It's all about taking the plunge

July 03, 2000

Alex Coolman

It's not the temperature that necessarily bothers you so much as you

attempt to enter the water at Balboa Island. At this time of year, the

water is warm enough to be fairly pleasant, even at 6:30 in the morning.

But the mud? The mud will get you.

Feel it squish between your toes as you step down to the water's edge,

goggles in hand. Feel it squelch and slide, raising goose bumps on your


bare legs, making you wish you had stayed in bed.

This is the kind of experience that's essential to the morning outings of

the Balboa Swim Club, a recently founded group that endeavors to show how

pleasantly clean the water in Newport Bay is by diving straight into it.

The group, which has about seven or eight regular members, steps gingerly

into the water off Collins Avenue on Tuesday mornings. Then, stroking

happily past motorboats and yachts through the cool water, members cruise

up to the vicinity of the Balboa Island bridge and back again.

Jim Grahl, the island resident who started the group, said it's been

meeting for about six weeks. Besides their Tuesday swims, the members

also have a practice of plunging into the ocean off Little Corona on


And out there, you don't have to worry about the mud -- just the

occasional jellyfish.

To the uninitiated, the open-water swims might sound like a somewhat

eccentric way of spending time. And maybe they are. But Grahl said

they're rewarding.

"You get out of the water after a swim, and you're glad you did it," he

said. "It's getting in the water and hearing the alarm go off and not

hitting the snooze button."

Mary Hardesty, an island resident who plunges in with the group on a

regular basis, said she finds the club's efforts considerably more

entertaining than puttering around in a lap pool.

"You see the coastline from a different perspective," she said. "It's

more interesting. It's not just going back and forth."

But can the visual variety compensate for that squelching mud and the

shock of jumping into cool water at a time when most people are taking a

hot shower?

Grahl said it is. And he spreads the gospel of open-water swimming with

persuasive vigor. Listening to him, it seems all of the slight

discomforts are actually just underappreciated forms of pleasure.

"If anybody needs coaching or encouragement to jump in," he said, "that's

always available."

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