“Will Swim for Food” is an annual fundraiser for Food Banks worldwide. It is a swim around the iconic Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf in the dead-of-winter, making it a one-mile swim in roughly 53° water. (although last year’s swim was in 47° water) In previous years money was raised solely for Second Harvest of Santa Cruz, however we now ask our swimmers to designate the foodbank they are swimming for. All money raised by swimmers goes to foodbanks while the funds to put on the swim and cover administrative expenses, are provided by our sponsors.

The History of Will Swim for Food

1 mile, 53° water; swimming to alleviate hunger in our community

You might say that “Will Swim for Food” was born out of necessity, but it was more out of a desire to not be embarrassed.

A local company, Plantronics Inc, is a huge supporter of Second Harvest. In 2010 during the Second Harvest Holiday Food Drive, the Veterans Group at Plantronics Inc. decided that they were going to donate the “First Ton” to that year’s Holiday Food Drive at Plantronics. One of the group’s members, Nick Alaga, didn’t quite have enough to write a check at the time, but there was no way he was going to embarrass himself and not help, so he looked for an alternative way to support the fund-raising effort.

original will swim for food crew

As an avid open-water swimmer who regularly swims at Cowell‘s Beach and around the Wharf during the summer months, he thought he might try turning his swimming into a little fund-raiser. He had a modest goal of getting ten friends to sponsor him for $20 each and more than make up for the check he couldn’t write to the Vet‘s Group. He generated a few flyers to put up around the office that simply said “Will Swim for Food,” and asked associates to sponsor his swim around the Wharf, in the dead-of-winter, without a wetsuit. He would have one friend, Neil Hooper, pilot for him in a kayak. That was the plan…

A few weeks before the swim he started doing acclimation swims to get used to the cold water. During these swims he was joined by friends Carter Potts, James Nagamine, and Nick Eisner. Good weather or bad, they would saunter forth into the cold water for 10 minute, then 20 minute, then 30 minute swims. They would spend more time waiting to stop shaking than they spent in the water. Regardless, they knew the actual swim was going to take between 35-40 minutes and this is what had to be done to get Nick ready.

During this time word of the swim was spreading and pledges started to come in, not just from associates at Plantronics, but from around the country; Virginia, Arizona, Florida, Southern California, and more. Nick had hoped to raise $200. Within three weeks he had raised $3200 and people started to say “You may be on to something.”

2010 entering waterGetting ready to “jump”

Although the swim started out as just Nick, he asked his training partners to do it with him. It had become more than just his swim. They were more than happy to join, and two other friends, Rich Larson and Myriam Scally came out as well. Along with them, long-time friend and local surfing/skateboarding legend, Mike Goldman, supported them on a Stand-Up Paddleboard to help Neil with the piloting.

The day of the swim couldn’t have been prettier. There was no wind, no surf, and the sun was out. Friends and family came to watch, as well as co-workers and representatives from Second Harvest. It was a magical day full of smiles and hugs. Rarely have people looked so forward to diving into 53° water for a mile swim.

The swim itself took about 38 minutes. Nick was the last swimmer to approach the shore and at about 100 yards out, all of his friends swam back out to him so they could all swim it in together. And that summed-up the spirit of this swim and this event. Nobody does this alone, whether it’s open-water swimming, or getting through life. We all need each other, and this is our way or giving back.

“Will Swim for Food 2011” saw dramatic growth. We had twenty swimmers who all committed to raising $300 each. We had medals made for us by Annieglass, and for the swimmer who raised the most money a hand knit Irish Fisherman’s Sweater, and bagpipes to lead the swimmers to the water. The swim raised $18,350 or over 70,000 meals.

For “Will Swim for Food 2012” we asked our 2011 swimmers to each invite a friend to join them so that we could grow the event slowly, ensuring we maintain the spirit of the event. We got what we asked for, 50 swimmerss, and we raised over $50,000. The biggest change was that each swimmer was able to designate the food bank of their choice to raise money for. We wrote checks for food banks from the East Coast to Hawaii.