Swimmers Make Big Splash in Wrightsville Beach Pier to Pier Swim

IMG_0006 This morning was the 10th annual Pier-2-Pier swim at Wrightsville Beach and my husband, kids and I had the opportunity to witness the event first hand.  As the event began at 9 a.m., it meant leaving our home in central North Carolina around 6:30 a.m., a challenge but well worth the sacrifice.

Wrightsville is a small but bustling beach town just outside of Wilmington, NC and is a relatively short 2-hour drive from Raleigh. A popular spot for students at UNC Wilmington and for day-trippers, Wrightsville features the intracoastal waterway filled with gorgeous sailboats and pleasure cruisers, plenty of Coastal Living-worthy homes, and is populated by a handful of hotels mixed among beach cottages that have been there for decades.   Parking can be a challenge in the summer months and the area can be a bit congested, but it’s one of our favorite spots.

A few months ago, we were passing through Wrightsville during a weekend trip to the coast and found ourselves standing upon the Johnny Mercer fishing pier, looking down toward the Oceanic fishing pier to the south, and discussing the swim.  My husband had spent all of his childhood summers at the beach in Maryland and was well-used to open water swimming, though it had been a while since he’d done any seeing as how we live TOO FAR AWAY FROM THE OCEAN!  I spent lots of time at the beach, too, but have only learned to swim well in the last four years, and I get pretty freaked out in open water (unless I have a dive tank strapped to my back which is a different experience entirely).  I nearly hyperventilated during a 6oo yard swim in Falls Lake a few years back.

Anyway, we’d heard about the swim and he’d felt pretty confident he could do it until we actually stood on the pier and saw how far it seemed to be.  We decided it would be best to observe the swim event in action before committing to participating in it ourselves, which is how we found ourselves at the beach this morning.  Well, that and the fact that it coincided nicely with an already planned trip.

We left the Raleigh area early and drove through two hours of fog and mist, certain the swim would be cancelled due to weather.  But upon arriving in Wrightsville, the skies cleared, Starbucks salted caramel mocha was purchased in the Landfall shopping center, and on we went over the causeway to the beach, welcomed by beautiful sunny skies.  It was a perfect morning.  After some amount of kibitzing about which pier we should park near, some more kibitzing about where the darn pier even was (embarrassing – we really should know based on how many times we’ve been to Wrightsville, but we’d been up since 5 a.m. so …) we found a spot near the Oceanic (or Crystal) Pier, scrounged some coins for the meter (not enough as it turns out), and headed over to the sand.

Our timing was perfect.  There were 400 or so swimmers crowded around the guard stand closest to the pier, all wearing pink caps, as the announcer led the National Anthem and got everyone started off.


A sea of pink caps awaits the start of the swim.

And then they went – some running, some walking – to the water, a mad splashing fury of arms and hands and legs that resembled a school of bait fish shining in the water.


And they’re off


Swimmers enter the rolling surf and head off on their swim.










We, along with every other spectator, walked along the beach, following the swimmers as they made their way down the roughly 1.7 mile course toward the Johnny Mercer pier.  We discussed their progress, remarked on their strokes, noted how many of the swimmers occasionally took a break and swam breast stroke until they caught their breath, and talked about whether we felt it was something we could do next year.   We observed all of the lifeguards that were out and about, on paddle boards, jet skis, boats and land, to ensure none of the swimmers got into trouble, and we commented on the routes the different swimmers took – either middle of the pack, close to shore, or way out in the ocean.  It took a half an hour to reach the other pier, a hot, humid, sticky walk that took forever and made us wish we had worn our bathing suits so we could cool off.  As we approached the finish line, we saw the first swimmers making their way out of the water and we cheered them all on as they exited in waves (pardon the pun).

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When most of the swimmers had finished, we turned and headed back.  An hour and a half into the race, there were still stragglers making their way up the coast toward the pier and we gave them credit for hanging in there to finish.  Beachgoers had set up their chairs and umbrellas for the day, the excitement was over, and it was business as usual.  We headed back to our truck, relieved that it was still there (we knew we were well beyond our time limit on the meter), and pocketed the $35 parking ticket in the center console.   Doh!  Next year, if we actually participate in the race, we’ll have to find a better parking spot.

The Pier-2-Pier swim, hosted by the Cape Fear Aquatics Club and the Wilmington Family YMCA, is held annually at Wrightsville Beach.  Organized by Setup Events, the starting point is determined the day of the race, based on the prevailing current and the race began this year around 9 a.m.  Participants must be at least 11 years old. Cost is from $40 – $55 depending on when you register.  The event is not wetsuit legal.  For more information, check out http://www.pier-2-pier.com and Setup Events





Categories: Places to See in NC

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