Apodaca: 'Skwim' coming to a pool near you

Entrepreneurs are intriguing people. Their brains are wired a bit differently. The wheels are always turning, they have trouble sitting still, and they're always on the hunt for a new concept, an overlooked niche, a creative solution, or simply a way of doing the same old thing just a little bit better.

During my many years writing business news for the Los Angeles Times, some of the most fun stories I worked on (yes, business writing can be fun) involved entrepreneurs. I loved learning about their journeys to bring their products or services to market along paths fraught with risk, unexpected obstacles, frustrating delays, and other twists and turns. Their stories were so full of the yin and yang of disappointment versus boundless optimism. They were so quintessentially American.

And they always began the same way: "I had an idea."

So when I met up recently with Kevin McCarthy, a Newport Harbor High graduate with a decidedly entrepreneurial bent, his story sounded both familiar and fresh.

McCarthy, who now lives in Sammamish, Wash., has combined his fascination for the sporting equipment industry with his passion for invention, and came up with a pretty nifty way to make a living.

The father of five was recently back in Newport Beach, where his parents still live, promoting one of his ventures: an innovative pool game he calls "Skwim," which is vaguely reminiscent of water polo, but more user friendly. That is, it's a sport that can be played by pretty much anyone, not just stellar athletes.

Like water polo, Skwim involves two goals set at opposite ends of a pool. But these goals are round floating platforms, with smaller plates set on top. Players score when a small disk, which looks like a Frisbee, makes it into a slot on the goal.

When I spoke with McCarthy, he was overseeing middle schoolers at Corona del Mar High School as they played Skwim. He has also introduced the game to students at Costa Mesa High School and is hoping the word will spread to other local campuses.

The kids I watched were having a blast, their happy hoots and hollers echoing around the pool area. They wore small, oval-toed fins, which McCarthy also designed, and most seemed to have mastered the technique of skimming the disk across the surface of the water.

"My son lived for this day," one mother told me. "He couldn't wait to play."

Another student stopped by to tell McCarthy how much she loved Skwim.

"I hope it gets in the Olympics," she gushed.

Such accolades are like catnip to entrepreneurs, and I could tell that McCarthy relished the moment. After all, the entrepreneurial path is typically a treacherous one, and it takes enormous fortitude and resolve to bring ideas to fruition — not to mention the difficult-to-score funding needed to keep projects afloat until they become viable.

For McCarthy, this has sometimes meant going into debt, or using the proceeds from one venture to get the next one off the ground.

"I have a very patient wife," he said.

After graduating from Newport Harbor in 1973, McCarthy attended Orange Coast College, then UC Santa Barbara. He initially worked for the big wallboard maker National Gypsum, but left to devote all his time to his sporting-equipment design pursuits. He later worked for Coleman, after he sold his small water sports company to the camping equipment maker in the 1980s.

After about four years at Coleman, McCarthy struck out on his own again, to work as a consultant to the sports equipment industry. All the while he has continued working on innovations. Among them: a small kickboard for riding waves, some design elements on Crocs shoes, and hand-held swimming paddles.

Over the years, McCarthy kept chipping away at his idea of a creating a game based on a water-skimming implement. He licensed his disk design to a Virginia company that sells the item to retailers such as Target.

But McCarthy still wanted to take the concept a step further and fashion an entirely new sport using his disk and fin designs. Skwim is the result. He's spent the past few years promoting the game as a fun, easy-to-learn activity that promotes physical fitness, swimming skills, and water safety.

So far, Skwim has caught on in Washington State, where inter-school competitions are held. McCarthy is now hoping to take it to that level in Southern California.

"It's a great sport for kids to be safe, and it's a great fitness sport for all ages," McCarthy said. "My goal for Skwim is to have it played everywhere in the world."

Spoken like a true entrepreneur. Based on the reactions of the CdM students I watched play the game, coupled with McCarthy's infectious enthusiasm, I'd say he's got a fighting chance of seeing his vision become reality.

PATRICE APODACA is a Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She is also a regular contributor to Orange Coast magazine. She lives in Newport Beach.

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