The water in Lake Tahoe is so clear that it takes your breath away. And if you dive in, the cold water can steal any wind left in your body.
Scott Zornig of Santa Margarita is well aware of the perils of swimming in a lake where the water temperature can dip into the 40s, but he is coming back for more.
For the second time in three years, Zornig has put together a team for the Trans Tahoe Relay Swim. Saturday, Craig Taylor, Dan Sullivan, Rick Reeder, Burt Bergen, Jim Fitzpatrick and Zornig will compete in the 11 1/2-mile race across the lake.
Two years ago, Zornig and five other Trans Tahoe rookies upset a team from the Olympic Club in San Francisco, which sponsors the event and usually has the winning team. The Orange County team won in 4 hours 50 seconds.
"We beat them by little more than a minute," Zornig said. "It was a sprint to the finish. Sure, the water is cold. And they don't allow wet suits. But after you've done it, you feel like you have accomplished something. It's the challenge. And also the chance of victory."
Zornig said each team member stays in the water about 30 minutes at a time and can figure to swim two legs.
Zornig expects the defending champion Olympic Club will be the team to beat. But he thinks his team will be competitive.
"It's actually a faster team than the one we took up two years ago," Zornig said. "We're looking at maybe five or six minutes faster. So, unless the [Olympic Club] has done something to improve their team, I think we have a good shot at winning."
Taylor, the team captain, is a veteran ocean swimmer, but this will be his first Tahoe swim.
"Scott talked me in to it, but he didn't have to talk that hard. This is fun stuff," said Taylor, who lives in Laguna Niguel.
Taylor said the relay team, representing the Irvine Novaquatics Masters program, works out in the ocean. Two weeks ago, the team swam six miles from Laguna Beach to Corona del Mar.
"The ocean can be as cold as Lake Tahoe, and it's the perfect place to prepare," Taylor said.
Taylor said the altitude is the toughest thing to adjust to. He said he plans to arrive a couple of days early to acclimate.
The race, which was started more than 20 years ago by the Olympic Club and two other Bay Area athletic clubs, has grown into a 70-team competition with men's, women's and mixed divisions.
Swimmers start at Sand Harbor on the Nevada side, and finish at Skylandia Beach in California.
While the race has never been canceled, Scott Williams, a spokesman for the Olympic Club, said high winds and cold water can put a damper on the event.
"Hypothermia is a real problem in this race," Williams said. "But it's a crap shoot as to what conditions will be like. It can be windy and freezing water. But then it can be like last year, when the water temperature was 70 degrees near the top of the water, the wind was calm and it was a gorgeous, sunny day."
There are two other Novaquatics teams in this year's race. Former Foothill High standout Erin Reed will be leading one. Reed swam once before when she was pregnant with her son. Her teammates include Chris Mayers, Brendan Halffman, Matt Truxaw, Rosanne Platt and Dolly Ginter.
"I really hate cold water," Reed said. "And when I did this race the first time, I swore I would never swim it again. But here I am. I don't know. It's fun . . . getting out there with you friends."
The third relay team is made up of Treg Weythman, Tracy Hunter, Michael Suttle, Bob Stipp, Jeannette Browning and Valerie Hagopian.
And after the event?
"Well, there's the big party that follows," Reed said, laughing. "But it's not just that. We're up here to win and swim our best. And that's what it's all about."
GOING TO MAUI
After Tahoe, Zornig and company will begin training for the Maui Channel Swim in September.
Zornig said the nine-mile swim from Lanai to Maui is the longest island-to-island relay swim in the world.
Depending on currents, the race can take from three to seven hours. Zornig said that while ocean waters there are warmer, there is one bigger concern.
"It seems sharks have been a problem this year. For some reason, there has been a lot of shark activity in that area," he said with a smirk.
SEAL BEACH SWIM
The 31st Seal Beach Rough Water Swim takes place Saturday with 13 swimmers competing in the 10-mile portion of the event.
One of the oldest ocean swims in California, the race will start at 6 a.m. at the Huntington Beach Pier and end at the Seal Beach Pier.
Besides the 10-mile swim, races will be contested at one and three miles, as well as 200, 400, 800 and 1,200 yards. Participants range in age from 7 to 70.
The men's and women's one-mile race begins at 7:30 a.m. and the three-mile race at 8 a.m. All races, except the 10-mile race, begin at the Seal Beach Pier.