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I first met Catherine Breed through the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group, an organization teaching water safety worldwide since the tragic and untimely death of Sion Milosky. Cat and I quickly found out we had a few connections in the swimming and surfing communities. She swam at University if California, Berkley and could out-swim any participant or facilitator. She was also a Bay Area native. We started surfing together and talking about the risks of surfing at Ocean Beach on a massive swell and eventually, what we would need to surf some even bigger waves just a bit to the south.
Fast forward to this past summer and Cat had asked me to paddle next to her on a three-to-five-foot day while she swam the north end to the south end of Ocean Beach — a total of three-and-a-half miles. She casually said it was training for her swim from the Golden Gate to Half Moon Bay.
“Oh, for next year?” I asked.
“No, my window is late summer before big swells,” she responded.
I forgot all about that conversation until I came across a social media post from Cat announcing that she had lost a few crew members, and the boat, that were set to accompany her during the swim. I picked up the phone to see if I could help somehow, having no idea what I was signing myself up for. “Great, can you take the Jet Ski and meet me at the sharky part of the swim?” she asked.
The thing with athletes like Cat, Kai Lenny, and Maya Gabeira is they are successful because they are crazy and can push through adversity where 99.9 percent of us wouldn’t. And this is one of the cool parts of meeting people through BWRAG. So, on Wednesday, September 14, at around 4 a.m., Cat dove into the San Francisco Bay underneath the Golden Gate bridge. This was where the 27-mile trek began. She swam fast, holding a 1:30 100-yard split for over 12 hours. Her kick was on a perfectly strong rhythm the entire swim. On the ski, I had an award-winning photographer, Sachi Cunningham, who spent much of the journey jumping on and off the ski like an otter, capturing some amazing shots throughout the day.
“I told myself that I wasn’t going to jump in during the sharky parts but the image of Pedro Point and those tall sharp rocks jutting out of the water behind Cat was too good to pass up,” Sachi said, “You can’t touch the swimmer per the open-water swimming rules, so I swam outside of the shark shield zone at times, which definitely kept me on alert. But I was never concerned about Cat. She looked nothing less than a fierce predator the entire time.”
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The boat crew assisted with a pace kayak, feeding times and positive vibes. After it was all said and done I volunteered again. I told Cat I’d gladly follow her on any hellscape journey she’d like to embark on. And I meant that. Seeing a person swim for 12 hours, passing over and by who knows how many white sharks, brushing aside exhaustion, fatigue, and cramping, is powerful.
I’d logged some time on that ski reflecting on my own life, my own pursuits and abilities. It made me ask myself where can I push myself even further? When I found out my dad had cancer, a surfing scrapbook helped me learn about the man he’d become before fatherhood. And having lost both of my parents now, I look back and wonder if I’ve done the work to process my grief. I wonder if it’s holding me back from being a better husband or a brother? I’m even putting my diet under a microscope now, questioning if the fatty foods (read: pints of ice cream) I take in are taking from my ability to surf bigger waves.
The answer is yes, by the way. But riding alongside Cat during her swim reminded me that life can feel its best when you’re uncomfortable and you push through. That’s what was so inspiring about having a front-row seat to a world-class athlete’s phenomenal accomplishment: she kept swimming.
As Cat made her way into Half Moon Bay we were greeted by the BWRAG crew as they wrapped up a water rescue section of their class. It was awesome to see faces like Peter Mel and Greg Long — who seem like they’d be hard to impress — in such awe of Cat’s accomplishment. I loved it. I loved it for the sport. I loved it for women everywhere doing big things. And I loved it for my friend, Cat. If you’re reading this and are on the fence about taking time to go to the BWRAG clinics, I implore you to do so. You have a 100 percent better chance of saving a life with a CPR cert and going through the course, even if you don’t surf big waves.
No human, male or female, had ever made that swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to Half Moon Bay until Cat. Hopefully, this won’t be the only story I write about her. And I’d love to help her execute another one of these crazy swims. We all need to be inspired.
Editor’s Note: BWRAG will be hosting a summit this October in San Diego. Go to their website to learn more. And you can learn about the Marine Mammal Center online here, where Cat donated the funds raised through her swim.