If it’s New Year’s Day at Venice Beach, it’s Penguin time.
New Year’s Day 2009 saw the Venice-Marina Del Rey Penguin Club’s 49th annual Swim. Swimmers and their supporters began gathering around 11 a.m. at the foot of Windward Avenue, signing in and stripping down to their bathing suits (and in one woman’s case, a stylish hula skirt) to brave the icy waters of the Pacific Ocean, with water temperature at 54 degrees Farenheit, and air temperature at 60 degrees Farenheit.
Swim coordinator Mary McGuirk told the Mirror that the Penguin Club was founded in the 1950s by Cecilia Klinger, a swimmer from Michigan, and Darrell Wiley, a lifeguard. They made the club official in 1960. Originally, they only swam in summer but Klinger wanted to meet with other swimmers throughout the year and thus the New Year’s Day event was born.
“We had 96 swimmers last year,” said McGuirk. “We never know how many we’re going to get – it depends on the weather and the temperature.”
The competitive race and the non-competitive “dunk” were scheduled to take place at noon. McGuirk said that all participants received a certificate of completion (plus complimentary coffee or hot chocolate), and the winners of the competitive race were crowned Prince and Princess, while she herself picked the best male and female non-competitive swimmers as King and Queen.
“I can’t swim any more,” McGuirk noted. “It’s way too cold for me. I’m disappointed. But I did swim winter and summer for many years.”
Mary Murphy, age 70, has competed 16 times in the last 21 years. “I grew up in San Francisco,” she said. “So I’m used to swimming in cold water.”
Peter Griswold, age 60, recently survived a swimming accident. Felled by a huge wave, he almost lost consciousness before being rescued by an off-duty lifeguard. He sustained two fractured vertebrae in his neck and was still recovering as of New Years Day, but he was out there in his bathing suit. “I’m just gonna get wet,” he said, meaning that he was going to run in with the “dunkers” in the non-competitive race.
Julian Myers, at 91, is the oldest swimmer who still competes. (Co-founder Klinger swam until she passed away at the age of 94).
Myers said that he had competed for “about 15 years.” For 2009, he was in the race to promote “Amigo Day,” a new holiday he founded with his wife Patsy. “Amigo Day is the first Sunday of every month -– you greet anyone you meet. I think it’s very important that we promote friendship.”
Also, he swims because “I love to remind myself that I’m still young!” He denied that he found the cold water painful, but admitted: “I’m not that thrilled with the feeling of it.”
Suddenly it was time for the Dunking. A large crowd assembled at the water’s edge and given the signal, they ran into the water. Either running or swimming, they went out as far as a red buoy and came back to get their green certificate papers.
A few minutes later, the Competitive Race was held. A smaller group, with numbers on their arms, stood on a sandhill and received their swimming orders. They swam 300 yards to a moored boat and back.
The winners, receiving paper crowns, were:
Prince: Dan Slossberg. Time: 3:04.
Princess: Patty Beckwith. Time: 3:44.
King: Bill Mixter.
Queen: Mary Murphy.
Honorary “First Kid,” Benji, age 14. Time: 3.10.
As Queen Murphy put it: “You’ve got to do something crazy in life. Might as well be on the first day of the year.”