EBOWS homepage

Welcome to the East Bay Open Water Swim group!

Who We Are:

We are a loose-knit group of open water swimmers located on the east side of San Francisco Bay in California, USA. We usually swim at Keller Beach in Richmond, but also at the Berkeley Marina, Albany Bulb Beach, Alameda South Beach, Encinal Beach, and other locations. We use a Gaggle listserv that helps us to find swim buddies and circulate other open water swimming information. If you would like to join us, please sign up here: https://gaggle.email/join/east-bay-open-water-swim@gaggle.email

Everyone in this group swims at their own risk. Know your limits and be safe.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link that appears in the footer of each message. You can also change your delivery options (Immediate email whenever someone posts, daily digest of all posts that day, or paused) by clicking on the ‘My Membership Preferences’ link in the footer of each message. Please do not use the ‘report as spam’ button. If you do not want these emails, please change your preferences or unsubscribe. Reporting our gaggle emails as spam can cause a lot of work for our volunteer administrators. The default is for ‘immediate email’. To post to the group, send an email to east-bay-open-water-swim@gaggle.email.

The primary purpose of this Gaggle group is to arrange open water swims. Once you have signed up you will receive emails from members who would like others to join them for a swim. If you would like to join, please respond to them via an email link at the bottom of the message. Let them know you will join, and if you are new to the group, please note that as well. If a few members have already joined the swim, you don’t need to respond, you can just ‘lurk’ and show up at the appointed time. If you would like to call for a swim yourself, simply send an email to east-bay-open-water-swim@gaggle.email. In the subject line, please put the date, time and location of where you want to swim. Please don’t get discouraged if no one responds, although we have a lot of members there are times when no one is available or motivated to swim.

From time to time we also post information of interest to open water swimmers, such as advice, news articles, or our experiences swimming in the bay and elsewhere.

If you are interested in swimming at the Albany Bulb Beach, swimmers there have a separate list you can join: https://groups.google.com/u/0/g/albany-bulb-swimmers.

Advice for beginers:

Where we swim:

Here’s a link to the map of the location for the beach

Park on the street above the beach. The group meets on the far end of the beach, directly downhill from the restroom building, and we put our stuff on the wooden retaining wall. There is a shower to rinse off after your swim on the same terrace as the restroom.

When do we swim?

Weekend mid-day is the most popular time for swims. We also have the ‘dawn patrol’ who swim before-work on some week days. With the expansion of work-from-home and more flexible work hours, there are often mid-day swims on weekdays. When we’re on daylight savings time, some sunset/after work swims happen as well.

Talk to us, we are a friendly group!

When you go out for the first few times, you’ll want to make sure other swimmers know that you’re a first-timer or fairly new so we can give you some orientation and advice. We may also be able to get you to buddy up with someone about your speed (we’ll usually want to know what your speed is for the mile in a pool or open water). We even have “swag” you can purchase, in the form of a lovely Keller Cove mug designed by a frequent Keller swimmer, Judith Greene-Janse: https://forms.gle/uNJQbGSKkkkzEZBeA.

What should I wear? What do I need?

You’ll need a swimsuit, of course. Any swim suit appropriate for pool lap swimming will work for open water swimming as well. You will also want a towel to dry off after, as you will not get warm until you are dry. And goggles- again your pool swimming goggles will work.

It is highly recommended that you wear a brightly colored swim cap so other swimmers can keep track of you and any boats can see you as well. We also highly recommend you use a swim buoy. This is a brightly colored inflatable pouch that attaches around your waist with a short leash. It floats high in the water and is highly visible to boaters and fellow swimmers. Some have a ‘waterproof’ pouch where you can store your keys and other valuables while you swim. But don’t trust the ‘waterproofness’. First put your key fobs or phones in a truly waterproof ziplock bag, just in case. You can get swim buoys online, or at sports basement stores.

You should also consider wearing a thermal neoprene cap like surfers wear to keep your head warm, and ear plugs to avoid both swimmers’ ear and “surfers’ ear”, and also to prevent dizziness/queasiness from cold water getting into the ear canal. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/swimmers-ear/home/ovc-20201440 http://www.californiaearinstitute.com/ear-disorders-exostosis-california-ear-institute-bay-area.php

Swim fins are another popular accessory, especially if you want to keep up with the faster swimmers ahead of you.

Wetsuit or no wetsuit, that is the question:

Some of us wear a wetsuit all year. Some wear a wetsuit only in winter. Some of us never wear a wetsuit, even on the coldest winter days. We recommend you try a wetsuit if you are doing your first bay swim in the late fall, winter, or spring. You can rent a wetsuit at SportsBasement, and the rental price can count towards a purchase of that suit or a different one. Some of us wear neoprene booties and gloves as well. We don’t discriminate against wetsuits. Wearing a wetsuit can improve your safety!

How far and how fast do you swim?

We all swim at different speeds and different distances. Our fastest swimmers can swim a mile in 25 minutes or less. Our slowest can take an hour to cover the same distance. We typically break up into ‘pods’ of swimmers at similar speeds. As you get to know us, you get to know which swimmers have a similar speed to your speed.

