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Santa Barbara Swim Club Trio Races to Strong Finish in Tiburon Mile

Undeterred by open-water challenges, Walker Bell, Ben Brewer and Paige Brown vow to return for next year's competition

Was it the draw of gray frigid waters? Was it the challenge of crossing a cold bay without a wetsuit? Could it be for bragging rights, contending with the potential of a great white shark attack? Maybe they were drawn by the aura of elite competitive athletes, some of whom are their idols. Whatever the reason, three Santa Barbara Swim Club youths traveled to San Francisco Bay over the weekend to compete in the legendary Tiburon Mile open water swim.

Walker Bell, 13, Paige Brown and Ben Brewer, both 12, represented their beloved city and club in the Tiburon Mile, and they were proud to do so. Each with their own motivation, they anticipated a challenging but worthwhile experience.

Walker was the veteran of the three, having competed in the event two previous times. When asked why he continues to go back each year, he replied, “For the fun, and the feeling of accomplishment that you get when you’re done.” He spent another moment in thought, and then added with a grin, “Oh yeah, and the feast afterward.” Walker described the elaborate spread of cuisine that the hungry swimmers partake in after the event. A teenager who burns calories faster than he can take them in, Walker said it was a meal worth swimming across San Francisco Bay for.

For Paige, this was her first Tiburon Mile, which meant there was a certain amount of trepidation mixed with naïve excitement. She became interested in open-water swimming partially because of her involvement with Junior Lifeguards, as well as her participation in many of the Night Moves swim/run events held weekly in Santa Barbara over the summer. Naturally, the next challenge would be to conquer San Francisco Bay, right? Apparently Paige is an all-or-nothing kind of competitor, not to mention Walker really talked up the event. Paige pointed out that the word “Tiburon” means shark in Spanish. So when asked what scares her most about the competition, she replied, “Sharks. And freezing water. And swimming with Olympians and fast swimmers.”

Now Ben is actually a North California native, so going up to the race was kind of like going home. He still has many relatives up north so he was eager to have the extra support. As well, Ben’s dad volunteered for the race and was one of those out on paddle boards making sure everyone stayed above water and on-course. That helps a young guy feel a bit more secure. Like Paige, Ben was also influenced by Walker’s encouragement, and he enjoys swimming in the ocean. Of his goals for the race, Ben said, “I’m not sure what to expect, so my goal will just be to swim fast and not get cold.” Good luck with that, Ben, since the anticipated water temperature is to be around 59 to 63 degrees, and he, as well as Paige and Walker, are in the “no wetsuits” category.

The Tiburon Mile, which is a nautical mile measuring a bit over a land mile, was founded in 1999 by Robert C. Placak and has quickly become one of the most competitive and prestigious open-water swim events in the world. The course takes swimmers from Angel Island to the shores of downtown Tiburon, located of course within San Francisco Bay. Categories of competition include the elite category, which contains a number of world champion and Olympic swimmers from not only the United States, but also from Australia, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Russia and South Africa. Besides the elite swimmers, there are also the age groupers, all of whom are competing for cash and prizes, as well as for personal accomplishment.

Walker, Paige, and Ben, along with their families traveled up north for the event last weekend, and the swim was held on Oct. 17. Although the Bay Area weather was better than Santa Barbara weather, they still had a cold ocean to contend with, and an unmarked point-to-point course to conquer. And how did they represent? Exceptionally.

All three finished within about a minute and a half of each other. Walker finished 11th in his age category with a time of 31:10, slightly slower than his goal of under 30 minutes, but excellent for the day’s conditions. He was at the young end of his age group, which contained 13 through 18 year olds. Ben fared very well in his age group, finishing a strong third in a time of 32:15. It left him with a hunger to come again to see how he fares next year. And Paige won her age group, finishing in a strong time of 32:48. She was able to cope with the water temperature and stay the course, and went well under her time goal, which was to break 35 minutes.

And so the three youths from the Santa Barbara Swim Club accomplished something they will always remember. All three plan on doing the event again next year and may even be able to talk some of their other teammates into joining them.

— Cindy Crawford is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and athlete.

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