Fryling Has Got a Catalina Channel Crossing to Bear : Swimming: Despite battling sharks in 1959, he says he won’t be afraid of the creatures when he makes his second attempt.


Just a few days before making his second attempt at the 20-mile Catalina Channel Swim, Duffie Fryling believes he will have no trouble this time. He’s mentally prepared, physically fit and has no fear of the creatures that roam the dark and roving sea--particularly sharks.

One of the fortunate few who was attacked by sharks and lived to tell about it, Fryling made headlines around the world and appeared on numerous talk shows after he spent more than 90 minutes battling sharks in 1959 off the shores of Paradise Cove in Malibu.

“I can’t think about sharks when I’m in the ocean,” Fryling said. “My wife and daughter think about it, but I can’t let what might happen get in the way of my swim. I’m sure some people think I may be a bit nuts, but I’m determined to swim the channel. It’s a challenge I have to try.”


Fryling, a 53-year-old Capistrano Beach resident, plans to start the swim at 10 p.m. Aug. 10 at Little Emerald Cove on Catalina Island. He hopes to finish at about 8 a.m. the following day near the shores of Palos Verdes. Of course that’s barring any unforeseen mishaps.

Last year, after swimming more than five hours and almost half way through, Fryling had to stop after he went into toxic shock from metabolic poisoning.

“It must have been something I ate,” Fryling recalled. “For about two hours during my swim, I was puking my guts out.”

According to the rules, a swimmer cannot make any contact with any person or object or the swim is void.

Fryling said his paddler, Dave Yeakel, who accompanied him in a rowboat, kept telling him he better get in the boat.

“Since I have no flotation, he was worried that I (would) pass out and sink,” Fryling said. But Fryling had sworn that either he would finish the swim, or it would finish him. He had to be pulled out by his swim cap after he passed out and began to sink.

“I’ll certainly watch what I will be eating this time,” Fryling said.

While his wife, Sharon, and their 6-year-old daughter, Krista, are excited about the swim, they will be glad when it’s over.

“Last year, I got the heebie-jeebies thinking about sharks,” Sharon Fryling said. “But this time, we’re not dwelling on the negatives, only the positives.”

Since 1927, when records of the channel swim began being kept, 66 people have completed it in times ranging from eight to 33 hours.

John York, executive president of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation in Los Angeles, said Fryling has a good chance to make it.

“Duffie is determined,” said York, who has completed the swim five times himself. “For swims like this, I truly believe it’s 80% mental and 20% physical.”

And what about the sharks?

“The odds of a shark attack are very low. In fact, you probably have a better chance of getting shot on the freeway than getting attacked by a shark.”

In any event, it’s hard to believe Fryling won’t even think about sharks or at least have a few flashbacks of his own brush with the creatures more than 30 years ago.

Recalling the ordeal, Fryling, who grew up in Malibu, where he later served as a state lifeguard, said he was diving for lobster about 150 yards off shore when he became engulfed in a tide of blood. He remembers seeing about 15 blue sharks tearing at three wounded sharks a few yards ahead of him.

Diving without the aid of scuba gear, Fryling said he was about 15 feet under water and had to surface for air. Turning away from the sharks, he began kicking to the surface when he spoted two sharks swimming directly at him.

“I headed right for them,” he said. “I didn’t want them to think I was wounded or scared. I figured the only good defense was a good offense.”

Fryling was able to intimidate the sharks and reach the surface. Thinking he was free, he started swimming to shore when another shark came at him, catching his left arm in its teeth.

Fryling remembers grabbing the shark by its nose to prevent it from clamping its lower jaw on his arm. Holding on to the shark’s nose as tight as he could, the two drifted back into the waters where the other sharks were feeding.

The shark eventually let go of his arm, but now Fryling found himself encircled by eight sharks. For the next hour he played “chicken with the sharks” while he attempted to get back to land.

“I floated on the surface and kept my movement to a minimum, using frog kicks to move,” he said. “I tried to keep looking in all directions to keep track of the sharks.” In all, the sharks made about 30 charges at him.

Even after he was able to touch sand, the sharks kept following him and his bleeding arm. When he made it to about three feet of water, Fryling made a dash for the beach. He says he can’t remember much after that.

“All I know is that I somehow made it to the emergency hospital in Malibu.”

Fryling said he required 30 stitches from the shark bite and curtailed his diving for a while. Since that November day in 1959, Fryling has had only one other encounter with a shark.

Last year, while training with his paddler, Fryling said he got a feeling he was being watched.

“When you’ve been in the water as much as I’ve have, you get a sixth sense about these things,” he said.

After alerting his paddler about his feelings, the paddler scanned the area but didn’t see anything. As Fryling kept swimming, the feeling wouldn’t go away. Then he felt a rush of water below him and felt himself being lifted out of the water.

“It was a rough shark. It swam under my belly and lifted me out of the water. My paddler told me I probably should get out, but I figured if it wanted to get me it would have. So I just kept on swimming.”

From September through May, Fryling swims in short-course pool competitions for the Irvine Novaquatics swim club. Gordon Cady, head masters coach for the Novaquatics, has confidence in Fryling’s abilities.

“As a pool swimmer, he’s kind of an amazing guy,” Cady said. “He’s built like a prize fighter and he has a lighting-fast start and he’s very quick in the 50 free(style) and the 50 butterfly.”

Last year, Fryling was ranked fifth nationally for his age group in the 50-yard freestyle, which he swam in 25 seconds.

“He’s determined to do this (channel) swim,” Cady said. “And Duffie is the kind of guy who can’t be stopped once he’s determined.”

While Fryling has been involved in rough water and pool competitions for the past three years, not too long ago he was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day and was in what he called the worst shape of his life.

“The doctors told me I’d better not buy any green bananas,” Fryling recalled. “And I thought I’d better change my lifestyle around if I wanted to walk my 6-year-old daughter down the aisle.”

So Fryling stopped smoking and got back into the water.

“He’s a swim-aholic,” Sharon Fryling said. “He loves it and he’s a lot more healthy.”

While training for his Catalina-to-Palos Verdes adventure, Fryling swims about 4.5 miles a day and competes in a number of rough water events throughout Southern California.

Recently, he competed in the Seal Beach National Championships, a swim that was supposed to take about two hours. “I was swimming in a 30-knot head wind, so it took me about 6 1/2 hours to finish,” he said. In addition, Fryling was hit in the face by a swimmer’s foot, knocking out his front teeth.

“I pulled them out of my mouth and tossed them in the boat and kept on swimming,” Fryling said. “It’s just one of those things.”

No matter what the outcome of his upcoming channel crossing, Fryling said this will be his last attempt. “It’s just too much of a demand,” he said. “Besides, I want to move on to other things. I have to start getting ready for the World Champion Master’s Long Course meet that’s coming up in June 1992. I’m not that into long course, but it’s a challenge.”