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Clackamas Cove Cruise 2024 as a Baby Race Director

On June 15, 2024, 77 determined swimmers gathered at the scenic Oregon City Cove (aka Clackamas Cove) in Oregon City for a chilly open water swimming race. It was my first time as an official event director, and the first time hosting an event as Wild Waters. I originally agreed to host this event because my goal is to showcase the beauty of the PNW and its swimming holes. Other states and cities have become open water oases, and I think the Portland area could hold that title as well.


The event had two swimming events - the 4k and 2k - and 10 participants took on the challenge of competing in both. Despite the bipolar weather—shifting from warm, sunny spells to unexpected bouts of cold and pouring rain—76 out of 77 swimmers finished their races! One swimmer was pulled due to getting cold, which was completely expected given the 64 degree water and early-season race.


The success of the event hinged on the incredible support from volunteers. A total of 25 volunteers, including 12 paddlers and 13 on-land helpers, ensured the smooth operation of the race. The paddling volunteers played a crucial role in monitoring the swimmers' safety, while the on-land volunteers managed registration, provided hydration and nourishment, and facilitated logistics throughout the day. Their dedication and teamwork were pivotal in creating a seamless experience for all involved.


Location & Conditions

Oregon City proved to be a great host city, with two sponsors being local businesses, and many volunteers coming from around the area. Although the Cove itself has no amenities, the city of Oregon City graciously allowed us the use of a gravel lot as part of our rental costs, which allowed us to bring in portable toilets. They also approved adding carpet to the rocky bank and shoreline to prevent falls from swimmers and spectators.


The planning team and I will reevaluate whether mid-June is possible to put on next year's swim. This year, the water level was so low, the Seastrike, our rescue jetski, was barely able to make it into the Cove. In years past, the entrance to the cove from the Clackamas River was several feet deep even at its lowest, and lack of upkeep of the entrance, combined with silt deposits, has caused the entrance to be nearly impassable by most craft. This poses a serious risk for safety, as our emergency action plan hinged on being able to meet EMS at the closest boat ramp, just a half mile away from the Cove at the Clackamette Paddle Ramp. Losing the ability to transport a swimmer in distress to a location readily accessible by EMS is a major factor to consider in next year's logistics.


Additionally, the venue rental cost was a major factor in some of the planning decisions we made before the race. I've learned that Oregonians are notorious for signing up closer to the day of, waiting to see what the weather and conditions will be like before they commit. Given it was the first year of the race, I had a hard time deciding on how much to order of what, and what folks might need during the event. Until roughly 4 weeks from the event, we only had 25 people signed up, which made it difficult to pay deposits and order merchandise. I made the decision to give away stickers, versus caps or t-shirts, in order to keep registration low and still be able to cover the venue rental costs.


Budget

In the interest of transparency, I want to summarize the budget, in case anyone is looking to put on an event of their own and needs some starter numbers.


  • Total revenue from the event: $5010.00

  • The total cost to put on the event: $3,998.55

  • The $1k balance is going to be saved to use for venue costs for next year's event.


I was able to save about $440 by not using a registration vendor. I used a google form as registration, and only accepted Venmo and PayPal payments in tandem with the google form. This brought processing costs from 22% to 2.36%, which meant we kept more of each transaction for other event costs.


The top costs incurred for this event were:

  • Venue Rental: $500 deposit, $500 use cost

  • US Masters Swimming event fees: $965

  • Portable toilets: $580.00


Generous Sponsorship: Mesa Fresca and Two Rivers Mortgage

The event's success was further bolstered by the generous contributions of its sponsors. Mesa Fresca, known for its delicious and healthy Mexican cuisine, provided much-needed sustenance and energy to the volunteers, who arrived at 6 AM (and some even earlier!) to help set up and drop buoys. Two Rivers Mortgage, a trusted name in local home financing, offered financial support that also helped cover essential event costs. Nikole of Two Rivers Mortgage, on top of being our financial sponsor, also volunteered as a paddler, and even recruited two additional paddlers to ensure we had plenty of course coverage.


Why Wild Waters Hosted

Wild Waters has been my baby since last year, but before I started my small business, I dreamed of making Portland and the PNW a region where open water swimmers came to train, race, and adventure from all over the world. We have an incredible amount of water in and around Portland, and while some of it isn't accessible year-round, much of it is. We have ample cold water training opportunities, as well as resistance training in the rivers. In the summers, our alpine lakes become wondrous crystal clear pools where you can swim, paddle, hike, and camp just to soak up the sun. I already have some ideas for additional water-based events around the PNW, and am working with a few local government folks to see if they're interested.


Tough Decisions

There were a few race-day difficulties I experienced as a race director. The first was not understanding the plan for how swimmers would finish. When the referee and I talked it out, we had discussed using a deeper finish line to prevent swimmers from having to clamber out of the rocky shoreline quickly. The Cove has one protruding sandbar (originally a barge that was covered up by dirt and sand) that we used for start and finish, and I had staked down carpeting to try to prevent foot injuries. Due to the barge being directly under us, there were spots with metal pieces sticking out, and I did my best to cover them with carpet or more rocks. The referee determined the best course would be to have the swimmers' times finish as they stepped across the water line, causing quite a few people to have to crawl to stand up, and still have trouble exiting the water as they tried to "run" to the finish. In the future, the ideal finish will be an in-water finish between two buoys, with volunteers monitoring finishers with binoculars and numbers marked on caps.


The other conundrum was body marking. I elected to let swimmers wear their own caps, and use marker to mark hands or arms. That was confusing to finish officials and the referee, as each swimmer had different locations for body markings. Again, a numbered swim cap will likely be the future method.


One of the much earlier decisions that proved pivotal was whether to apply for US Masters Swimming sanction/backing. This was a point of contention because of USMS's strict requirements for the event, like requiring a host organization, member fees (or paying for swimmer one-day passes). Each of these factors raised the entry costs for the swim for all swimmers, with all paying an additional $5 USMS event fee, and for those needing a one-day USMS pass, an additional $20. There are other elements of USMS that made planning difficult, like requiring swimmers to select only Male or Female for registration, which made the event less inclusive than I was striving for. For future events, my goal is to work toward making each one as inclusive and with as few barriers to entry as possible.


Closing Ceremonies

One of the most fun ways to celebrate a swim is to swim more! A local synchronized swimming group, the Daughters of Triton, (some of whom volunteered and others swam in the event) performed to close out the Clackamas Cove Swim, and although it poured through part of their performance, folks stayed around to watch and cheer! It was a fantastic end to the event, and gave me a little time to tabulate the 2k results to announce prize winners.










Here's a snippet of the Daughters of Triton performance, which was amazing (and in the pouring rain)!



After the event, Sam (the safety director) and I went home and ate a leftover burrito in the driveway. We had 2 cars-worth of wet equipment and tents to unpack into the garage, hoping everything would dry quickly so we could dig ourselves out of the garage for work the next day.


We were both so tired, but it was well worth it!


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