on La Jolla’s “Big Wet One”
and Thoughts on Training
By Robert Ross



“The idea came to life in the last peaceful days before World War I, when San Diego was home for the World’s Fair Pan American Exposition of 1916. Pride in America, pride in southern California and civic pride in San Diego was the tone of the World’s Fair. The World’s Fair Committee challenged each community to showcase the city by hosting a special event. La Jollans asked ‘What better way is there to share our beautiful seaside community than by hosting an ocean swim?’”

— Taken from the La Jolla Rough Water Swim web page (

The one-mile swim, which was launched in 1916 to showcase La Jolla, was such a success that it was destined to become an annual event. By 1931, the “La Jolla Rough Water Swim” (affectionately referred to as the “Big Wet One”) was truly an annual event  held yearly thereafter — except for a few cancellations in the ensuing years.

For example, in 1959, there were numerous shark sightings in the area, which created somewhat of a concern, so the event was called off. On the day of the  event, one brave soul stepped out on the beach and made the one-mile swim. Fortunately, there were no sharks to be seen. And, in 1948, polio concerns caused a cancellation too.

Jump forward to 2005, this small community event — which hosted seven swimmers in 1916 — had grown to more than two thousand entrants for the 2005 swim. It was not only attracting swimmers from all over the country, but from all over the world.

The La Jolla Rough Water Swim is held on the second Sunday of September. It’s a one-mile swim which begins at the Cove in La Jolla. The day is broken down into age groups and genders, with a special junior event (250 yards) for twelve and under. The first swim is at 9:00 a.m., and, the last event, amateur girls, is at 1:40 p.m.

The swim is competitive for some, and for others, it is an opportunity to take a dip and enjoy the warm water temperature that September often brings. Though the course has changed a few times over the years, it is essentially triangular in shape. One swims out in the direction of La Jolla Shores, makes a lefthand turn heading west out towards the open ocean, and another left, back to the Cove.

This coming 2006 swim will be my twentieth-anniversary swim. Over the last twenty years of participating in The Big Wet One, I have developed a training schedule that just might appeal to some Awareness readers. It goes something like this. In June, when the weather warms up and I notice in the local newspaper that the ocean water temperature is more than 65 degrees, I start thinking of the Rough Water Swim, and tell myself “It might be time to relearn how to swim!”

In the time following this revelation, I try to make a weekly pilgrimage to the Cove, and begin the process of relearning. I start with the goal of eventually swimming out to the quarter-mile buoy. By early July, the routine is in place; swim to the quarter-mile buoy with plenty of breaks and back to the beach.

Over the years I have noticed that it takes time to become a part of the ocean environment. After ten or fifteen minutes of swimming, the thoughts of the day — of conflicts and problems vanish. During the swim, I might spot a pod of dolphins, or a lone seal. Both the dolphins and the seals understand my training program — enjoy, play, frolic, relax.

After the swim, it’s on to phase two of the program. With a beach chair and favorite beverage, it’s time to blend with the rhythmic sound of the ocean waves, time to connect with the lovers strolling and feel the flight of the pelicans gliding effortlessly above. It’s the afterglow of the swim in the ocean that puts it all in place. The world of work, of freeways, of the turmoil in the middle east, ceases to exist. I’m here at the ocean, the sun is beginning to set, people seem content.

Sometimes I try to reflect on my life, where it’s been, where it’s going, but I can’t. The swim has had a calming effect on my mind. The intellect gives way to a deeper place within. Now, I’m immersed in the sound of the waves as they roll into the shore only to roll back out into the sea, again, then again, over and over.

By mid August, I’ve extended my swim out to the half-mile buoy. I’m feeling more confident knowing I can swim the one-mile course in September. The routine stays the same though — the breaks during the swim — perhaps rolling over on to my back and allowing the buoyancy of the salt water to hold my body in a state of suspension; or maybe just treading water and gazing out at the beautiful surrounding hills that make up the La Jolla area. Then it’s on to the beach chair — on to the afterglow.

Swimming offers the obvious health benefits from fitness to stress reduction, but there is so much more. There is that time when the swim is over, when things, people, sights and sounds are richer. That is the real value of swimming.
One will never win a trophy following my training schedule. Yet, the routine, swim, relax, enjoy, is a trophy in itself. This trophy keeps me coming back to La Jolla’s Big Wet One, year after year after year.

This year’s Rough Water Swim will be held September 10. Registration information can be accessed at  

Robert Ross can be reached at:  

Copyright  2006 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

Return to the September/October Index page