Gabriel Nivera

Pictures & Conversations

A collection of images and the stories behind their creation.

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove, California USA (intend.full.moved)

I love waking up early to watch the sunrise, especially a sunrise over the water.  People will often ask me why I bother and why don’t I "just watch sunset - you don’t have to get up when it is still dark.”  Sunrises and sunsets are of course inherently different - if you have watched a few in your life you would know.  I do prefer the softer light, the more muted colours, the mist hanging low and burning off; but my favourite thing about sunrise, is the solitude.  Most of the time you are the only person out that early - the world is performing a glorious dance of light and shadow just for you.  As I enjoyed the sunrise at La Jolla Cove, out of the corner of my eye I spied a group of men donned in full swimming gear. They were wading into the shoreline, their shapes silhouetted by the warm morning light.  This piqued my interest and I ran over with my camera as fast as I could to investigate.

That’s how I met Robb, Mark, Steve, & David.  Members of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club (  By the time I had reached them to ask if I could take their photographs, they were already knee deep in water. So in I went.  The water at the time was a chilly 14 degrees Celsius / 58 degrees Fahrenheit.  They were about to start their daily swim, a 1-1.5 mile/ 1.6-2.4 km, out and back from the cove.  At 0555 in the morning, the water, while absolutely gorgeous to look at did not look inviting to swim in at all. Yet these 4 men were ready to jump in.  Robb explained that this year they are completing a challenge for their swim club, called the “Big Chill Challenge". “Where members of the club track their miles and submit it to Mr. Chill who adds them all up and see what landmark we swam to on the globe. The goal of the Big Chill is to get as many miles as you can as a club. There are mileage milestones; 25, 50 and 100 miles. in years past the club gave t-shirts to swimmers who swam more than 25 miles, a patch to the 50+ mile swimmers, and a badge for 100+ mile swimmers.”  Mark does about 250 miles year, and Robb 150.

I asked Mark and Robb to give me a little background about themselves, I was truly interested in what kind of people would willingly do this day in and day out (including weekends), for T-shirts, patches, and badges.  Mark and Robb live across each other and are both East coast transplants; Mark from South Carolina and Robb from Maine, both are triathletes when they aren't at their day jobs as an attorney & creative director. Mark started swimming 7 years ago, out of the cove 5 years ago to improve his open water technique portion of triathlon. Robb started 2 years ago and it is his first winter swimming out of the cove.  As an observer, my main concern was, how safe could this be?  There were no life guards on duty when the guys were going out.  They just had themselves to look out for each outher.  I asked the guys about any close calls they may have had;  Robb shared his experience last Black Friday, “...this year was by far the scariest swim for me. It was high tide, the frequency of the waves was high and the size of the waves were really big. We got in during a lull in the set and within a minute we were hit with another big set and even one of the strongest swimmers, Steve, turned around and started swimming in. It was the first time I truly thought I was going to drown.”   On the morning I was there watching them, the waves were particularly aggressive. I was able to witness Mark get pushed back to shore by a set of waves that he was not able to break through.  It occurred to me, that it wasn’t enough to be a strong swimmer to do this - you also needed to be aware when you needed to tap out and call it a day.  As much as it is about pushing your physical limitations to get better, it’s also about recognizing when you are at your limit, and respecting the ocean.  That morning, discretion was the better part of valour.  However it’s not all close calls and danger - Mark recalls an amusing incident with one of La Jolla Cove’s other locals.  "I was swimming by myself one year when a sealion snuck up behind me and scared the snot out of me.  I think he just wanted to play tag or chase or whatever.  Did not see that coming.”

Thankfully for me the biggest threat I would face that day was an errant wave that claimed my iPhone that I had carelessly left in my pocket.  I photographed the guys for a few more minutes, but as the sunrise faded away and the light turned more direct and harsh, I knew that magical moment was over.  I was glad the guys let me peek into their fun and exciting world even if just for a brief moment…after all they don’t have any time to waste - after their swims are done it's off to the office.