“Let me make this very clear: The event is cancelled! Gone. Vacated. Void. There is no Aquathon today or any day. Go home!”

So began the 33rd annual kickoff of the Aquathon by event coordinator, Gary Cogorno, addressing the roughly 200 water-people assembled for the eight mile trek down the coast of Laguna Beach. As always, the proclamation that the event was off was immediately followed by raucous cheers from the crowd. In spite of the fact that the event has frequently been cancelled, it has not failed to take place for the past 32 years. This year was no exception with the non-event going ahead on Sunday, September 16 under sunny skies with balmy 72 degree ocean temperatures and pounding surf.

The Aquathon is a swim-walk (sometimes climb) that extends the entire coastline of Laguna Beach from tip to tip starting in Emerald Bay and ending in Three Arch Bay, or as far as one wishes to go. It has - or has not - taken place every year since it became a tradition in 1986 when four Emerald Bay residents thought it would be a hoot to snorkel the entirety of Laguna’s coastline cove-by-cove. Legend has it that there might have been some nude bathing beaches in those days, piquing their interest in this undertaking, but that is unproven. Giddy with what they discovered (hmmm), they decided to make it an annual event. In no time at all, the event grew to become a must-do outing for hearty adventure seekers.

It’s all about the experience; it is not a race. Even lifelong Laguna residents and avid beach-goers make astonishing discoveries along the way: secret tide pools, explosive blow holes that seem to be produced by some giant sea creature, hidden caverns and surging arches that chortle at anyone contemplating a short cut through their opening. Exclusive beaches are accessed, in spite of being protected, moat-like, by huge rock formations, that are otherwise only accessible via private staircases. Aquathoners have the privilege of taking in the sights of the stately homes that sit like sentinels over these clandestine slices of paradise.

Sunday’s huge swell added a high degree of excitement, along with an element of danger, to the task. Swimming onto the sand at Victoria Beach, for example, was analogous to being tossed into an immense cement mixer. Fortunately, fellow Aqua People fully embrace the challenges, forming a community of supporters, quick to lend a hand, contribute one of their fins, share hard-won advice and cheer each other on. In fact, many hands were lent on Sunday. At some points along the way, when fording a roiling pool or ascending a barnacle-covered bluff, each person would take a turn to pull or push the person in front or behind them to help them along and keep the procession moving. It is simply understood that everyone is there to assist their fellow trekkers.

The community of do-gooders does not end with the participants in the event. There is an extended group of folks who volunteer to record the event, provide snacks and refreshments along the way, offer first aid – cuts, scrapes and dehydration are par for the course - and cheer the group as they pass by. Beach-goers stop the Aquathoners to ask what they’re up to, typically followed by “That sounds so fun!” and then “You must be insane!” Both points are right on. What is indisputable, though, is there is not a person without a huge grin on their face. Speaking of helping out, the lifeguards were amazing! They were everywhere adding an extra set of hands, showing the best routes to take, zipping around on jet skis and making sure everyone arrived safely to their final destination for the day.

In this case, that final destination happened to be the newly-minted Lost Pier Café where the “Survivors Party” took place. Truth be known, it was the thought of a cold drink and juicy burger with fries that kept many of the participants moving in a southerly direction. There, over the consumption of much-needed calories, shared travails of the day and years past were exchanged, while people bonded over their mutual experience. Exhausted, wet, sunburned, scraped up and happy as clams.

One of the lesser known aspects of the Aquathon is that all proceeds go to benefit non-profit organizations. This year, nearly $5,000 will be presented to the Laguna Beach Ocean Lifeguard Foundation with the remainder going to benefit the Laguna Canyon Foundation, John Wayne Cancer Foundation and the Emerald Bay Community Association. See?  Aqua do-gooders doing even more good. You’ve got to love Laguna.