Your Perspective: Swimming Alcatraz
In 2014, we ran a survey for our swimmers to discover what they wanted. One of those things was a place for first-timers to hear about others' experiences making the famous crossing. So we ran a second survey with eight prompts and one goal: to gather all possible tidbits of advice and wisdom from our Alcatraz veterans!
Everyone's experience from training to nervousness to the swim itself is different - and all swimmers who have completed the crossing twice or more will agree that no crossing is the same as another. You'll also find that no one sleeps the night before a crossing 🙂
Didn't get to participate in the survey? Add your thoughts in the comments section below!
Water World Swim does not explicitly endorse any advice or recommendations below. Train and swim safely and reach out to coaches and other professionals for help.
WHAT SURPRISED YOU THE MOST
HOW IT CHANGED YOUR SWIMS
YOUR ADVICE FOR FIRST TIMERS
What surprised you the most?
The welcome! I was nervous as a first timer, on my own, far from home (UK), as soon as I approached the meet spot I was put at ease by the coaches.
Sighting was not as difficult as I thought it would be. Following Coach Pedro's instructions helped tremendously.
I did a practice swim at Aquatic Park and HATED every bit of it. I really hated it. A LOT. I don't know if it was because it was my first time in a wetsuit or what. The next day, I did a swim clinic with Pedro out in the bay, near Alcatraz. I LOVED that and it totally calmed me down. The next day was my crossing, and I was relaxed because of the clinic.
The scale and size of the Bay is much greater than you think. Respect it!
The jump from the boat into the ocean is not as bad as you would expect. Unlike the shore entry you jump, feel cold for a second and get used to the water very quickly.
How different it is every time! I have done the swim about 4 or 5 times and each time was unique and set up different challenges. They were each truly their own swim.
What was your favorite part of the swim?
the jump in to get going! All the adrenaline coming together and you just feel ready to take on this awesome challenge.
Halfway across, take a good look at the golden gate, so cool!!
The journey to get there. The training with the group was fun.
The camaraderie of your fellow swimmers and the motivation that the staff of Water World Swim offer you is infectious and reassuring. I made dozens of friends on my very first Alcatraz crossing -- before racing the Escape From Alcatraz the very next morning! -- and I remembered their suggestions and guidance. That and their smiles ensure that I had an amazing first swim.
Stopping half way through to just look at the view - Alcatraz, the Golden Gate, the city, the Bay Bridge - it's incredible!
The best part is the navigation challenge. (...) ultimately, by experience, it is you that must site the landmarks and know when to make a course direction. (...) It may take a few crossings to grasp these, but that, for me is the fun part... to adjust the swim to swim the straightest route.
Second only to the views, is finishing... everyone there cheering you on, (...) it's the best finish line out there.
What advice would you give to first time crossers?
It was all about the current. Do as much sighting as possible while you swim so you can turn your direction as required to the finish line. If possible, take a ferry to Alcatraz the day before so you do some sighting too.
Be sure to relax, breath and know that it is doable. Focus on enjoying each moment if your swim. Be sure to stretch as you swim.
Make sure you're trained for open water and by that I mean the ocean, not a calm lake. Don't sit out on the rough days. Get in there and get to know what a rip current feels like, what chop feels like, what swell feels like. And don't take the easy way. Go against the current. And have fun!
First piece of advice is to swim with WWS at the Sunday workouts a few times and listen to the advice the coaches can provide. All have done their share of crossings, and many can provide useful stroke analysis.
Just do it! Try and embrace every moment. Make your friends do it with you! I did it with two friends, and it made everything better. If you are from out of town, stay close to the start line. You've got to be there really early in the morning, and best to stay close. If you can stay in a place with a hot tub, all the better, trust me, you'll want it after the swim!
Watch videos on YouTube of swims! The excitement of the swimmers inspired me! Also this swim is surprisingly doable if you can swim a mile without stopping, practice a few times in Aquatic Park.
If you had nerves, how did you handle them?
I did a lot of race visualization when I got to the wharf. I grabbed a hot chocolate and sat in the bleachers and meditated on the race. I was nervous. I didn't sleep but that visualization helped me stay calm enough to stop shaking.
I personally love crazy waves but I know that is intimidating to a lot of people. Remember to work with the ocean not against it, they wouldn't be letting you swim if it was a dangerous day.
I was very nervous! I didn't know anyone so I tried to meet people on the ferry boat.
I had a lousy night sleeping but when I met up with the others and coaches at the dock, I was reassured by the excitement and playful spirit of all the coaches and participants.
I hardly slept a wink before the swim, but I never do, way too nervous before an new swim. Just be OK with it, adrenaline will carry you through.
