Kira Halpern: Bay Therapy – KQED

The bay isn’t known as a swimmer’s paradise, and it can be dangerous, but for experienced swimmers like Kira Halpern, it offers a kind of therapy..

Swimming in San Francisco Bay is like hanging out with a moody best friend, a temperamental but dependable companion. Foggy mornings are like dipping into a bowl of cotton balls. From the ground, this monochromatic sky seems oppressive. In water, it is a soothing balm for my soul. Other times, the sun casts amber sparkles across the water and illuminates the city skyline and the Golden Gate. I watch flocks of brown pelicans in the summer, Canada geese in the fall, and starlings in their synchronized dances in the winter.

Open water swimming provides all the benefits of any exercise: increased energy, reduced stress, and a mood boost. But there is something else. It takes me out of my comfort zone.

For the first two years, I had apprehensions every time I entered the water. This is also what made me come back. The chop, wind, freezing cold, eelgrass and mud at low tide, and the possibility of hitting sea creatures – they provide involuntary resilience training. In difficult times, I say to myself: if I can face these conditions of the Bay, then I can face the “waves” of life. Of course, you need to know the area you’re swimming in – boat traffic, currents – as the conditions can be dangerous, not just rough.

Some days going against a headwind with waves slapping me in the face is a grueling trifecta of splash, thrash and gasp. I get exhausted and feel frustrated. I learned to notice this and to relax, to release the effort, to concentrate on finding a rhythm with the waves rather than against them. The beauty is that in the opposite direction to this kind of swimming, I’m literally going with the flow. And it’s fun!

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