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‘Art, Get a Wetsuit’

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 12:05
GUESTWORDS

For the record, I have been entering two ocean beach swims for the last five or six years. I have prudently always signed up for the shortest version, a half-mile. I usually finish almost last, unless I finish last.

Notice I write “finish.” One can, and a few do, give up and get ferried ashore on a Jet Ski by the ever-vigilant East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue squad. (God bless them.)

I am able to finish thanks to my son’s advice. When he took the ocean lifeguard test, I was worried that he wouldn’t be able to finish the long endurance swim after all the required rescues. He told me it was simple. “I just won’t stop.” That is the key to my success, such as it is. I keep telling myself, “Just don’t stop,” even though I am bushed after a hundred yards.

But that is not what is so commendable about this twice-yearly odyssey. What is worthy of an Order of Merit: I have, so far, been able to put on and take off my wetsuit without the need of the emergency room for various body part dislocations.

The first time I did the half-mile swim I came in last and was the only one without a wetsuit. At my age, why would I possibly want a wetsuit?

I was very cold, that is, freezing, when I emerged on the beach at the finish line. After standing around for a while basking in the adulation of the crowd, I was shivering and a shade of blue. My wife kept saying to get in the car and she would turn on the heater, but I was hoping The Star’s sports reporter would take my picture with my number painted on my shoulder as I mingled with the young and fit.

So as I skirted ever closer to hypothermia, one of the three-mile swimmers advised me, “Art, you should get a wetsuit. It also helps keep you buoyant.” That last part sold me. Although it sounded suspiciously like cheating, everybody was doing it. (The perfect moral justification.) And if my son’s advice no longer worked, I could float until I was Jet Skied to shore. So for my family’s sake I bought one of them.

Putting it on looked to be a formidable task, so I put it off to the morning of the next swim. What follows is the choreography of all the swims after that first one.

Thankfully, I started putting it on at home and thankfully my wife was on hand to rescue me. I was a ball of sweat and sounding like a torture victim, which I was, when she grabbed part of this absurdly tight-fitting contraption and sort of got all of me inside it. When she zipped up the back, it felt as if I were being garroted. “Looser, looser!” I begged. She said cold water would go down my back. I said it beat the alternative.

Probably because of my growing experience in these things, I have not finished last again. (Although very close to it.) That is relevant because the organizers put out the results so all who have nothing to do can see them on their computers. The results are divided into age categories. I’m in the over-55 category. For me 55 was decades ago. I should be in a group that Social Security amortization people despise. East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue, please take notice.

The most harrowing part of these swims comes later, namely in the outdoor shower at home after the warm car ride home. As taxing as putting the wetsuit on was, that is child’s play compared to taking it off. After a good amount of time and surprisingly dangerous contortions, I had one arm almost out of the damn thing. The other arm was still trapped, and the predicament of my legs was beyond even theoretical consideration.

I swallowed my pride and called to my wife, “Help! Get me out of this thing!” She dutifully arrived, sat me on a chair, and with skilled extraction techniques freed me. 

The cursed thing hangs in my closet until next summer.


Art McCann says his inexplicably unpublished novel, “Holy Daze,” is in that same closet. A contributor of “Guestwords” since about 1980, he lives in East Hampton.

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