Reminding myself to calm my breathing when I hit the cold water was helpful.
The words and best wishes of my friends and family.
I hardly slept the night before. I was most nervous on Chucky's Pride as we headed out to Alcatraz. The staff of WWS made all the difference in the world. Their experience exuded an incredible sense of calm that gave me the confidence to go for it.
What do you do differently since your first Alcatraz?
Nothing really. But I feel more confident in myself and abilities. That is worth a lot!!!!
I started swimming in open water more regularly. I cant stress how important that is for someone considering this swim. Being a strong pool swimmer is a totally different than open water. Do as much open water practice as you can leading up to the race.
It's not about racing, as much as the experience...
It hasn't changed my training, but any time I see a river or a lake I say, ``I can swim across that.``
Since swimming in the bay, I have been more cognizant of my freestyle stroke, in getting the most out of each stroke, hand placement, pull, etc. for maximum pull. I literally think about each stroke.
It has made me strive harder to be a long distance swimmer as I finally figured that there is actually a future I could have in swimming. Before I thought it was just a few events here and there but now I realize that there is a whole world of endurance sporting out there for me to explore.
When I look across the bay at Alcatraz I am blown away that I ever swam it...Such joy and pride!
How did you train? Were you satisfied?
I only swim in the ocean. Pools are boring. If you're going to do an Alcatraz crossing, I'd suggest you swim in the ocean. Conditions are different every single day, so not only does that make it fun, but it also better prepares you for a challenging swim like Alcatraz.
The only swim training I did was twice a week with coach Pedro. I also lifted twice a week. Getting the experience and comfort in the bay itself made the biggest difference. There is no way to replicate those conditions.
I did mostly pool with one or two open water bay swims in San diego. I wish I had trained with an open water team. It was not enough.
I live several hours away so I don't get to train with Pedro. I swim in a pool. When training for a swim I practice lifting my head up to practice sighting.
pool swims to focus on skills and endurance, aquatic park swim to acclimate to the cold water and focus on sighting.
I swam in a pool several times a week and did Sunday Swim with Pedro. I also did an Alcatraz clinic prior to my first Alcatraz crossing. I highly recommend both the Sunday swims and doing a clinic.
Swim with Pedro was part of my training routine; so was pool workouts and lake swims. I focused on endurance and technique, not speed.
Mainly pool but some open water.
How did Water World Swim help you?
Explaining the currents and offering advice on how to pace the race.
Coach Mike is super motivating. He will tell you that you can make it, when in your head you were not that confident.
Water World Swim helped me find a new way to love the water and a new passion to dive into.
The personal interaction with the coaches and boat crew were key for me. Putting me at ease and making me feel part of the 'team' even though I had never met any of them previously.
Coach Pedro was really good at giving strategies to tackle any type of current. Coach Rebecca was really kind and went at your speed just to make you feel safe. Coach Rebecca also did the Alcatraz crossing the day I did it. It was really nice to have a person I knew swimming with me.
WWS coaches from day one were knowledgable and supportive. Knowing that there were experienced people to offer their help definitely helped me gain confidence quickly, more so than if I didn't swim with them.
I emailed with coaches, I read everything on the website. But best of all, was the orientation session the day before the swim. Getting together with so many people about to do the swim, and have an opportunity to really ask questions, and understand the course was HUGE!
Any final thoughts and advice?
I found it helpful to look around the web for tips, YouTube videos and ask lots of questions. I had lots of questions: wetsuits sizing, what to eat prior, how would you know if you were ready etc. Do yourself a favor and ask one of the other swimmers and coaches on the WWS Facebook page.
It's been almost 4 years since I swam Alcatraz, and it is still the most fun swim that I have ever done. Everything about it was great.
If you are thinking about swimming Alcatraz, don't let your fear stop you!
have fun, prepare properly, and always, always respect the water.
Definitely do this race. It changed my life.
Cannot recommend enough....I am telling every swimmer I meet whether pool or outdoors...this was the best swimming experience I have had and I look forward to the time I can repeat it with Water World!
Coconut water prior to my swims did something that gave me great hydration and energy. Have a friend join. Enjoy the training. It's the journey that was more fulfilling than the actual crossing.
Once I discovered open water swimming, I was hooked. And then when I heard about Pedro and Water World Swim doing regular Alcatraz crossings, I just had to check it out. So I did. I flew up to San Francisco for the weekend, just to do the crossing. Pedro and his crew were great. I look forward to coming back for my next crossing!
Didn't get to participate in the survey? Add your thoughts in the comments section below!
The more our swimmers share, the better! Don't be shy to answer some of the prompts and talk about your Alcatraz experience from start to finish. Let's get more swimmers to believe that they too can do it!
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