Meet Sunil Shah: Odyssey Swimmer Profile

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“There's something very surreal about being dropped into the sea under the Golden Gate Bridge at 4:30 in the morning and seeing the city wake up over the next few hours as you swim around it.” -- Sunil Shah

Sunil Shah was exposed to swimming at a young age due to his mother’s love for the sport. “I was a pretty non-athletic teenager but had decent technique, which used to surprise my classmates during swim class at school,” says Sunil. A dislocated shoulder at 16 put an end to his high school swim career, but Sunil wasn’t ready to give up on swimming for good.

“After moving to Berkeley from London, I'd heard about the famous Escape from Alcatraz triathlon and decided to enter the lottery on a whim. I was lucky enough to get a spot but entered without really understanding the full difficulty of the swim. After talking to a couple of triathlon coaches and experienced triathletes, I came away a little anxious about the event and got training!”

As he continued to prepare for the event, he came across Odyssey Open Water. “I was looking for ways to practice in open water,” says Sunil, who had spent nearly 10 years out of the water after his shoulder injury. “I started attending weekly Odyssey swims as part of my training,” he continues.

Sunil also signed up for an Odyssey Alcatraz swim to get a better feel for swimming from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

“The actual triathlon was on the 7th of June and somewhat disappointingly, the water was so calm that I may as well have been in a swimming pool! In any case, I finished without too much fuss and wrote up my experiences.”

The triathlon was over, but Sunil kept coming back to swim with Odyssey Open Water Swimming. He has now swum with Odyssey over 96 times according to his list of registration confirmation emails. “I'm now enjoying open water swimming enough that I'm considering signing up to swim the English Channel in a couple of years,” states Sunil.

Out of the Water

When he’s not swimming or training, Sunil is working at Yelp as an Engineering Manager. “Other than that, I foolishly signed up for the Whistler Ironman next year (my first Ironman and my first serious triathlon since 2015), so I'm spending most of my spare time either training or planning my training,” Sunil says.

Getting Started in the Open Water

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For those looking to start swimming in the open, Sunil recommends using earplugs and working on sighting. “Prescription goggles make sighting so much easier,” Sunil says. Sunil also cautions to not overthink swimming before getting in the water. “Just jump in, take a deep breath and get spinning :).”

When asked why he swims with Odyssey, Sunil says that it’s because of their friendly staff, the adventures, unique but safe experiences, and to see the San Francisco skyline. “I've also noticed that Odyssey seems a little friendlier than the groups that go out in San Francisco - where the swimmers tend to be more transient,” says Sunil.

Swim Day Routine

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We haven’t yet come across any two swimmers with the same pre and post-swim routine. For Sunil, he stays up late on Saturday’s hanging out with friends, sleeps in, and then “scrambles to get there on time.” After each swim, he stops at Bombay Spice House to “pick up some nice, warm chai (especially important from September to April!).” After his stop at the spice house, Sunil makes lunch and calls his parents in the UK via video chat.

Sunil’s favorite swim to date was a 6.2-mile journey, starting at the Golden Gate Bridge. “The 2015 Bridge to Bridge swim with Odyssey was pretty epic,” says Sunil.  

Asked what he still has to accomplish, Sunil says that he plans to:

  • Finish an Ironman (hopefully this year)

  • Swim the English Channel

  • Bike across the US

  • Bike the Colorado Trail

  • Run the Lewa Marathon

  • Bike from Seattle to San Francisco (“we did San Francisco to LA a few years ago”)

We’d like to thank Sunil for joining us swim after swim and for letting us pick his brain for this interview. Learn more about our weekly swims and sign up here.