By Andrea Adelson | LB Indy
With blowing rain lowering air temperatures to 50 degrees, Laguna Beach residents Thomas Hale and his daughter Faith, wearing only swim suits, literally shook with cold while aboard a boat bobbing in choppy, black seas under the Golden Gate Bridge last Saturday, Aug. 9.
When they finally plunged into the 61-degree water, it brought relief to limbs already numbed by cold. “It felt like a Jacuzzi,” said 17-year-old Faith, who with her father and 50 others swam across the San Francisco Bay in the eighth Bridge to Bridge 10K.
The teen, who finished third among women with a time of 1:15, was the second youngest competitor in the six-mile swim, which passes Alcatraz Island and through the bay’s notorious currents en route to the Bay Bridge that connects San Francisco to Oakland. Times ranged from 1:09 minutes to just under two hours, all but eight swimmers wore wetsuits, according to results on the website of event organizer Water World Swim of Corte Madera.
“We couldn’t believe how disciplined she is in this sport,” said Water World Swim founder and open-water trainer Pedro Ordenes, who says the Hales are the first father-daughter pair to compete in the Bridge to Bridge race.
Ordenes swam South America’s Strait of Magellan in 2000 and over 28 years has made 978 crossings to Alcatraz, including one with both Hales in 2011 when they wore wetsuits.
“When we signed up for this swim, I did it under the condition that we swim without wetsuits,” said Faith, who did not train for last weekend’s odyssey but jumped in with established long-distance swim credentials.
The girl who discovered her love for the ocean as a junior lifeguard today is a Laguna Beach High School senior, who competes on the school’s water polo and swim teams and is in her second summer as one of the town’s seasonal lifeguards. She also swims year-round with the Oak Street swimmers in Laguna Beach, a local group of adult ocean swimmers.
“Being in the water makes me happy; it’s where I fit in,” said Faith, who enjoys the ocean’s ever-shifting environment compared to the routine of staying in a pool lane.
None of her friends are of a similar bent.
She credits her father with inspiring her to embark on such competitions. He thinks she should conquer the two-mile Strait of Magellan by her 21st birthday.
“It’s like traveling; if you have the opportunity and skill to do it, you’ve got to do it all,” said Faith, who confesses to an addiction for the exhilaration of such pursuits. She hopes to attend the University of San Francisco or Pepperdine, but hasn’t settled on a career direction. This summer, though, she’s had her share of thrills as a lifeguard, including making 30 rescues over three days during a recent weekend of high surf, including one shift where she worked alongside another guard. “I never had to do CPR but it’s awesome to be that person to pull them through,” said Faith, describing rescues where she offered a buoy to swimmers “who were terrified.”
Before last weekend’s swim, her father urged her to pause and take in San Francisco’s shoreline. Faith’s focus was narrower. “I want to compete and get a fast time,” she said.
Ignored advice aside, it’s clear salt water douses the family’s DNA.
A water polo and rugby player for Arizona State University, Hale joined his friends from Orange County on a lark in 1995 for the three-mile La Jolla Rough Water race. “It was like water rugby. I just loved it,” said Hale, who has since completed long-distance open-water swims in Maui and Coronado in addition to Alcatraz and the San Francisco Bay.
Hale, now 44 and a private equity investor, relocated to Laguna Beach in 2011 with his family, including wife Elizabeth and daughters Chloe and Faith after seeing his older daughter take to the sea during summer vacations in Orange County. He agreed to move from Arizona if Faith kept up her grades, competed in three sports and made an effort to socialize.
Hale, who taught his daughter how to swim, says his objective was to encourage his daughter in an activity she can pursue for life. “She beats me now, which is unfortunate,” said Hale, who nevertheless described his own joy at seeing Faith wave at him from aboard the boat at the finish line. “She was there to win it; I was there to experience it.”