Swimmers at Reef & run
Swimmers take off for the ocean to begin the Reef & Run one-mile swim. The weekly swim series returned after taking a hiatus in 2020 because of the pandemic. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

It was breakout day for swimmers as the Reef & Run ocean swim series returned to East Beach after taking a year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 300 swimmers hit the 60-degree water for swims of 500 meters, 1,000 meters and 1 mile. The swims were followed by a beach party with featured food, drink and live music.

For many of the participants, who ranged from age 7 to 75, Reef & Run was just what they needed to get back into the swim of Santa Barbara life. There were no masks required, only swim suits, wet suits, googles and swim caps.

UCSB swim team member Timothy Lee, 21, was the overall winner in the mile swim in a time of 23 minutes, 5 seconds. He edged Ventura’s Nathan Cohen, 23, by one second. The women’s winner was 16-year-old Isabella Montgomery in 25:57. 

The 1k winners were Ben Brewer (17:43) and Brittney Gamble (19:41), while 14-year-old female Taylor Steelman was the top overall finisher in the 500-meter swim in a time of 8:49. Greg Cornejo was the first male in 9:05.

Jane Cairns

Reef & Run Director Jane Cairns gives the swimmers instructions before the start of the one-mile swim. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)


“I think it’s fantastic,” said Carolyn Harley, who was making her Reef & Run debut in the 1k swim. “It was such a hard year and a half. Just to see everybody out being able to celebrate and be together and enjoying beautiful Santa Barbara is really fantastic.”

Raoul Martin, who completed the mile swim, said it was “nice to see lots of people being active together again. It’s a great event… a little music, the best scenery in California, good food, drinks. You can’t beat it.”

Bob Evans, a retired biology teacher from Dos Pueblos High, missed not having Reef & Run in his life last summer.

“I’ve it done for years,” he said after swimming 1,000 meters. “It’s a happening; it’s fun to be here, it’s fun to be with everybody.”

He added that he often runs into former students and fellow teachers at the event.

Evans said he did only a couple of ocean swims last year. 

“Everybody was very cautious. A lot of my friends are nurses and they didn’t want to get exposed to anything,” he said.

So what does it mean to have Reef & Run back in his life? “It means I’m going to be healthier and in better shape,” he laughed. 

Reef & run

Swimmers make their way over a wave before heading west on the first leg of the mile swim. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Triathlete Thomas O’Boyle of Carpinteria said the event’s return means so much.

“You kind of forget the community aspect of it,” he said. “It’s so good to see so many smiling faces, good vibes and people outside motivating each other.”

Alejandra Orozco was motivated by friend Molly Pearson to try ocean swimming. The two of them did the mile swim on Thursday.

Orozco recalled being frustrated by the pandemic safety protocol at the public pools.

“The pools were closed and then you had to sign up (to swim), and sometimes I couldn’t get a spot,” she said. “Obviously the encouragement from Molly helped. She said, ‘Come out, let’s get a suit and go swim.’

“The ocean has been scary, but not this year.”

A longtime Reef & Run participant, Pearson said she’s been doing more ocean swims since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020.

“We’ve been swimming in the ocean so much lately because of all the pools being closed and being hard to access,” she said. “We found joy just swimming with each other. I found my swimming buddies and went out in the ocean and just had fun with each other.”

The swimmers said the conditions Thursday were little tough at the beginning.

“It was like a washing machine going out and then it was nice and smooth coming back,” said Pearson.

For Harley, the Reef & Run swim was good preparation for an Ironman Triathlon she plans to do in Texas in October.

“I’m not a super strong swimmer and I want to get used to starting with a huge group of people and practice with swimming past buoys and lots of people around me,” she said.

Harley called the event well organized, “super fun, super hard and a big challenge.”

Reef & Run will continue every Thursday for the next 12 weeks. There is an entry free of $15.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Barry Punzal, Noozhawk Sports Editor

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.