Contributed by Charlotte Brynn, NELMSC Open Water Chair, USMS National Open Water Committee, Level 4 USMS Coach, and Executive Director of The Swimming Hole
Enjoy clam chowder, clam shell awards, and a dazzling view of the water. -Megan Podeszwa
This month we are spotlighting an open water event: The 12th Annual Swim & Fin for Salem Sound, which will be held on August 20 in Salem, MA. I was impressed by its family-friendly appeal, and that it benefits efforts to make our coastal waters clean and safe. I reached out to Megan Podeszwa, Race Director, and Susan Yochelson, Salem Sound Coastwatch Outreach Coordinator, to learn about the swim's history, and what makes it a stand-out event. After hearing their answers, I've definitely added it to my list to swim in the future!
Q: The 12th Annual Swim & Fin includes a 500 meter course, 1 mile and a 5 km option. What are some of the reasons that this is such a good event for novices to try their first open water event?
A: The Swim & Fin is a well-established event with an excellent safety record. The 500-meter has been called the "get wet, fun swim." It's a short course--less than one third of a mile, equivalent to five laps in an Olympic pool. We have considerable safety support with lifeguards and kayakers keeping a close eye on the swimmers. The harbormaster is right there if anyone needs to be rescued.
Q: It looks like you have fun activities set up at the beach. What are some of the fun things swimmers and their families can enjoy on race day?
A: The Swim & Fin is held in a beautiful wooded park with dazzling views of the water. It's a perfect spot for a family picnic. There's a playground for young kids, two beaches and a steep old-fashioned concrete slide that has been thrilling children and adults since 1943. (It's the only one in New England and cardboard is a must for this slide!) We have food, music, a marine touch tank with local sea creatures, raffles and some activities for kids. Swimmers will have access to a changing room and outdoor shower, and will be treated to fresh clam chowder donated by Finz--a fabulous local seafood restaurant. The awards are uniquely ocean-themed-- no regular medals for us! With its rich history and cultural attractions, Salem is a great place to visit. There are shops, museums, including the world-class Peabody Essex Museum, the National Park Service's Salem Maritime Historic Site, wonderful restaurants, and more for every age group.
Q: How did the Swim & Fin get established 12 years ago?
A: The Swim & Fin was started by a neurosurgeon. Seriously. Twelve years ago, Dr. Michael Medlock walked into the Salem Sound Coastwatch offices with the proposition that we should hold open water swimming races. Dr. Medlock grew up swimming in Florida and in New England he loves Salem Sound with its beautiful coast, beaches, vibrant marine life, and charming islands that frame the view. He thought it would be a great way to highlight our clean swimmable water and connect people to the Sound. We liked the idea, especially since encouraging recreational use of these coastal waters is one of our core values. Dr. Medlock created the event and continued as Race Director for 10 years. In the beginning, swim fins were allowed, hence the name. That feature has since been dropped and now the name stands more for swimming with the fishes.
Q: Volunteers make our swim events special. Who are some of the people that help put on the race?
A: Volunteers are the life-blood of Salem Sound Coastwatch's activities, including the Swim & Fin. We have professional lifeguards who donate their time, experienced kayakers who patrol the course, medical professionals who provide first aid, and people of all walks of life who direct the cars, put out signs, handle registration and body marking, and coordinate swimmer safety. We also have many sponsors and donors. Finz, a famous local seafood restaurant, donates clam chowder for the swimmers; a local shellfish company donates clam and scallop shells that we paint gold, silver and bronze for medals, and many local companies support this event. The thing they all share in common is a love of our coastal waters.
Q: This race is for a great cause! The swim benefits the Salem Sound Coastwatch, working to make our coastal waters clean and safe. Cleaner coastal waters is a cause especially close to open water swimmers' hearts. Can you tell us a little about what Salem Coastwatch does?
A: We do so many things! Salem Sound Coastwatch is a nonprofit environmental organization. Our motto is "leading the way to a healthier sea and shore." Our flagship program is called Clean Beaches and Streams, where we test water at outfall pipes and streams that flow on to the beaches in order to identify pollution "hot spots." This information is shared with the local communities in our watershed and with the State of Massachusetts. Our work has actually uncovered homes and businesses that were not connected to the sanitary sewer system. Waste from these buildings was flowing directly into the Sound!
Our work generally falls into three categories-identifying sources of pollution and developing solutions, monitoring and protecting marine resources and habitats, and educating the public. We have a large and active Adopt a Beach program in which volunteers are trained to monitor and clean up their favorite beach. "School to Sea" is our exciting ocean literacy program in which we work with both students and teachers to develop an understanding of, and appreciation for, the ocean in their backyard. This past year we took hundreds of students, including every 3rd and 7th grader in the City of Salem, on educational boat trips where they got to observe sea life with an underwater camera, conduct a plankton tow and hold lobsters and other marine life pulled from a lobster pot. We partner with local communities, academic researchers, other nonprofit organizations, businesses and citizens to address issues such as flooding (a serious source of pollution), building resilience to protect the coast from storms and sea level rise, monitoring invasive marine species, and raising citizens' awareness and understanding of their connection to the water and their role in restoring and protecting its health. Salem Sound Coastwatch is widely recognized throughout the region for the quality of our work, and we have received numerous awards since the organization was formed over 25 years ago.
Find out more or register for the Swim & Fin event here: https://www.swimandfin.org/