Swimming Uphill Across the Catalina Channel to Achieve the Triple Crown

Steve Sutton reminds me of open water swimming’s Clark Kent.

Sutton is seriously-minded, poetically intellectual, passionately dedicated channel swimmer who lives on dryland as a retired financial consultant and pursuer of start-up ventures. He lives in Thousands Oaks, a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, raising two fine young men as they each establish their own niches in the marathon swimming world.

Watch Sutton shopping at Trader Joe’s or studying a spreadsheet or reading economic news or whipping up something nutritious for dinner. He goes about his business with quiet professionalism. He is an introvert without drama, a good neighbor and a great friend who always is willing to lend a hand.

But watch him unload his swimming gear and escort kayak with his boys, Ryland and Tyler, and you get a feel like Clark Kent is heading to a phone booth.

Sutton emerges – without fanfare or expectations – as a marathon swimmer who gets the job done.

He did so again yesterday with a 15 hour 29 minute battle across the Catalina Channel in very challenging conditions.

The Catalina Channel Swimming Federation reported, “Steve battled an uphill current, and then to his delight the current change and he was swimming downhill. Steve was supported by Tyler Sutton, and kayakers Dan Simonelli and Barb Schumacher. Guy Morgan and Don Van Cleve were on board Pacific Star as official CCSF observers.”

Sutton recalls, “I did some breaststroke to stretch out after the feed [see above] and did some water polo roll over on the back do a couple strokes roll over to the other side to stretch out every now and then. I also swam over large lumps of kelp a few times.

I went to a very dark place in the currents. I yelled stop and went back to my happy thoughts of dolphins swimming along with me. Then I saw this white thing go under me 15 feet below or so and swam forward underwater and disappeared then it came back.

You keep swimming that you do a mental pause; it was not a threatening motion and your mind tells you it’s probably curious and it kept doing it and doing it. Then on my next feed, I said I’m not alone and my kayaker said, ‘Yeah, there’s sea lion he’s been following you.’ He stayed with me for a number of seeds and even for the transition to the next kayaker   The kayakers told me he was there for about four hours.  Following me, escorting me, right when I needed it.

It was a long dark night with no moon. I watched my bubbles is my hands entered the water for hours. I saw lots of interesting things floating by and swimming by.

The current was brutal – it knocked my speed down to a mile an hour or less for most of the swim. Moonrise an hour before sunrise and cloudy, but it was awesome watching the star constellations move during the night.  Helped sort of know time was passing.

I saw Palos Verdes Peninsula after sunup closer than Catalina.  That was good.   I kept my head down swimming for next 8 feeds (2 hours) before the kayak switch.   Hours later PV … I noticed we were going parallel and were crabbing to the south.  Hours later, I finally saw Smugglers Cove and the last mile the current was with me swam head down until I saw sand and rock.

Kayak waited outside surfline. I negotiated an exit and got on sand and out of my mouth and said to myself, ‘…my legs don’t work!’ There was not a soul on the beach.  I walked to the dry sand and the cliff and reach as high as I can so the observer saw my official end to the swim.  Then the boat horn sounds.   I go straight back to knee deep water and fall into the sea and swim back to the boat.” 

Then the father of two sons gave some reflection and words of wisdom, “If I could share one thing with [young people], it would be that you got to find your thing and your place to get grounded and motivated. It doesn’t matter what it is: dance, gymnastics, basketball, running, cycling – find your thing.

For me, it was swimming and surfing. I was blessed with really good coaches. They taught me to compete against myself my own time and ignore the person in the lane next to me. This is a valuable life lesson in Southern California. Whenever I was upset as a kid, I’d walk down to the community pool and swim laps or just stay underwater as long as I could swimming from side to side.

Then, water polo taught me that I could do way more than I thought I could. I thought I was gonna drown every practice for the first year. Every swim set we did, I never thought I’d finish them and I couldn’t imagine what was coming next. I have no idea what time it was. This training is what gives you what you need to get through anything Heads down and swim.

Just keep swimming.”

Sutton summarized his crossing, “I am quite confident I can swim 25+ miles…and I do believe that I did [yesterday]. I’m really tired.”

Over the last year, Sutton has quietly completed a crossing of the English Channel (in 12 hours 9 minutes), a lengthwise crossing of Lake Tahoe, two trips around the Palos Verdes Peninsula (in both directions), and swum across the four lakes of the SCAR Swim Challenge. With his Catalina Channel crossing and his 2021 8 Bridges Swim around Manhattan Island crossing in 8 hours 51 minutes, he achieved the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming on September 13th.

And like Clark Kent, he got back into his street clothes and will go along with his business.

Sutton’s marathon swimming career is summarized here.

© 2023 Daily News of Open Water Swimming

to educate, enthuse, and entertain all those who venture beyond the shoreline

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