After 75 years, the competition at the La Jolla Rough Water Swim has come a long way.
More than 2,000 people are expected to set out from La Jolla Cove on Sunday, Sept. 11, to participate in five races on three courses. The longest of those races, the three-mile Gatorman elite race, was not even considered a possibility when the Rough Water Swim got its start in 1916.
“The original course from (Scripps) pier to the Cove was changed because competitors complained it was too grueling,” said Bill Uncapher, an organizer for the event. “Now we have 500 people doing the original course twice, out to the pier and back. It’s a tribute to the physical fitness of the athletes today.”
Chad Carvin of Laguna Hills completed the course in just over 56 minutes to win last year’s Gatorman. Carvin will not compete in this year’s race, but Uncapher said it still has a stacked field. Alex Kostich of Los Angeles won the Gatorman and the one-mile Masters race two years ago and will return and attempt to repeat the rare daily double, Uncapher said.
Two nationally ranked Japanese swimmers will also be a part of a field that Uncapher said is comprised mainly of swimmers from outside San Diego.
“We have well over 300 people coming just from Arizona,” he said. “We get strong contingents from Texas, Colorado, Oregon, and there’s always some people from back east. I’d say 50 percent of the states are represented.”
Even more top swimmers could be on the way, as many wait until the last minute to register, Uncapher said.
“It’s a psych-out thing,” he said.
Those competitors are drawn by a race that boasts impressive history and tradition and a setting that has helped the La Jolla Rough Water Swim become the largest roughwater swim in the United States, Uncapher said.
“The nice thing about the Cove is that it’s up high and it wraps around,” he said. “It’s a spectator-friendly venue. The two shorter courses are never out of sight, and the swimmers are only out of sight for 15 to 20 minutes during the Gatorman.”
The length of the Gatorman race could vary widely depending on conditions on race day. Steve Dockstader, a longtime member of the La Jolla Swim Club and a former participant in the Gatorman race, said that dealing with currents and wind chop could add up to 20 minutes to the swim.
“The current situation often
changes the course of the swim and makes it more than three miles,”
Dockstader said he was never able
to complete the Gatorman race in the one hour and 45 minute time limit on race day.
“Lots of people who could routinely make it under 1:45, with the wind and current, have never made it on race day,” he said.
Uncapher said those variables are part of the allure of a long, open-water swim like the Gatorman.
“It’s so tactical,” he said. “Lots of people play the currents and try to figure out tidal charts. It’s almost like flying an airplane. You have to read the currents and use them to your advantage, and if you play them correctly, a slower swimmer can actually beat someone who is faster in the event.”
Race times begin at the Cove at 9 a.m. with the Junior swim, a 250-yard race for boys and girls 12 years old and under. At 11 a.m., the Women Masters Classic will be held for women over 19 years old, and at 12 p.m., the Men Masters Classic for men over 19 will be held, both on the one-mile triangular course. The Gatorman begins at 1:30 p.m., followed by an amateur swim at 1:35 p.m. for boys and girls between 13 and 18 years old.
Keeping the event economically viable is a year-to-year struggle, Uncapher said. Rising user fees charged by the city for use of the Cove and other expenses are only partly covered by revenue from entry fees. The Rough Water Swim relies on sponsorship to cover the rest of the cost.
“Every year, it’s a concern,” he said. “The residents have come through strongly (in sponsorship). But the big hotels don’t help, even though we fill them. That huge Arizona contingent is coming in on Friday, for instance. Hopefully, they’ll get behind the event and support it. We’ll play it year by year.”
The event also relies on a large staff of volunteers, which organizers are still seeking. Uncapher said that volunteer positions are available for all ages. Anyone interested should call Tom Jans at (858) 454-4111.
Entry to the race costs $40 for the
Junior race, $50 for Amateur, $60 for both Masters races and $75 for the Gatorman. Entrants must register
Saturday, Sept. 10, at Washington
Mutual, 7777 Girard Ave.