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Living the mermaid dream: La Jollan to swim in a monofin from pier to cove

Chiara Fresia of La Jolla Shores trains in a pool to prepare for her monofin swim from Scripps Pier to La Jolla Cove.
Chiara Fresia of La Jolla Shores trains in a pool to prepare for her monofin swim from Scripps Pier to La Jolla Cove on Aug. 1.
(Courtesy of Chiara Fresia )

When she was a child, La Jolla Shores resident Chiara Fresia dreamed of being a mermaid. Now, as a free diver and swim instructor, she uses a monofin — bringing her closer to that dream.

A monofin is a device in which a swimmer puts both feet into one flipper, resembling a mermaid.

“When I was 8, I was sailing with my family back home in Italy and swimming on this beautiful smooth water. I thought if I became a mermaid, it would be kind of sad because I would have to give up all I have on land, but I still wanted to be a mermaid,” she said. “When I was 20, I got to try a monofin and a wave of emotion came over me. I realized I could be both!”

To raise awareness about the ways a monofin can assist in swimming and free diving, Fresia will use one to swim from Scripps Pier to La Jolla Cove the morning of Sunday, Aug. 1, staying largely under the surface, coming up only to catch a breath.

Monofin swimmer Chiara Fresia expects her Aug. 1 swim from Scripps Pier to La Jolla Cove to take an hour and a half.
Monofin swimmer Chiara Fresia of La Jolla Shores expects her Aug. 1 swim from Scripps Pier to La Jolla Cove to take an hour and a half.
(Courtesy of Chiara Fresia )

“All propulsion has to take place underwater on a breath hold, just as one of the marine mammals that we love seeing swimming here [the dolphin],” she said. She plans to emerge as few times as possible to breathe.

Fresia, a free diver since 1997 and an instructor since 2004, said: “While it is for sure a great competitive sport, free diving may also be experienced, deeply, to spend more time enjoying in a natural and serene way, free from equipment, the beauty and silence of the sea depth. It requires proper breathing skills over muscle development, mind mastering over physical training. It is not simply about seeing how long you can hold your breath or how deep you can go on a single breath. It is an amazing way to immerse in yourself.”

As a researcher associated with La Jolla’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Fresia occasionally swims from La Jolla Shores to work, carrying her wallet, phone and clothes in a sealed container around her waist. She also swims regularly at La Jolla Cove.

“I love this stretch of water,” she said. “There is a kelp forest and a few leopard sharks. But it’s more to experience than to see.”

With the monofin, she said, swimming “is more powerful; the strength comes from the whole body, not just the legs. There is a deeper involvement because you use your whole body. It helps you be more agile. When you look at marine mammals that have one tailfin, like orcas and dolphins, they can move like a wave underwater. With the monofin, you are more effective. It’s so amazing.”

Fresia said she expects her Aug. 1 swim to take an hour and a half, depending on the currents. She will have support from friends on kayaks and paddleboards.

“You have to know and acknowledge your limits,” she said, “but limits are meant to be moved. That’s the lesson I get from free diving. ... You learn your limit and then move it. You relate to yourself and nothing else.”

She said she also hopes her endeavor will raise awareness about the ocean and the care it needs.

“I want people to realize it’s not only what we see, but there is so much life, animals, plants that live in the water where we just discard our things,” she said. “Most people think the ocean is so never-ending that we can put [waste] into it or can take from it and it will be fine. Yes, the ocean is so big, but we need to take care of it. Every little change, summed up, is going to change the world.” ◆