Golden Gate Sharkfest July 22, 2018

De Anza College students, former students and friends volunteered as lifeguards
(or trouble shooters, it said “Sharkspotter” on the back of t-shirts the volunteers were given)
in kayaks at a swim race where people board a ferry in Sausalito, ride it to the south tower of the Golden Gate bridge, jump off, and swim under the length of the Golden Gate bridge back to Sausalito.

Scroll down at:

to see a photo map of the route.

I recommend that my swim students volunteer at an Escape from Alcatraz swim or Golden Gate swim BEFORE they try to swim it:

Escape from Alcatraz ‘Sharkfest’ swim volunteering

Here is a shot of the Golden Gate bridge, and to the right, the entrance to Horseshoe Cove, Sausalito, which is the swim finish.

Golden Gate bridge and shoreline to Horseshoe Cove

Volunteers start at the Sausalito end of the bridge, paddling out from Horseshoe Cove to where the swimmers will jump off a ferry, then paddling back with them to Sausalito.

Below the volunteers gather for a briefing. The huge red buoys in the foreground will be put on a boat for the swimmers to follow. A few volunteers bring their own kayaks, but most kayaks, along with lifejackets/paddles/whistles and even wetsuits most years, are provided by the race.

kayakers, kayaks on a shoreline

In this group photo, not everyone was there yet, as a few people arrived a little bit after the official briefing time and were still getting their kayak.
people lined up at a shoreline with kayaks

The Golden Gate bridge had fog at the top of the south tower for most of the race, as here looking from the paddler’s start towards the entrance to Horseshoe cove, with a Coast Guard vessel on the right about to depart to assist with the race.

cove and dock with Golden Gate bridge in background

Paddlers approaching the Golden Gate bridge:

a very big Golden Gate bridge and very small looking kayakers

As we paddled out some of us saw dolphins curling up out of the water, but missed getting a picture.

The water sometimes had more swells, choppy waves than these, but I put my camera away during them:

four kayaks and some choppy water

Going under the bridge (no, that small wave sweeping over her boat did not knock her out of the kayak, but yes, one kayaker (not from De Anza College) did end up in the bay for a few minutes.

kayakers and Golden gate bridge above them

Here is a distance shot of the start, with the ferry on the far left, support boats, barely visible kayakers and swimmers almost too small to see from this distance. The huge red buoy on a boat on the right is what the swimmers try to follow to stay on course.

support boats and barely visible kayakers, swimmers

Why a photo of the start from so far away? Because the race is set to start when the current is bringing the swimmers in to Horseshoe Cove at East Fort Baker in Sausalito. Part way from there to the start, some of the volunteer paddlers found themselves padding like crazy, making a bow wave off the front of their kayaks, and still looking up to see they were staying under the Golden Gate Bridge and not making any forward progress. (A couple of the volunteers said they were being pushed backwards as they paddled.)

You can just see the high elbows of swimmers doing freestyle, but you can’t hear the kayakers (such as Tuchih Tsai paddling in the foreground) yelling “left, left, go more to the left” as the swimmers are being swept by the current a bit away from the entrance to the cove and their finish on the beach:

swimmers, choppy water and kayakers

And here is their route under the bridge, note the big red buoy on the boat to the far right:
Golden Gate bridge with swimmers in the water below

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

If a swimmer stopped swimming and looked around

it could mean they were trying to get a good breath

or find their way

or find the assistance of the nearest kayaker,

or in the case of one swimmer treading water we approached and asked if he was okay, he said

“I’m looking at the scenery!!!”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

We did not know if the helicopter that flew close overhead was backup for the race:

helicopter over the Golden gate bridge

The view of the entrance to Horseshoe cove, with swimmers, volunteer kayakers accompanying them.
also the family and friends watching from up on the seawall towards the left of the photo, some getting a photo of a particular swimmer:

swimmers and entrance to cove

The last swimmer is given a bit of help to stand and walk up the finish ramp as volunteer kayakers still out in the water applauded. (Nope, she did not need that many EMTs, but there were a lot of them on hand):

swimmer in water with finish line people

swimmer walking in shallow water about to exit the bay

people helping a wetsuited swimmer

one edge of an ocean swell as a narrow bar

And here are a few of the kayaking volunteers (besides their action photos above) :

Ka Yun Cheng

girl in kayak with Golden Gate bridge behind her

Joan Chiou

girl in kayak with Golden Gate bridge behind her

Kelly Gomez and Krishnakanth Batta

two kayakers with the Golden gate bridge behind them

Tuchih Tsai

guy in kayak with Golden Gate bridge behind

one edge of an ocean swell as a narrow bar

Below was for the swimmers from

“What to Expect During the Swim


Lead kayaks, and boat with orange buoys & lifeguards with neon vests, will direct the front swimmers along the correct course. Additional kayaks and boats will corral the remainder of the field. There will be no buoys in the bay to guide you; rather, you will use the lead boat and escort boats as your guides. If you are swimming astray, you will be advised to change course. You must obey the instructions of all escort personnel. Non-compliance with this rule will result in automatic disqualification.


