OCEANSIDE — The Labor Day pier swim is a tradition now 83 years old.
Swimmers annually brave the ocean waters for a mile-long lap around the Oceanside Pier.
About 600 swimmers are expected to take on the open water swim this year.
The only requirement for the race is to be 12-years-old or older. The average age of swimmers is 50.
“The oldest person is 79 and we have one or two 12-year-olds,” said Larry Barr, Oceanside Swim Club president.
Many swimmers have participated in the annual event more than five times and some diehard competitors over twenty times.
To qualify to win in their age group a swimmer cannot wear fins or a wetsuit. The challenge is all about facing the elements. Ocean temperature and currents are often more demanding than the one-mile distance around the pier.
“The biggest challenge is finishing it,” Barr said. “It’s a rough water swim not a pool event. It’s totally different elements.”
The fastest swimmers can finish the race in about 15 minutes. Some of the longer times can take an hour to finish the swim.
The majority of swimmers take on the race as a personal challenge.
“Most swimmers compete to stay healthy and challenge themselves,” Barr said. “There’s a large number of swimmers 60 and over who have participated numerous years.”
There are also many swimmers who sign up with family members to complete the challenge together. The Tanner family has had four generations compete.
“There are father, daughter, and mother, son sign ups swimming in the event,” Barr said.
Matt Crabtree of Murrieta, Calif. has competed in the open water swim for five years.
“In the beginning it was to see if I could do it,” Crabtree said. “I’ve always been fairly outgoing and athletic. Each year as I get older I see if it’s something I can still do.”
Crabtree said facing the varying elements of the weather and ocean currents makes each year unique.
“It can be a different kind of swim every year,” he said. “One year it was really foggy and the lifeguards had to point me back because I couldn’t see the pier. Another year the currents made it tough to get out and stay on course. You just don’t know.”
This year Crabtree will be swimming with his 16-year-old son, who is on the Vista Murrieta High School swim team and CIF championship water polo team.
Crabtree said his best pier swim finish time was 22 minutes. He added that he expects his son to finish in 20 minutes.
“We’re pretty competitive,” he said. “If we come in close the only reason is he’s taken pity on his old dad. He’ll stay enough ahead of me to beat me.”
The pier swim raises funds for the Oceanside Swim Club, which serves swimmers ages 5 to 18.
Funds raised help fund swim club scholarships and daily operations.
“It’s the major fundraiser of the club,” Barr said.
The year-round swim club helps kids stay fit and improve their swimming skills.
Club members can choose to compete with the team. Many club members also compete on school swim teams and water polo teams.
The Oceanside Swim Club is a nonprofit club that’s run by a volunteer board of directors. “It’s a big job,” Barr said. “It’s good for the kids. It’s good for the community.”
The annual swim will be held Sept. 3, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Oceanside Pier.