Coach Joseph’s tips for first timers’ swimming in the San Francisco Bay

Getting up at the crack of dawn, dragging your self down to Aquatic Park to get in the boat and jumping into 50 degree water to swim a mile and a half… All of your friends think you’re insane, and a little bit of yourself agrees.  That’s where the adventure begins, and what an exciting adventure it is that you are about to embark upon.  Swimming from Alcatraz is a wonderful accomplishment that will definitely give you bragging rights.  There are many ways one could prepare for this feat.  I’m sure you know no prisoner ever escaped from Alcatraz Prison (that we know of…)


By training with WWS, you will be coached with the experience of over 900 + crossings.  That is a lot of expertise.  So yes, it can be done.   I like to look at it as just another mile and a quarter with a lot of fun.  Knowing how to swim is half the battle, and then there is desire, accompanied with knowledge.  Before my first crossing, whenever I would drive by the bay, which is often, I would envision myself jumping out of the boat close to the Rock and swimming my way across to shore.  It took some practice; once I was able to do it, I knew that I was going to be able to complete the amazing swim.  During that time I was swimming with Coach Pedro and his staff every weekend, which helped me understand the tides and currents. Swimming often in the Bay helped my body adapt to the cool water temperature.

Day of the Jump:

Alcatraz to Aquatic Park is a 1.25+ miles crossing.  Doesn’t sound like a lot, and it’s not.  It is just 1.25 miles with a lot of physical and mental challenges.  You’ll want to stay bundled up, right up to the point before you jump. Once you have jumped into the water out by the rock, you are now dealing with cold water, 4 different currents each one pulling in a specific direction. Stop, relax and catch your breath. When you’re ready, begin your journey.

First, you may encounter what we call a “Potato Patch”.  It’s a convergence of two opposing currents coming together, which creates an agitation type like motion.  You will feel a slight downward pulling sensation; relax, and just keep swimming forward toward the Jeremiah O’Brian or Fontana Towers. The swim director will have recommended which one of these destinations to swim towards before you jump.  The tides are forever changing, so it is best to pay attention to him during the Pre-Jump briefing.  The second current which heads out toward the NorthTower of the Golden GateBridge is usually not a strong current, and one can normally can swim right through it, this would be the one place that you can stop, take in the beauty of the Bay for a moment, then continue swimming. Once you have had your short rest it is important to not stop again.  You can slow down, but remember to always keep moving forward.  The third current which is one that is usually the strongest can pull you off course and often does, if you see yourself being pulled past the opening of Aquatic Park, don’t panic, there will be a lot of boat/kayaker support out there in the water. If a rescue boats tells you to get into the boat, get in the boat; it is for your own safety. The safety crew will reposition you to an area that will put you back on course.  You will not be disqualified. Your safety is more important to us than anything else.  Remember to always swim East of the opening, as you get closer to the wall most times you will find that the 4th current will have pushed you right into the opening. Remember this should be a wonderful fun experience; one that you will remember for the rest of your life.

Items recommended for swimming in the Bay:

1.       A full swimming wetsuit fitted to your body.

2.       A thermal cap (Blue Seventy) under a cap that we will provide for you.

3.       Earplugs or wax – We recommend Mac’s Ear plug wax.

4.       Goggles – I recommend Aqua Sphere “Vista”. These lenses are larger that than pool goggles and will give you a wider range of vision and covers more of your forehead, which helps you from getting freeze brain.

5.       Bring a towel, warm sweats to change into and a thermos of a warm liquid to warm yourself up with after the swim.

6.       A camera to take beautiful photos of your journey and your new friends at WWS.

7.       Forget about trying to find Shark repellent. (Humor). There have been swimmers in the Bay for a long time. Records going back to the 1880’s show that there has never been a shark attack on a swimmer. The sediment/silt content in the Bay is too heavy for their gills. No need to fear the Sharks!


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