On Aug. 19, Newport Beach lifeguard Clay Rinker got in the water off Catalina Island and emerged 11 hours later in Palos Verdes.
This was more than just a leisurely swim.
He is believed to be the 200th person to ever swim across the Catalina Channel. The swim was governed by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation.
Rinker’s journey began at the west end of Catalina Island. He started at 12:30 a.m., swimming the first six hours in the dark.
It took Rinker, of Huntington Beach, 10 hours and 51 minutes to swim 22.5 miles and land on shore at Point Vicente.
He had been thinking about swimming the channel for some time, he said. As a Newport Beach lifeguard he would always look out there and think about it, he said.
“I just knew I could do it,” he said. “It’s been a goal of mine (for a while).”
Before his decision to swim the Catalina Channel, the most he had ever swam was two miles, Rinker said.
In preparation for the big swim, Rinker began swimming for hours at a time, often at night, every week since May in order to get acclimated to the water.
Despite his training, it was still a bit of a surprise how dark it was out there, he said.
“The water and the night sky matched (in color), so I couldn’t really tell them apart,” he said.
The darkness was just one of the hurdles he overcame during his swim.
A west swell blew him off course and the wind in the late morning added some difficulty. At one point, he came within 100 feet of a passing freighter.
There were definitely a few minutes in there that he questioned whether or not he could finish, he said.
One of those moments was when he began throwing up. And didn’t stop for 45 minutes. He had been taking in carbohydrates and fuel, he said, but he still threw up. He knew if he stopped moving for too long his body temperature would drop and if he kept throwing up he could become dehydrated. But he overcame it and swam on.
At one point, the wind picked up and the water became choppy, he said.
Another difficult task was just keeping his mind active, he said. It’s dark, he’s a lone swimmer out there and he kind of got bored, he said. And maybe a little disheartened.
“You have to keep up a good spirit,” he said. “It’s a mental game… You have to keep your mind going.”
He was definitely happy to see daybreak, he said. And his first glimpse of Palos Verdes was very encouraging.
The 2006 Eagle Scout said his many years of Boy Scout training helped, as well as his job as a lifeguard.
He recommends anyone thinking of attempting the swim to practice as much as possible, making sure to test out the swimmer’s fuel needs and what their body can and can’t handle.
He is a Marina High School graduate and attends Cal State Long Beach.
He is the second Newport Beach Lifeguard to have swam the Channel in the last few years. Newport Beach Seasonal Ocean Lifeguard John Graass was the 137th person to swim the Catalina Channel, completing the swim in 10 hours 31 minutes, on Aug. 20, 2007.
Visit www.swimcatalina.com for information about CCSF and the history of swimming the Catalina Channel.