Chillin’ in the Channel

by Randy Angel
Published September 14, 2006

If only an official from Guiness was on hand, Grant Currie’s name might be listed in the world’s most famous record book.
The fact that the 30-year-old Redondo Beach firefighter and Los Angeles County lifeguard swam across the Catalina Channel in just under 16 hours on Saturday doesn’t constitute a rare feat, it’s the way Currie swam the majority of the treacherous 22-mile endurance test that bares mentioning. He did it in the nude.
“I might hold the record for the longest skinny dip in history,” Currie said with a pleased, yet fatigued, laugh.
After months of training, Currie’s adventure from the Isthmus on Catalina Island to Long Point Cove on the Palos Verdes Peninsula surely didn’t go as planned. “I was wearing a Speedo suit, much like track runners wear,” Currie explained. “Less than an hour into the swim, I began having leg cramps so I removed the suit and swam naked. I did put the suit back on before I reached the mainland, though.”
Currie has had aspirations of swimming the channel since his childhood and the plans all came together this year.
“I’ve always tried to push myself to become a great waterman,” the competitive surfer/swimmer/paddleboarder said. “Every since I was a kid I would look across at Catalina Island and say ‘One day I’m going to swim there. Between work and becoming a father, the timing hadn’t been right until this year. It finally all fell together and two months ago I picked the day to swim.”
In March, Currie displayed his athletic prowess by paddleboarding to Catalina, competing in a marathon run on the island then paddling back to the shores of the South Bay.
Currie’s name can now be added to the list of swimmers who have successfully made it across the Catalina Channel. George Young is the first person on record to accomplish the feat when he won the Wrigley Ocean Marathon on January 15, 1927 with a time of 15 hours, 44 minutes, 30 seconds. Currie’s official time was 15.59:27.
Although Currie was a little disappointed with his time — he had completed a 20-mile practice swim between the Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach piers the prior week in a time of 9 ½ hours — he was proud of his accomplishment and what it meant to Shane Lincoln.
Currie dedicated his swim to Lincoln, a 14-year-old paddleboarder from Newport Beach who was struck by a drunk driver recently and is undergoing surgeries to save his leg.
Already in shape due to jobs that demand top physical condition, Currie found the mental discipline of staying focused on the goal at hand to be grueling.
“It was a scary feeling hopping off the rock on Catalina at 11:30 at night,” Currie admits. “Being out there in the middle of the ocean, in the dark of night, with black shadows moving underneath you in the water is an eerie feeling. There’s no way I could have done it without the support of my crew. They were awesome.”
Currie was accompanied by two boats that included Manhattan Beach Firefighter Steve Fairbrother and John Dolmadge, Redondo Beach Firefighter Tim Dormberg, Los Angeles County Lifeguards Kyle Daniels, Jeff Horn and Cindy Cleveland, legendary swimmer John York, friend Jeff Parker and Currie’s wife Christina.
Daniels won his fifth Catalina Classic Paddleboard championship in August, while York is a world renowned swimmer and member of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. At the age of 15, York set a world record by swimming across the Catalina Channel and back – a 48-mile trip – in a time of 16 hours, 42 minutes. In 1988, he swam the English Channel.
Daniels, who won his fifth Catalina Classic Paddleboard championship in August, assisted Currie by paddling and swimming much of the course.
As the water temperature dipped to 66 degrees and, being sans wetsuit, Currie swam faster in an effort to stay warm. “It was a pace I knew I couldn’t maintain,” Currie said. “I would stop for no more than 20 seconds every 20 minutes for water and food, but it was the inspiration from the crew that really kept me going.”
With the tragic death of Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin still fresh on Currie’s mind, the occasional swimming mates of dolphins, seals and three mako sharks added to Currie’s mental fatigue.
“When we approached the peninsula, I could see the lighthouse and buildings,” Currie said. “Eventually I could see cars and people standing, watching. I figured I had about fifteen minutes left to swim. When I was told that I was still an hour away, I felt very discouraged. That’s when John (York) jumped in and paced me, giving me encouragement the rest of the way.”
While Currie recovered from his marathon swim on Sunday, using the serenity of his parent’s home in Hermosa Beach as a getaway from his household that includes his playful 18-month-old son Shane, the waterman was already talking about his next adventure.
The 6-foot-1 fireman and lifeguard plans to make another trip to Catalina Island – only standing up. Using a 6-foot-3 paddle, Currie intends on paddling the course while balancing on a 12-foot surfboard.
“It’s a strenuous workout because with each stroke, your legs are burning by having to balance yourself on the board.”
Currie also plans to keep his wetsuit on, not just his birthday suit, for the entire distance. ER