The Brave People Who Swim in the Bay (for Fun)
By Aeschleah DeMartino
One chilly San Francisco evening, a friend invited me to dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf. She wouldn't tell me exactly where we were going; it was a surprise, she said. Naturally, before arriving at the unidentified Jefferson Street address, I was expecting my food to be served out of a bread bowl, in a jungle-themed restaurant, or by a waiter who looked like Buddy Holly. But it was none of these things.
The Dolphin Club is an athletic organization founded back in 1877, where every day, rain or shine, about 200 people stroll in to swim in the frigid San Francisco Bay. When I arrived, there were about 20 people congregated in the kitchen cracking jokes and prepping for the club's weekly potluck dinner. My friend and I clearly stood out from the group as “the new kids.” And by kids, I mean we could have easily been the children (or grandchildren) of these folks. Never underestimate the older lady walking around the south end of Fisherman’s Wharf – she could likely be on her way to battle the current in 50˚ water.
The clubhouse itself is amazing; a glaring anomaly within SF’s most touristy neighborhood. The floor-to-ceiling mahogany-stained walls are lined with hundreds of black-and-white portraits of the Dolphin Club's life members. When the club first opened its doors 137 years ago, membership was limited to 25. Today, there are over 1,300 members, and with a newly signed 24-year lease, we can rest assured that this SF gem will be around for a couple more decades. I know I’ll be there documenting these tenacious swimmers until I gain the courage to join them.