Photograph by Gregg Segal
The sharks would discourage most people. Or the temperatures so cold, it takes two hours to get the feeling back in your toes. Or the days when the wind is whipping up the water, and you can’t see in front of you. Open water swimming tests you, but Balbas is so hooked after two years (he’s had a dream since childhood of crossing the Straits of Gibraltar) that he goes out three mornings a week, at least a mile each time, all year round. Some days, the sun is just coming up when the CSUN math professor departs with his training group from the Temescal jetty or the Gladstones lot in Pacific Palisades, and the breaking light is part of the joy. And the buoyancy, like being reborn, and the views nobody else sees of the Getty Villa glinting from the hilltop. Then there was the seal that rubbed against his feet and popped up at his side, practically giving him a wink and a nod. Back on shore, Balbas pulls off his wet suit and brings out two jugs of hot water from his car, improvising a shower before heading to the office. He thinks about the sharks now and again. Then forgets about them. After all, “more people die every year from being electrocuted by a toaster,” he says. For more on open water swimming, go to pacificopenwater.com.