The Notorious Alki Swimmers are a loose collection of the hardy, the brave, the fit and adventurous.
Their informal leader, Jerome Leslie, describes them as “a social group with a swimming problem. But, once you’re in — whew.”
“It’s a swimmer’s high,” he says.
About three dozen arrive for an open-water swim every Saturday morning at Alki Beach. After the group photo taken every time, they wade into the Sound.
The water temperature is 49.6 degrees. That’s 13 degrees more than the air temperature on this particular day.
Some wear wet suits, some wear dry suits and the rest simply wear swimsuits. Many are blowing up bright floats they’ll tow behind them. It’s for safety and visibility.
Kevin Jones, who looks like an Olympic swimmer, has the skimpiest of bikinis with a cat-face illustration on it. The cat looks cold.
Sam Day, co-founder of the group, is wearing a Speedo. It’s so chilly he’s wearing two swim caps.
I’m wearing silks, layers of Patagonia, a wool scarf, wool hat, wool fingerless gloves, thick wool socks and wondering how long before I’m hypothermic.
“It’s freakin’ cold,” says Bethanie Mitchell. “It’s better in (the water) than out.”
The swimmers are evangelical about the weekly experience in these never-warm waters.
Swimming in the Sound is “really good for mental health,” says Guila Muir. “People see it’s possible to do this.”
Sarah Beth Wood has a tattoo of Antarctica. When she and her husband married there, they took a quick plunge into the water. Now, that’s cold.
Former UW rower Rose Filer is training for the 21.3-mile Lake Tahoe swim next year. Checking her watch, she’s completed a one-hour, two-minute workout.
“On New Year’s Day we do the un-plunge,” Muir says. As for those who come for the New Year’s Day polar bear dip — a quick dive in, resurface and dash out of the water: “We swim by them.”
Granted, the Notorious Alki Swimmers aren’t chopping a hole in the ice of a frozen loch in Scotland.
But for people who like 70-degree weather, sleeping in on Saturday and hot showers, joining these swimmers will provide bragging rights few of us bundled up on the water’s edge will ever have.