The infamous “Escape from Alcatraz” swim is high on the bucket list for most open-water swimmers. While there are longer and even more difficult swims, none rival the honor of completing the same route famous criminals such as the Anglin Brothers and Frank Lee Morris used to successfully escape Alcatraz Prison decades ago. And the race serves as an excellent oppportunity for strong swimmers to take on their first cold-water swim.
Alcatraz sits only 1.5 miles from the Aquatic Park, the finishing destination of the swim. However, it’s not the distance that makes the swim a daunting challenge. Rather, it’s the wild currents, frigid water, and unfriendly fish that patrol the area.
With such harsh elements in play, successfully completing the swim requires some research and preparation. That’s where we come into play. Here are a few critical steps to take before attempting the infamous swim:
Swim with a group- There are a few officially sanctioned races that begin at Alcatraz, such as the Alcatraz Sharkfest Swim or the Water World Swim Organization, which does a monthly group swim during the summer months. Check out the swim dates for 2012 here.
Proper gear- Whether you decide to dawn a 5mm wetsuit for warmth and buoyancy or a thinner suit for maneuverability, it’s important to find the proper balance. We recommend the Zoot Z Force 2.0 sleeveless wetsuit. The suit provides enough warmth but allows for full range of motion through your arms. Plus, sleeveless suits are for badasses.
Train in open water- Prepare to be overwhelmed by waves and strong currents in the San Francisco Bay. To become acclimated to the harsh conditions and cold water, supplement your pool work-outs with ocean swims, especially on windy afternoons.
Swim double the distance- The extreme currents you’ll be battling during the swim from Alcatraz will make 1.5 miles seem like 3. If you can’t train in the ocean, prepare yourself by completing at least 3 miles in a pool.
Acclimate your body to cold water- Sometimes referred to as a “Scottish shower” cold-water baths have proven health benefits such as improved circulation. Preparation for the 50-degree waters of the San Francisco Bay is essential to avoid an immobilizing shock at the start of a race.
Sighting- It’s extremely important to understand and study the tides before you attempt the swim. Sighting becomes crucial as different tides will determine where you should aim when approaching land. For example, during an ebbing tide, aim 200 yards to the left (east) of the entrance to the Aquatic Park. Be cautious as the current will sweep you beyond the desired landing spot if you don’t aim in the right direction.