Catalina Channel swimmer Hank Wise pulled out a victory at the annual Huntington Beach Pier Swim using his knowledge of the waves and decades of surfing experience.
“It was an hour into the high tide push so more waves were hitting due to the tide pushing up the beach. The surf was a combo swell – northwest mixed with southwest causing more surf and peakier waves. A full moon recently passed and there are always more waves when the moon is near full.”
As Wise strolled up to the classic California pier brimming with confidence, he was stoked at what he saw. “I saw so many waves breaking. I dream about that kind of stuff. I was born a dolphin so catching waves is just a part of my DNA code.”
Geared up with his old-fashioned lifeguard beanie and mirrored goggles, Wise was ready for action. “During the warm-up, I tried out splitting the pylons near the pier. Sure enough it was sucking out major right by the pier. I mean super sucking out and it pushed me halfway way down the 560-meter pier.”
With rides like that during warm-up, Wise was getting pumped and the waterman was ready for a fast swim against teenagers and young adults half his age. He was ready to pull a Dara Torres in the open water.
“When it came to race time, I split the pylons, got sucked halfway way out and was about fourth.” He kept his cool for he knew the return trip on the second half of the round-the-pier swim would be even faster. “A few [younger] dudes passed me around the end of the pier. No biggie.”
The Old Man of the Sea rounded the end of the pier, jam-packed with hundreds of spectators, in eighth. He purposefully angled wide on the way in to get some open water by himself.
“There were dudes in front of me, but I was sighting off Duke’s Restaurant and the Lifeguard Tower. I put myself in the spot where I had seen plenty of waves that morning. I was wondering if I was going to have to swim in or if a wave was going to help me get in. Sure enough a few strokes later there was a beauty coming right my way. I didn’t even break my stroke and just swam right with the cresting wave and body surfed into it.
I flopped down into the flats with fast arms to stay in it.”
He used a variety of streamline and one arm swimming, sneaking breaths through the white water. He zipped past those ahead of him and kept on body surfing for hundreds of meters, moving faster than spectators on the pier who broke into slow jogs with their flip flops. Wise arrived in chest-high water and did two dolphins in to the shallows, took a few more strokes and ran up to cross the finish in a wide smile at 9:05.
“It was my best time since 1986 when I set the record at 8:46.”
Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source