This swim has been timed to take advantage of the currents, with the start timed to catch the tail end of the flood tide. As you begin your swim, the tides will be going from flood to slack. As you progress towards East Fort Baker, a slight ebb tide kicks in (sweeping you left, or west, toward the Golden Gate Bridge). There is a stronger ebb channel along the entrance to East Fort Baker. Kayakers will direct swimmers to the entrance of East Fort Baker.


Our objective is to have everyone successfully complete the swim from the south end of the GoldenGate Bridge to East Fort Baker, but if your pace puts you too far behind to guarantee your safe completion, a boat will pick you up. You may be moved to a more favorable location, where the tide will work to your advantage and you may complete the swim; however, swim officials have the authority to make an objective assessment of your progress with respect to the current tide conditions and may decide to drop you off inside Horseshoe Cove. If an official tells you to get into a boat, it is expressly for your safety, and you must comply!


If you find that when you jump in the water or start to swim that your heart begins to beat rapidly and your breathing feels out of control, this is perfectly normal. It’s just the adrenaline rush of race day paired with the shock of the cold bay water. Use your own judgment on whether to continue, especially if you have any medical conditions, but most people find that if they continue to swim, they warm up, get their breathing back under control and are able to get back into a groove and finish the swim. You may backstroke, or swim with your head out of the water until you’re comfortable to swim again.


If you feel that you cannot complete the swim or you need the assistance of a kayaker, stay put and put one arm straight up in the air. A kayaker will come to you and discuss your options. It is perfectly legal to grab the nose of a kayak and wait out a cramp, get your breathing under control, etc. Don’t hesitate to take the measures you need to finish your swim. (Note: If you need to grab onto a kayak, grab onto the nose; NEVER grab a kayak from the side, as you may tip it over).
A smart athlete will know when it’s not his or her day. You’ll always be welcome to come back and try again. There’s no shame in taking a rain check on this event.


If you start to get cold and can’t think straight, you are experiencing mild hypothermia and should make the choice to end your swim. Full hypothermia may result in death. Don’t be ashamed or hesitate to call it quits early. If you decide it’s just not your day, stay put and raise your hand. Yell to get the attention of an escort, and you will be picked up.


If you drop out and do not go through the finish chute, be sure to check-in with an official at the race finish to notify us that you are on the beach. We don’t want to have to launch a search and rescue unless someone is truly missing in the water.”

a narrow band of sunset reflected on the water
Below was part of what kayakers read before the race:


We highly recommend that you wear a wetsuit.

Dress warmly and bring layers that are easy to remove. If you choose not to wear a wetsuit, you may want to wear long pants to stay warm. Remember that fleece keeps you warm, even when wet – so it’s ideal for paddling! Be sure to bring dry clothes for after the event.

It is also a good idea to wear a beanie cap or something to keep your head and ears warm. A warm & toasty head will keep the rest of your body considerably warmer.


7:30 a.m. – You should meet our paddlers on the beach across from US Coast Guard Station, at East Ft Baker, underneath the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. Your point of contact will be Mitch of Sea Trek. Mitch will assign you your boat and gear.

8:15 a.m. – Our kayak coordinator will meet ALL kayakers on the beach and give pre-race instructions. You will be advised on the course, your responsibilities, and what to do if a swimmer is in trouble.

8:30 a.m. – Kayakers begin paddling as a group out to the south tower of the bridge.

8:50 a.m. – Swimmers begin disembarkation from the ferry at the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.

9:00 a.m. – Anticipated race start time.


More than 175 swimmers will be coming from throughout the world!

fog over colors blue and green in a narrow photo strip

See also pictures of volunteers (AND A DE ANZA COLLEGE SWIM STUDENT WHO SWAM THE RACE) at a 2017 Alcatraz Sharkfest swim.

Alcatraz Island in background, 800 swimmers in foreground

Ooodles of advice about volunteering at open water swims / triathlons can be found at:

Escape from Alcatraz ‘Sharkfest’ swim volunteering