British Columbia

When pools closed due to COVID-19, this youth swim team jumped in the ocean

When you’re part of a swim team and all the pools in your neighbourhood are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you find creative ways to train.

Winskill Dolphins began in April and will swim 12 kilometres from Crescent Beach to Boundary Bay this weekend

Members of the Winskill Dolphins head out for a sunrise swim in Boundary Bay on Thursday, Sept. 3. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

When you're part of a swim team and all the pools in your neighbourhood are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you find creative ways to train.

For the Winskill Dolphins, much of the spring was spent dryland training, running and getting instruction from their coaches through video chats.

Then one of the team members had a brainstorm — why don't we just jump in the ocean?

"On Easter long weekend, one of the other swimmers started going," said Isabel Rapier, 15. "There were about five of us in the beginning and then it just took off."

The team started out by swimming about a kilometre at a time and built their way up to the point where they now swim up to eight kilometres.

Parents and family members follow the group on kayaks and paddleboards as a safety precaution.

This weekend, the Dolphins will embark on their longest swim of the year from Crescent Beach to Boundary Bay, a 12.6 kilometre journey that is expected to take between three and five hours.

Isabel Rapier, left, and Naomi Cole, right, are part of the team that plans to swim from Crescent Beach to Boundary Bay. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Cold water, seals and jellyfish

On Thursday morning, long before the sun is up, the team is zipping up their wetsuits on the beach of Boundary Bay.

The wetsuits are one of the big changes Naomi Cole, 17, had to adapt to when she transitioned from the pool to the ocean.

"At the start, we didn't realize you had to put Vaseline around your necks in wetsuits, so people were chafing," she said, laughing. "We started bleeding a couple of times."

There are other big differences, too.

Without the walls and guidelines that let pool swimmers know where they are, Cole has to look up every two or three strokes to make sure she's traveling in a straight line. There's a noticeable difference in temperature, too, especially early in the morning.

"It's pretty cold," Cole said. "There's some screaming involved."

There are also seals, whales and jellyfish, which feel like running into a prickly raspberry bush when they sting.

"I swallowed one by accident," Rapier said. "It didn't sting but it made me feel really sick."

Members of the Winskill Dolphins take a quick break about 1.2 kilometres off shore before swimming back to the beach on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (Helen Wiacek)

Back in the pool

Pools reopened several weeks ago, allowing the team to get back to its regular training, but they'll also keep swimming in the ocean until it gets too cold.

Rapier and Cole both love swimming in the pool but they plan on continuing with ocean swimming.

There are some things they see out on the open water that you can't find anywhere else.

"On Mother's Day, there was a pod of grey whales, so we would see their spouts and hear them," Cole said. "There's a seal that follows us around and he's really cute."

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