahoney, Scott Reed and captain Seth Streeter who won the 42 km race in 11 hours 27 minutes.

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