Ed Smith grew up in Australia, where the great majority of the population lives near the coast and aquatic sports are a way of life. The ocean is the country’s backyard pool. Smith joined a volunteer surf lifesaving club in Perth. Such clubs exist at every Australian beach, patrolling the dangerous waters and producing strong swimmers in the process.
When Smith moved to Santa Barbara a dozen years ago, he was delighted to discover that his native lifestyle — “ocean races, Sunday swims, barbecues, and beer” — was not left behind. He enjoys as much of it as he can endure during Semana Nautica, the annual Santa Barbara Summer Sports Festival.
In the first five days of the 76th Semana Nautica (“Marine Week”) last week, Smith participated in the Nite Moves swim on Wednesday; the July Fourth 15K Run on Thursday; the Reef & Run mile swim on Friday; the Mullen & Henzell One-Mile Ocean Swim on Saturday; and the Three-Mile Ocean Swim and Five-Mile Biathlon on Sunday. Coming up this Sunday, July 14, is the pièce de résistance for stroking-and-kicking diehards — the Six-Mile Ocean Swim from the Goleta Pier to Hendry’s Beach. Rich Hanna, who organizes many of the events, has taken to calling Smith “Mr. Semana Nautica.”
All the physical activity limits the effects of the beer. “It’s a fight against the waist line,” said Smith, 37, an engineer at Raytheon. He trains with other area swimmers in what he calls “my summer boot camp.” Without it, he said, “I’d be prone to bad behavior. Now I’m usually more fit at the end of summer.”
The ocean was alien territory to Becky Glusac when she arrived at UCSB from San Antonio, Texas. She had never swum in anything but a pool, but when she joined the Gaucho swim team, on the first day they went to Goleta Beach and plunged into the sea. “I didn’t put my face in the water; I was so freaked out,” Glusac recalled.
She got used to it. Glusac, 30, later worked as a beach lifeguard, and, since she met Smith and started boot camping with him, the physician’s assistant is on her way to becoming “Ms. Semana Nautica.” She has done all the swimming and running events but the six-miler, which she will attempt for the first time Sunday.
Both Smith and Glusac have had competitive success — he won the six-mile swim in 2011 and the biathlon (four-mile run and mile swim) last year, and she was the first woman in the biathlon — but taking part is their big thing.
“It was nice and smooth today, and warm (66 degrees) for the ocean,” Glusac said after finishing 33rd in Saturday’s swim off East Beach. “You get glimpses of the mountains and stuff when you look up.” Lifeguards on paddleboards made sure they stayed safely on course. There was no mention of the s word (beaches to the north were closed a couple of days because of sharks). “I don’t think about it at all,” Glusac said. “I’m confident Santa Barbara is safe.”
Riley Mita, a 19-year-old Naval Academy midshipman, was the first to finish the mile in a time of 21 minutes and two seconds. Ben Brewer, a 16-year-old from the Santa Barbara Swim Club, was just two steps behind coming out of the water. Smith finished 14th.
“I pull for Australia in Olympic swimming,” said Smith, who competed in the Aussie Trials in 1996. “But I know that Americans in the pool are good under pressure. It’s the nature of their college system. There is a lot of pressure to perform.”
Monica Jones, 72, proudly claimed 91st and last place, swimming the mile in 55 minutes and change. “The fast people are home eating breakfast,” she said. “I’m not going to kill myself.” Neither is the ocean going to kill her, said Jones, an advocate of swimming for all. “In this town,” she said, “everybody should learn to swim.”
GLOBETROTTERS: Taylor Rochestie has claimed many home courts since he was a point guard at Santa Barbara High and Washington State. In the past four years, he has played for professional basketball clubs in Germany, Turkey, France, Spain, and Italy. The latest: Rochestie has qualified as a citizen of Montenegro and will play for that country’s national team at the 2013 EuroBasket tournament in September. … Former UCSB guard Emilie Johnson, an assistant coach at Westmont College, was a member of the Athletes in Action women’s basketball team that toured Ukraine last month. … UCSB rower Luke Wilhelm was selected to pull an oar for the eight-man U.S. crew at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia. … Former Dos Pueblos High standout Tiera Schroeder is on the Cal Berkeley women’s water polo team that was chosen to represent the U.S. in Russia.