Whidbey Adventure Swim made waves without incident

Steve Polucha swims toward the shore and the finish line at the inaugural Whidbey Adventure Swim on Saturday. The Kirkland resident won the 1.2-mile race in less than in less than 30 minutes.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Steve Polucha swims toward the shore and the finish line at the inaugural Whidbey Adventure Swim on Saturday. The Kirkland resident won the 1.2-mile race in less than in less than 30 minutes.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Safety was the most important part of the first Whidbey Adventure Swim in Langley on Saturday, Aug. 20.

There were five lifeguards on paddle boards, seven kayakers and four boats patrolling the perimeter of the course.

After the race, event organizer Jean Fankhauser was pleased to announce the safety report.

“Congratulations. We got everybody out of the water who went in,” he said.

Some went in and came out a bit faster than expected, even for a first-time race.

Only one racer did not finish. Rebecca Cory, 38, was pulled from the race after the first lap.

“When they said they wanted to pull me, I said, ‘OK. I’m not going to be a jerk about this,’” Cory said. “I’m glad I did the lap I did and I might even come back and do the whole thing next year.”

Organizers set a qualifying time of 25 minutes for the first lap to avoid hypothermia and to shorten the overall duration of the race. Cory enjoyed her lone lap, but thought she could have finished the second lap long before the 2.4-mile competitors ended. After all, she has competed in open water swims for three years.

“It was great,” she said. “I’m still pretty novice.”

A fellow neophyte to open water swimming won the 1.2-mile race.

Steve Polucha, a 29-year-old from Kirkland, finished the swim in 27 minutes and 58 seconds.

Though he began open water swimming a year ago, Polucha had a leg or two up on the competition — Polucha was a collegiate swimmer at Syracuse University in New York and swam in the Fat Salmon this July.

Still, the switch from a pool to a lake was challenging, he said. The change from a lake to a sound was difficult too.

“It’s definitely a lot colder. My face was numb for a while,” Polucha said.

With the glassy surface of Saratoga Passage measured at 58 degrees Saturday morning, 26 swimmers wearing wetsuits, and a few not, slipped into the clear waters.

The triangular .6-mile route was set about 20 yards from the shore at Seawall Park. Of the racers, 17 swam the 1.2-mile (two laps), and nine were in the 2.4-mile.

The differences between lake and sea swimming were stark for most of the swimmers. It left some to learn the hard way and plan to alter their training for next year.

“I don’t know that I did enough differently, that’s probably why I only did one lap,” Cory said. “I think the big difference, for me, is the salt. It’s really chaffing.”

For the 2.4-mile champion Rick Ferrero, the variables of the sea were the most noticeable changes from lake water to salt water swimming.

“Out here you can go off course, the currents can take you different ways, if it’s windy you can get boat waves and wind waves,” Ferrero said.

“The analogy would be road running or trail running versus running on a treadmill.”

Another difference was he had to mind the living inconsistencies of saltwater, too.

“I think the biggest thing about open water swimming is you’re going to see things you’re not used to seeing,” he said. “Whether it’s the grass or rocks or fish ... I saw crabs — crabs are kind of fun to see — it’s just getting used to what you’re going to see.”

The 47-year-old from Seattle had plenty of time to take in the water’s views. He finished in 55 minutes and 10 seconds.

Despite being a frequent open water swimmer and training four days a week, Ferrero was hurting from the race.

“I’m just a little sore,” he said.

His soreness wasn’t for a lack of preparation. Ferrero also lives in Freeland, and had some swim practices in Holmes Harbor and Saratoga Passage before the race. Seeing the course from the shore and above the bulkhead at Seawall Park helped him and other racers.

“The great thing about this is you can see the entire course,” he said.

Another racer who may have had an advantage was South Whidbey resident John DeWit. He finished second behind Ferrero in 57 minutes and 37 seconds. Charles Bolduc of Vancouver, B.C. came in third place in 58 minutes and 51 seconds.

In the 1.2-mile, Matt Bronson of Spokane finished second in 32 minutes and 43 seconds. The first female finisher was Sarah Manchester from Langley. She got out of the water in 35 minutes and 40 seconds.

Ferrero, like many of the competitors, joined the race because he knows many of the members of South Whidbey Island Masters, the group that hosted and organized the Whidbey Adventure Swim. He praised the event and its coordinators.

“Being a first-year event, you don’t always know what to expect,” Ferrero said. “We had great boat support, great kayak support.”

Ben Watanabe can be reached at or 360-221-5300.

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