By Robert Campbell | LB Indy
After event organizer Gary Cogorno made his traditional mock announcement that the annual Aquathon was cancelled, several hundred ocean enthusiasts headed for the rocky point at the south end of Emerald Bay last Sunday, Sept. 14, to begin a surf and turf trek that for most wouldn’t end until they exited the water at Salt Creek Beach more than eight miles away.
“What a great opportunity to get to swim this beautiful stretch of coastline,” said first time Aquathoner Shannon Gibson, a former high school swimmer who had no experience navigating the rocky reefs and points that mark the many coves along the route. “I’m just winging it,” exclaimed the Newport Beach resident.
The Aquathon was born when Emerald Bay residents Alan Wolf, Mark Disman, John Heatley, and Bailey Smith decided to end the summer of 1986 with an extended snorkeling expedition that would take them well south of their usual Crescent Bay boundary all the way to Victoria Beach.
The finish line eventually moved from Victoria to Salt Creek Beach, and the poolside bar and Jacuzzi at the Ritz Carlton soon became a favorite spot for Aquathoners to quench their thirst and soothe their aching muscles.
Although exhausted from their adventure, the Emerald Bay foursome were happy to have made the trip because of the natural wonders they had seen along the way and the topless beauties they had stumbled upon in some of the more remote coves. When their wives found out about the latter, the fledgling Aquathon became a family event.
“It’s a great way to see the parts of Laguna you don’t really get to experience any other way,” said Huntington Beach resident Stephanie Dufour, who showed up for her fourth Aquathon with her daughter Maddie and several of her junior lifeguard friends. “I have to have the biggest fins so I can keep up with them,” said Dufour.
Jim Sanders of Dana Point was looking forward to spending quality time with his 12-year-old son Tripp, who was ecstatic when his dad finally invited him to his first Aquathon last year. “It’s kind of like the right of passage,” said Sanders, a veteran of seven Aquathons.
“I just like the idea of being near the water on the rocks,” said Tripp, a junior lifeguard whose experience last year prepared him for the rigors of the event. “Once you tackle that, you’re happy,” he said, referring to the lengthy home stretch swim around the south end of Three Arch Bay into Salt Creek Beach.
The traditional modus operandi for Aquathoners is a combination of climbing, walking and swimming. However, there are always those who choose alternative means to make the journey. Laguna resident Tom Berryman SUPed his first two Aquathons. But this year he decided to spend some time in the water strengthening his swim stroke so he could “do the real thing.”
Whatever the mode of transportation, it’s safe to say that everyone who signs up for the event is a water person. “You have to really like the ocean to spend eight hours along the coast,” said Dufour.
Capo Beach resident and rookie Aquathoner Mark Ellis was looking forward to enjoying some guy time with his friends and fellow first time swimmers Berryman and Laguna resident Pete Moore. “It’s all about the camaraderie,” he said.
Ellis admitted that his status as a first timer had him a bit anxious. “There’s an unknown factor about it that makes it exciting.” Nevertheless, Ellis was sure of one thing. “I’m going to get out at Main Beach and go to church.”