Conversation over a rollicking summer BBQ tends to magnify one's perceived abilities, especially when challenges of a physical nature are issued by the opposite gender. Somehow, the fact that I run a few miles every morning was transmogrified by my wife into my ability to swim a mile for charity, which does not sound too bad until they tell you it is out and back into the Pacific. As in swim 1/2 a mile out where all the big fish are, then high tail it back in. But no worries as it is a big event and there will be lots of swimmers in the water so the likelihood of sharks is very low. Safety seemingly assured, I plunged.

To prepare for the event, my runs were exchanged for a few days each week in the local pool, eventually building up to a mile. I learned the importance of rhythm and breathing and built a nice system tailored to my style. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. Despite or perhaps because of no prior swimming experience, I made quick strides in getting up to the full distance. Paper trading like a champ, I began to envision a fast start and low time.

Heat 2 of the 77th annual Oceanside Pier Swim lined up on the cool sand at 8:45 AM. The surf was flat, but lifeguards watching Heat 1 advised of a strong drift south so the main pack started about 300 yards north of the pier with instructions to swim straight out and let the drift bring us back around. "But you're all experienced enough to know that," chuckled the lifeguard. I didn't get the joke until much later.

The horn sounded and around 150 open water vets sprinted into the water. Years of surfing provided an edge in getting out past the breakers ahead of the pack, but the early dash caught me out of breath as an unexpectedly large set rolled in just after our initial clearing. After fighting through the choppy monsters, I found myself sitting near the front but gassed from the effort.

Flipping over to do a little light backstroke and catch my breath, I was nearly mowed down by a churning mass of determined swimmers who had also just passed through the surf and were steaming out to sea like they just left port. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe went out the window as panicked reality was more like stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe, breathe, stroke, gasp, choke, swallow, stroke, breathe. Regularity turned Brownian in a hurry but what really scared the Hades out of me was the way the ocean looks through swim goggles.

In the pool, the crystal blue water provides a superb lens through which one can navigate lanes, lengths and laps. In the ocean, limited visibility magnifies the unknown. Terrifyingly long tentacles of kelp strain to wrap themselves around you and mysterious dark shadows cruise the murky bottom. It's like swimming across the top of a teeming rain forest. Gripped by fear, I chucked my goggles less than 200 yards into the race. CNBC had to go.

In the pool, I thought the water choppy when another swimmer was in at the same time. In the ocean, 3 foot swells quickly redefined my notion of a flat surface. At this most opportune time of embattled revelation, I became acquainted with the drift. Because I was moving slower than the field, the drift affected me more. That was good for a while, as it got me out of the grinding pack, but when I got too close to the pier, my perspective on drift changed.

Suddenly, it was like shorting a runaway bull and I had to fight my way back going 1/2 speed at triple effort to get around the outside buoy. I rounded the turn dead last, which is particularly bothersome considering everyone in my heat was wearing a neon green swim cap. We looked like bait. Discovery Channel aficionados know what happens to those who stray outside the safety of the herd.

But the turn for home was a rally point. It was like being down big all morning, only to have the market reverse and move back to breakeven. What a relief it was to be heading back. I found stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe rhythm across the swells. The drift became my friend as I plowed for shore.

Laying it all on the line as I approached the beach, I was suddenly lifted up by a breaking wave and slammed deep into the slop. Normally, I am good for about a minute under the surface. By the end of the race, I was down to about 5 seconds. Thoroughly mopped after a good thrashing on the way in, I staggered to the beach with about 1/2 oxygen, 1/2 seawater in my lungs.

Just when I thought I was out of the trade and done with the whole thing, I realized the finish line was another 100 yards up the beach through the soft sand. My kids were going nuts and the crowd was roaring so I pulled out all the stops and dashed for the line. It reminded me of chasing the ask as I try to unload a position into a dropping market. Every time I enter a limit order at the ask, the spread drops another tick and I have got to drop my limit, then it drops again. Like running in soft sand as it gives way before you.

But I finally crossed the finish line. Despite my poor performance relative to the competition, I did something I have never done before. I know I can do it again. All in all, I would say it was very much like my early days of trading futures. Reality is far different from theory. In the pool, you can always grab an edge. In the ocean, it is sink or swim.


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