Our typical swim is a about a mile (1.6km), but different people will swim farther or shorter, depending on the water temperature, their speed, the time they have, or their comfort level in the water. You can start out swimming just a few hundred yards, back and forth along Keller Beach. Or you can swim to ‘the white rocks’ or Cypress Point and back, about 1/2 mile (800m) round trip. We commonly swim to the ‘pilings’ or the mythical ‘Col. Mustard’s House’ which are about a mile round trip. Or sometimes we swim to the end of the ferry point pier or the chevron pier, about 1.9 miles round trip. Some have trained here to swim the English Channel, a 22 mile swim!

Most importantly - There are no lifguards at Keller Beach, and your fellow EBOWS swimmers are not lifeguards. You swim at your own risk. Know and do not exceed your personal swimming limits!

Weather and water conditions

Some of us swim all year around, but most of us swim only in the warmer months. Everyone has their own tolerance for cold water. The water temperature varies from a low of just under 50 deg. F in the early to mid winter to over 65 F in the late summer/early fall. Water temp info at these links: https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/ofs/ofs_mapplots.html?ofsregion=sfb&subdomain=la&model_type=wtemp_forecast or https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/ports/ports.html?id=9414863&mode=composite (This water temperature sensor is not working as of mid March 2023.)

The water is always murky, with about 1 to 3 feet of visibility. It can be windy and quite wavy or choppy, especially on summer afternoons. But in the fall, winter, and spring, when it isn’t stormy, the water can be very calm and flat.

Regarding swimming in the rain: some of us continue to swim through the rain, while others are more cautious due to concerns about runoff and water quality, and they wait a day or two before swimming again. It’s your choice how you decide to handle the rain situation.

You should definitely be aware of the tides and tidal currents when swimming in San Francisco Bay. The timing of the tides varies from day to day, so you need to consult a tide table each time you swim. You can swim from Keller Beach at all tide levels, but at the lowest tides the water can be very shallow and you have to walk out through the muck to get to swimmable water. Some locations such as the Berkeley windsurfer dock or Crown Beach have no water at low tides, so use these at higher tides only. One good low tide swimming location is the tiny beach to the right of Hs. Lordships at the Berkeley Marina. Be aware the beach there is completely covered at high tides and you will need to climb in and out over the rocks.

When the tide is coming in (flooding), we usually swim to the left from Keller Beach along the seawall towards the pylons and ferry point, so as to catch a “tide ride” on the way back. When it’s an ebb tide, we’ll swim to the right, along the shore towards cypress point and the Chevron Pier to get a helpful pull on the way back.

You can find tide info at this link: http://ca.usharbors.com/monthly-tides/California-San%20Francisco%20Bay/San%20Francisco/2016-05

What other creatures will I be swimming with?

To our combined knowledge, no one has been injured by any wildlife in the water near Keller Beach, but there are other creatures in the water. The most common sightings are Harbor Seals. They usually keep their distance and stare at us with big eyes, like they are studying us or maybe a bit confused as to who we are, and what we are doing. But sometimes they do get close and swim with us, bump into us, and even gently put their mouth around one of our feet. Are they playing? Getting romantic? We don’t know. It is sometimes a bit scary or exciting, depending on your disposition, but we know of no one who was bitten hard or hurt by them. There have been several reports of swimmers bitten by sea lions at Aquatic park in San Francisco, but that is rare there, and we seldom see sea lions near Keller.



Dang, that water is cold!

Open water swimmers can get hypothermia. In a mild case you will have the shivers and your lips will feel numb, it’s a bit difficult to form words. In more severe cases you will shiver for hours after a swim, even while you stand in a hot shower. It is strange, because your body gets used to the cold during a swim and the water might start to feel warmish, while your hands start to feel like claws. When you get out, initially you may feel fine, but 10 minutes later you are shivering uncontrollably and not thinking clearly. These are signs of hypothermia.

To reduce the severity of hypothermia you can:

And you do get acclimated! The more you swim in cold water the better your tolerance. Up to a point. But it is easy to lose that tolerance as well. Every fall is a new experience getting in the cold bay water.

For more information and some very good advice on hypothermia, follow this link https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/understanding-hypothermia/

Beware of Thieves:

Make sure you do not leave any valuables visible inside your car, or even any blankets that look like they might be covering up valuables. There have been a lot of car break-ins over the years. Break-ins are much less likely if you park on the other side of the tunnel, near the Mechanics Bank, but then it will be a longer walk and it’s kind of cold and windy walking through the tunnel. Or you can park on Western Drive (see map), but there may be limited parking. Your car key can be wrapped in a paper towel and then a zip lock bag or better yet, a waterproof pouch. If you’ve got a safer swimmer buoy(recommended for carrying stuff, so you can lean on it to rest in case of cramps, and so other swimmers can see you), you can put your key and other small valuables inside that. If you don’t have one, you may be able to put it in another swimmer’s buoy.

Since 2013, there have been about four instances of clothes getting stolen off the wall where we leave stuff, so definitely don’t leave valuables or difficult to replace items like prescription glasses on the beach. Leave them in your car (hidden) or put them in your buoy within a waterproof pouch. I found out the hard way that salt water peels the very expensive anti-glare and anti-scratch coatings off of glasses.