Free for the Taking: La Jollan offers Cove swim tutorials

When Adriana Issakov opened La Jolla Swim and Sport at 1008 Torrey Pines Road in March 2014, she completed the décor by hanging a sign out front. It read: Free Guided Cove Swims.

“It’s remarkable what has happened since I hung that silly sign,” she said. “The response has been amazing and has brought some amazing people into my life.”

Issakov offers guided swims at the Cove beginning at 6:30 a.m. each day (with a prior reservation) and caters the swim to each individual’s needs. She reports many people are not strong swimmers or familiar with ocean swimming and need assistance.

Of the early hour, she said, “The Cove is so fun and so magical, especially early in the morning. There are 3 million people asleep at that time, and there you are with a handful of other people seeing this amazing ocean and getting up close and personal with nature. Who needs SeaWorld?”

Many swimmers who seek her out, she said, are OK with the early meeting and are more confident swimming with a buddy or a group. Recently, a swimmer from Canada joined Issakov for a guided swim, as did two young women from 29 Palms who said the oceanic adventure was on their bucket list. Despite their excitement for the swim, the women were still scared, Issakov said, and panicked a bit when they got in the water.

“There are a lot of people who are afraid; some have never been in the ocean. And even for people who have been in the ocean, sure you can get in the water and float around, but if you want to swim around or to the Shores and back, you have to know how to navigate the water, wind, waves and current,” she said. “Some don’t know when it’s safe to go into the caves near the Cove or where there are rocks, so they want someone familiar with that water. That’s what’s fun about it, seeing people get past their fears, improve their abilities and have ocean swimming become part of their lives. I see that happening all around me.”

Issakov gathered her area knowledge from a lifetime of swimming at the Cove. The native San Diegan said she spent a lot of time in La Jolla because her father was a piano player for the Marine Room in the 1960s, and would swim from La Jolla Shores to La Jolla Cove and back. Her preference, however, was the Cove.

Twenty years ago, she and husband, Serge, moved to La Jolla, where they’ve raised their 15-year-old daughter Anya. Despite her mother’s best efforts, Anya’s passion is dancing rather than swimming. “She can swim, she made it to the quarter-mile buoy when she was 7 years old, but it’s not her passion like it is mine,” Issakov said.

But the adventurers who seek Issakov out offer no shortage of swimming partners.

Edy Scripps, a descendant of La Jolla benefactress Ellen Browning Scripps, has been swimming with Issakov for about a year.

“I happened to be walking past her store one day and went in to look around, and she invited me to go swimming with her at the Cove,” she said. While she swam the Cove before, Scripps said she improved her skills greatly under Issakov’s guidance. “She’s so good about introducing people to the water, being supportive and seeing how you’re doing,” Scripps said. “Before long, we were going out to the quarter-mile buoy.

She knows how to safely get people there. She’s generous with her spirit.”

Scripps now swims with Issakov three times a week. “What I like about her approach is that she loves the Cove and wants others to enjoy it, too. I feel like she is an ambassador for the Cove. I really think she’s a jewel.” She said her great-aunt Ellen Browning Scripps would be “so proud” of what Issakov is doing and considers it an extension of her legacy. Susan Noble began swimming with

Issakov about a month ago, her first encounter with ocean swimming. “I know how to swim, but not in the ocean,” she said, “It makes a big difference to have someone local to swim with. We’ll swim along and she’ll tell me about the fish underneath us, the history of La Jolla or tell us stories. I was overwhelmed with how great it was. Adrianna was so helpful and wonderful. These are simple things, but for someone that has never done it before it’s awesome.” Noble now joins the morning swims twice a week.

Swimming with sea lions

Issakov said the recent influx of sea lions at La Jolla Cove has been a draw for tourists, but also worries them.

“Sea lions make the area attractive to visitors, but their presence and proximity is too much. They don’t need to be on the steps or sand. The rest is their space as much as it is ours,” she said.

“People are concerned about being bit or possible bacteria, which I understand, but I believe there is a balance that can be struck (between sea lions and swimmers). A lot of that compromise is how we behave around them. It’s clear when they are on the sand they do not want people too close, but in the water, they are more curious and less intimidated by people because they can get away in a second. A lot of it is common sense.”

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