Scott Zornig, co-founder of Laguna Beach Open Water Swimming, details the many benefits of exercising in the ocean as a group.
By Ashley Ryan
Lap swimming in a pool can be monotonous—just ask Scott Zornig, who co-founded Laguna Beach Open Water Swimming in 1987, along with Mike Trudeau and the late Lynn Kubasek. “We … wanted something different to keep it interesting,” Zornig explains. “Swimming in the ocean is exciting and never the same.”
At first, the group met twice a month to swim a mile or less, close to shore. As LBOWS expanded, so did the distances, locations and hours spent in the water. Now, swimmers can be found off the coastline of Laguna seven days a week.
Since its inception, LBOWS has marked a number of unique achievements—for example, some of its members formed the first relay group to swim the 42-mile length of Orange County’s coastline, from Seal Beach to San Clemente; a six-man team including Zornig accomplished this feat last fall. In addition, members of the group have participated in ice swims, marathons, triathlons and other races, as well as ocean events in places like San Francisco, New York, Alaska and even Mexico. But, no matter where they travel, it all starts in the waters off the coast of Laguna Beach.
“Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing a new swimmer show up in a wetsuit and go from being intimidated, scared and unable to swim even 200 yards [to] then, a year later, … [being] strong mentally and physically, [where they] can easily knock out a mile swim—sans wetsuit—with a smile on their face,” Zornig notes. “The sport of ocean swimming is truly addicting.”
What does LBOWS do?
Scott Zornig: We are an informal, nonmembership … group of 400 swimmers—approximately 150 who are most active—that share a love of swimming and training together in the ocean. We exist only to promote safe, group swimming in the waters of Laguna Beach. LBOWS consists of young and older adults, including beginners all the way to former lifeguards and collegiate swimmers.
What do you like most about the sport?
The like-minded people who share a love of pushing the envelope. There are some mornings at 6 a.m. when we swim in total darkness, with nothing more than a safety light on our head and the moon above to guide us. We will sometimes stop and reflect on how fortunate we are to have discovered a truly special sport that 99.9% of the world cannot wrap their minds around. Ocean swimming makes us feel unique and alive.
What are some of the benefits of open-water swimming?
Swimming in the cooler water of the ocean has … been proven to boost the immune system, increase endorphins, improve circulation, lower blood pressure, increase the libido, burn more calories, act as an antidepressant and reduce stress. Ocean swimming is also one of the best forms of low-impact exercise and a great way of socializing and making new friends. It also is a sport that can be done well into old age.
How much training is needed for open-water swimming?
It depends on each individual’s goal. If a person is competing in ocean races and doing marathon swims, they may want to train several days a week in the ocean. On the other hand, a person who just wants to enjoy nature and keep the feel of the water might swim just one day each week. It is always a good idea to have a balance of pool and ocean swimming, as each offers a different … form of training.
What are your go-to spots for open-water swimming in the area?
Our favorite spot is Shaw’s Cove. It is one of Laguna’s most scenic beaches and it is easy to enter and exit the water—even on the rare days when the surf is large. … We attempt to mix it up at least once each week, so Saturdays are usually at a different location, such as Oak Street, Table Rock, Wood’s Cove, Main [Beach] or Crescent Bay.
What tips do you have for someone who wants to start open-water swimming but isn’t sure how to go about it?
If someone is interested in open-water swimming and they know how to swim, we encourage them to visit us one morning [at Shaw’s Cove at 6 a.m. during the week]. We are safety conscious and will match them up with a buddy swimmer. Typically, our experienced swimmers are happy to show the lay of the land and help out until the new swimmer has a comfort level and is ocean ready.
Open Ocean Options
Those swimming in the wild waters off of Laguna’s coastline will make good use of these pivotal items.
From a swim cap and goggles to a warm towel for drying off, make sure you’re prepared for an ocean swim with these necessities, which can all be purchased nearby.