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Newport Beach Lifeguard Conquers Catalina Channel

Clay Rinker swims the Catalina Channel in just over 10 hours.

He's seen the Catalina Channel in the distance for seven years while working as a Newport Beach lifeguard. Now Clay Rinker can brag that he successfully swam it.

Rinker, a Huntington Beach resident, began his long-distance swim at 12:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 19. He swam about 22.5 miles from the west end of Catalina Island to Palos Verdes. It took Clay 10 hours and 51 minutes to complete the swim; he had to swim six hours in the dark.

"The island was something I have always looked at," Rinker said. "I had the time and available resources to do it, and so I just made it a goal of mine."

To prepare for the swim, Rinker began training in May, swimming about 40,000 yards a week, doing night swims and undergoing other training exercises. But all of his training could not prepare him for what happened about an hour and a half into the swim.

"I started throwing up, and I vomited for about 45 minutes," he said. "I knew if I kept throwing up, I didn't know how much longer I could handle it, especially because the water got very choppy."

Rinker was able to continue his swim and was accompanied in the water by a boat and a kayaker to help him navigate. At one point he was blown off course by a west swell and wind and also came within 100 feet of a passing freighter. 

"It was hard to be in the water that long. I really had to keep good spirits the whole time," Rinker said. "It wasn't something I wasn't going to quit on. I gave it my best."

Despite the challenges he encountered, Rinker swam the channel, achieving one of his life goals. In addition to his training, Rinker credits his Boy Scout training and lifeguard experience with helping him complete the swim.

"I hugged my mom and my dad; they were waiting for me at the end, and it felt so good to get it done," Rinker said.

Rinker is believed to be the 200th person to complete the Catalina Channel swim and the second Newport Beach lifeguard to have achieve  the feat.

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