The Salty Adventures of the Merpeople

The Salty Adventures of the Merpeople

Katherine Horvath talks about her group, the Merpeople who swim from Crystal Cove to Treasure Island in Southern California – as a result of the pandemic lockdowns and quarantines of 2020-2021.

On September 12th my open water swim group, Merpeople, will attempt a Catalina Channel crossing with a dual tandem relay. We will swim in support of mental health with all donations – 100% – going to the Mental Health America of Los Angeles (see link). 

I started Merpeople two years ago, at the inception of the COVID pandemic. With gyms and pools closed, people were desperate to find a place to train. They were in search of community as COVID affected our social outlets as well.

I messaged a few swim friends. A handful of us started doing organized swims at various beaches along the Orange County coast. It gradually grew organically and we became more organized. There was such enthusiasm and great energy. People were so thankful to have found a safe place, outside in nature, to exercise and establish friendships and the camaraderie that we were all craving amidst the COVID backdrop of social isolation. 

We eventually established a regular schedule swimming each Monday at Woods Cove – which we call “Bailey Monday” as one of the swimmer’s (Lori Hoolihan) dogs regularly swims the mile and a half route to the Pirate’s Tower and back. Tuesday is West Street Beach, an enclosed enclave in south Laguna Beach with a tropical feel. Wednesday is Strands where the early morning sunlight and pastel colors always create an endorphin rush even before we gather together as friends and plunge into the cold, salty wilderness. Treasure Island are on Thursday and Friday which may be my favorite swimming hole [see below]. There, we visit Peanut the Seal, a seal that lives in the rocks and reefs there and comes and literally gives us hugs and seal kisses.  Saturday is Crescent Bay day and Sunday is adventure day.

Treasure Island
Crescent Bay

We will occasionally do one-way 3-mile swims along the coast, carpooling from the end to the start of the swim. During the summer of 2020, when most of the world was isolated indoors, we swam the entire Orange County coastline in 3-mile chunks, south to north. We carpooled a few people in each car, wearing masks and keeping the windows open. We were careful to stay 6 feet apart and didn’t give hugs nor did we zip up each others’ wetsuits.

I gave medals out after the last leg. This was the only finisher’s medal any of us would receive in 2020 as all races were canceled, so it made it that much more special. And our group has a large segment of competitive athletes who regularly compete in triathlons, open water races, masters pool meets, and the like and enjoy the competition and yes the podium finishes. 

In 2021, we swam around all of the Pacific-facing piers in California, working our way south to north. We swam around the Ocean Beach pier on the day the waves were so big that the pier broke. We had calm, clear conditions for some of the piers, and choppy and rough seas for others. Each pier was an adventure as was the journey to get there.

This year, we are doing the relays. 12 of us will swim in pairs in sync across the channel in the dark of night. For many of the relay members, this adventure will elevate their open water swim ceiling and add to their open water swimming skills (i.e., night swimming, skinning it, fueling properly, managing or preventing seasickness in what could be choppy waters).

We can’t wait for this salty adventure and the ones that lie ahead.

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Steven Munatones