History Of The Seal Beach Rough Water Swim

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

The 48th annual Seal Beach Rough Water Swim – hometown of heroine Lynne Cox – was first held in 1954 as a four-mile AAU-sanctioned event. Its legacy in the quiet seaside town continues this year on June 24th.

Amy Hiland, Daisy Murchie and Mary Ann Ward first conceived of the idea and worked with Bud Johnson to plan the first race in 1954.

Later, Seal Beach Swim Club coach Ron Blackledge wanted the kids to have a great ocean experience which has been the ethos from the beginning.

Joanne and Richard Yeo, volunteer parents, started to serve as race directors in 1968, adding the 10-mile swim from the Huntington Beach Pier to the Seal Beach Pier in 1975. Over the decades, a fish fry, art show, dory and surf ski races were held.

By 1979, Bob and Eileen Griffit took the mantle of event management, adding the National AAU Long Distance Championship race to the event. This allure of a national championship title brought swimmers from across the nation and around the world to Seal Beach.

Suzanne Heim won the women’s 1979 race. “I remember that swim like it was yesterday. It was my first long open water swim and I had no clue what I was doing. My buddy from Cal Poly was paddling on a surfboard…I think I only brought water to drink, my arms got really tight. That was my second open water swim.”

In 1983, Carla and Perry Watson assumed leadership roles and helped pave the way to a 16-mile swim before the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Australia’s Shelley Taylor-Smith won the race where the top swimmers qualified for the first World Long Distance Swimming Championships in Long Beach, California.

10-mile Historical Female and Male Winners
1975: Penny Dean (3 hours 11 minutes 0 seconds), Bill Damm (3 hours 9 minutes 7 seconds)
1976: Penny Dean (3 hours 19 minutes 47 seconds), Patrick Schlup (3 hours 35 minutes 10 seconds)
1977: Penny Dean (3 hours 0 minutes 1 second), John Sorich (2 hours 53 minutes 53 seconds)
1978: Mary Beth Colpo (3 hours 39 minutes 5 seconds), John Sorich (3 hours 38 minutes 8 seconds)
1979: Suzanne Heim (3 hours 33 minutes 19 seconds), Bill Randall (3 hours 9 minutes 11 seconds)
1980: Carol Lee (3 hours 36 minutes 14 seconds), Bill Damm (3 hours 6 minutes 43 seconds)
1981: Christa Belard (3 hours 25 minutes 47 seconds), William Penn (3 hours 10 minutes 27 seconds)
1982: Carol Lee (2 hours 57 minutes 33 seconds), Steven Munatones (2 hours 44 minutes 56 seconds)
1983: Carol Lee (3 hours 7 minutes 43 seconds), Jim McConica (2 hours 55 minutes 14 seconds)
1984: Nancy North (4 hours 8 minutes 28 seconds), Tom Fristoe (3 hours 28 minutes 54 seconds)
1985: Alexa Reetz/Erica Reetz (3 hours 32 minutes 8 seconds), Tom Fristoe (3 hours 23 minutes 51 seconds)
1986: Kelly Gillespie (3 hours 30 minutes 35 seconds), Tom Fristoe (3 hours 23 minutes 36 seconds)
1987: Florence Barker (3 hours 11 minutes 50 seconds), Shane Brooks (3 hours 6 minutes 41 seconds)
1988: Pat Hines (3 hours 29 minutes 5 seconds), Jim McConica (2 hours 59 minutes 5 seconds)
1989: Karen Burton (3 hours 14 minutes 44 seconds), Chad Hundeby (3 hours 8 minutes 19 seconds)
1990: Donna Friedman (3 hours 5 minutes 6 seconds), Michael Nelson (2 hours 42 minutes 48 seconds)
2000: Jennifer McLeod (3 hours 21 minutes), Alex Kostich (3 hours 8 minutes)
2002: Jamie Rubino (4 hours 25 minutes), Andrew Miller-Bray (3 hours 24 minutes)

16-mile Historical Female and Male Winners
1990: Martha Jahn (5 hours 21 minutes 48 seconds), Jay Wilkerson (5 hours 5 minutes 27 seconds)

The number of accomplished marathon and channel swimmer in the history of the event is impressive:

* Penny Dean concurrently held the Catalina Channel (one-way and two-way) and English Channel records
* Suzanne Heim twice swam the English Channel and won numerous masters swimming titles * Carol Lee completed crossings of the English Channel and Catalina Channel
* Jim McConica is one of the world’s most prolific and successful pool and channel swimmers
* Alexa Reetz and Erica Reetz are the only sisters to tie and win a major USA domestic championship
* Karen Burton set Catalina Channel one-way and English Channel relay records
* Chad Hundeby held the English Channel record and won the 1991 FINA World Swimming Championship 25 km race
* Martha Jahn set an English Channel relay record and won a silver medal at the 1991 FINA World Championships
* Jay Wilkerson was on a record-setting English Channel relay
* Shelley Taylor-Smith is a 7-time World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation champion

For more information on the 48th annual Seal Beach Rough Water Swim, visit here.

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Steven Munatones