History of the Labor Day Pier Swim


People have been filing into the beach side town of Oceanside, California since someone realized that the combination of great weather, better swells and a small town feel made the perfect spot to relax. However, when the first Oceanside Pier was built in 1888 there was actually a destination to drive to and people were able to claim “I’m hanging out by the pier” and “Meet me down by the pier after work.” While the original Oceanside Pier has since been lost in storms, rebuilt, re modeled and re built again, the legendary pier is still the heart of Oceanside and the place where people can come together to remember to live in a time where the ocean waves dictate life and relaxation is not recommended, but mandatory. While the pier is always bustling, no time of year is more busy than Labor Day. Not only is Labor Day a continental excuse to sit on a beach, it is also the day that the longest annual rough water swim, the Labor Day Pier Swim, takes place in Oceanside.

The Labor Day Pier Swim began in 1929 and has continued each year since then. However, the main focal point of the swim, the pier, has changed immensely in those years. The pier that swimmers swam around in 1929 was the fourth pier to be built and the first one to extend to the present 1,900 feet into the ocean, and was located where the present day pier stands. This pier was damaged by a terrible storm in 1942 which  led to the creation of the fifth pier. The sixth pier, which still stands today, was finished in 1987. It remains to this day the longest pier on the West Coast. Presently, when one swims around the pier it is not uncommon to see the history of the old pier layering the ground on the North side of the pier. Wooden planks and more lay beneath the ocean surface and allow a distraction from searching the sea floor for sharks, a common past time of pier swimmers.

The Pier Swim opens with swimmers diving into the surf, circles one mile around the pier and ultimately ends with swimmers riding waves onto the beach and dashing towards a finish line on the sand. Not much has changed in the years since it began, it is still an excuse to gather some of the most hardcore swimmers in the country, and even Canada, together to compete. The Pier Swim has transferred from being a fundraiser for the City of Oceanside itself to being the main fundraiser for the Oceanside Swim Club. A non-profit organization and competitive swim team for children 5-18 years of age. However, many benefit off of this annual swim. Vendors are able to sell in the Pier Amphitheater on the day of the swim and reach a massive athletic audience in one location. Sponsors of the Pier Swim are able to have their name and/or logo on flyers, t-shirts, coupons in grab bags or even on each swimmers caps. Lastly, the city itself is gaining 300-500 competitors and their families for the weekend, which boosts restaurant sales, shop visits, and overall city appreciation by others.

However, we cannot forget the core value of the Pier Swim, the actual swim. The swim allows children over 12 to participate and has swimmers in their twilight years, 70s and 80s. The mile can be enjoyed by all and is dreaded by others coerced into doing it with friends. However, one thing is true, after one time it is hard to stay away from the friendly competition that the Pier Swim brings annually to Oceanside’s shores. The one mile itself is not that long, especially as far as open water swims go, however with the close proximity of the swimmers and their want to take the quickest path around the pier, collisions do not just happen occasionally, they are another part of the race, which has lifeguards stationed around the perimeter.

An irony of the Pier Swim is the perpetually unusual cloudy weather on the day of, which leads to cooler water, and in later years the addition of a wet suit tradition.

The Labor Day Pier Swim is as much apart of Oceanside as the Top Gun house, San Luis Rey Mission, Camp Pendleton and Pacific Coast Highway. It is prolific and has shown to have longevity even throughout years in which the whole country was struggling. The Pier Swim has, and always will, remain a Labor Day tradition.