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Ocean swimming off Sidney gives Greater Victoria man whale of a time

Mark Adamson had a close encounter with an orca last year during one of his weekly swims
Mark Adamson, here seen off Sidney’s Lochside Drive, has been swimming in the ocean since last July at least once a week. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Not a small number of Greater Victoria residents use the new year to make a symbolic fresh start by plunging themselves into the cold waters of the Pacific.

While impressive, their feats are far less chilling than those of Mark Adamson, who has made ocean swimming a weekly routine since last summer, with some unusual experiences along the way, including an encounter with an orca.

“I started last year (in July) and I have done it all year round,” he said as he emerged from the water just off Sidney’s Lochside Drive Wednesday evening with the last rays of the sun bouncing off Mount Baker in the background. “Boxing Day was the worst — it was -7 C.”

So how cold was the water, asked one bystander watching Adamson come out of the water, as another confused him with a seal. “I try to swim until it doesn’t feel cold anymore,” he said. “The water is always a little bit warmer on this side of the Island.”

Adamson, who owns an award-winning tattoo shop on Victoria’s Cook Street with a girlfriend, said he became interested in ocean-swimming through his related pursuit of free-diving off Victoria’s Breakwater area.

RELATED: Video: Orcas swimming in Comox Marina

While free-diving near Victoria, he saw another man swimming. “I’m like, ‘that looks awfully cold,’” he said. “So I took my wetsuit off and jumped in and it actually wasn’t that bad. So I figured I would try it for a year. It’s coming up to a year and I have gone pretty much every week.”

This routine, which sometimes includes two or more swims per week, took some adjustment. But Adamson soon got used to it and had some interesting experiences along the way, especially the night of Aug. 21 when he was swimming near Sidney.

“It was a beautiful night. The sun had just gone down and the water was really smooth. A seal popped up and I was kind of talking to it,” he said.

All of a sudden, Adamson heard a splash and the seal disappeared in an instant. “And I moved to see what made the splash,” he said. “I could see the water move, but didn’t see what it was.” Adamson’s initial bet was on a sea lion based on the size of the splash. “So I was watching where it came from and all of the sudden, I saw a dorsal fin come up. It was a killer whale.”

Not surprisingly, Adamson left the area. “It was probably a lot farther out,” he said. People watching from the shore then told him that three orcas were passing through the area where he was swimming. “I swam back here and there was a guy at the beach who asked, ‘How was that?’ I said, ‘It was terrifying, but kind of cool.’”

So why does Adamson regularly expose himself to cold water and, on one occasion, to predatory animals?

“It keeps me in shape,” he said with a twinkle. “It keeps me out of the bar.”

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