Joe Loel Swims off the Coast of Alcatraz Island


Public Domain

Alcatraz reveals stories of American incarceration, justice, and our common humanity. This small island was once a fort, a military prison, and a maximum security federal penitentiary. In 1969, the Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz for 19 months in the name of freedom and Native American civil rights.

MODG student and swimmer Joe Loel, tells us how he swam in the cold waters off the coast of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. 

Where did you swim?

I swam from just off the coast of Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park in the San Francisco Bay.

How did you train for the swim? What did your training consist of? For what period of time did you train?

As a competitive swimmer I have swum about 8 times a week since freshman year, so I was already in good swimming shape. In order to acclimate to the colder water temperature I swam in lakes around my home through the winter months leading up to the swim.

How long did the swim take? How far was the swim? How did you start the swim?

The swim took me about a half hour. The actual distance was a little over a mile and a half, but because of the strong current I probably swam closer to two miles. There were kayaks with us with emergency medical equipment.

Did you see any sharks on your swim?

I did not see a shark on the swim, but there was a shark sighting in the bay the week after the swim.

Did you have to wear a wetsuit? How cold was the water?

I wore a wetsuit during the swim. The water temperature was around 53 degrees.

How did you feel during the swim?

Overall the swim felt great. The first five or so minutes were very difficult because of the cold water shock, but after my body numbed out I was able to find my rhythm.

What was the hardest part about the swim?

The cold water.

How many people were part of the swim?

In total there were 30 people who did the swim.

What did you feel like at the end of the swim?

It was one of the best feelings of accomplishment I have ever felt. The swim is both mentally and physically challenging, and upon completion I was very happy.

How would you describe the whole experience?

The entire experience was quite amazing. Before the swim I had a fear of swimming in the ocean, and conquering those fears felt great.

How did you come to know about the swim? Was it a race (competition)?

A few of my buddies from swim asked me if I wanted to do it with them, and I agreed. It was not a race, but it was an organized swim.

Would you like to do this again?

Yes very much so. I am planning on doing this year, but with the lockdown in California I am not sure if it will work out. I am definitely not done, however, and I hope to continue to do open water swims as long as I can.

Do you have anything else you would like to say?

Completing this swim really showed me the value of facing my fears head on. Pushing myself both mentally and physically in this way really had a positive effect on my life. I hope more people will try face their fears and grow from that.