Long-distance swimmer makes historic journey from Tacoma to Seattle waters

As sun glinted off the water at Jack Hyde Park, Andrew Malinak spun around in his hot pink swimsuit so fellow marathon swimmer Elaine Howley could slather on more sunblock.

Minutes away from attempting a historic 18.8-mile swim from Tacoma to West Seattle’s Lincoln Park on Saturday morning, the Seattle resident was feeling confident.

“Conditions are beautiful,” Malinak said. “The water’s completely flat right now. This is as good as it ever gets.”

As good as it gets got even better when Malinak, 27, finished the swim a little before 6 p.m.

Everything went according to plan, he said.

“It worked out exactly as I hoped,” he said. “It was really successful.”

Malinak said he was pretty tired, and really hungry, at the end of it.

But he had enough energy to slip down the water slide into Colman Pool at Lincoln Park immediately after stepping out of the water.

Malinak has dubbed his effort “The Return of Bert Thomas Swim” in honor of the notable long-distance swimmer from Tacoma who accomplished the feat in the reverse direction on his third try in May 1956, the only person known to do so.

“It’s fitting; it’s his swim. He’s the first person to do this,” Malinak said. “That’s kind of what got me excited about this. It’s a cool swim to begin with, but to follow in his waves, or steps … he was one of the legendary swimmers of that era.”

Thomas, a strapping 275-pound Marine who fought in World War II, was also the first person recorded to have swam across the Strait of Juan De Fuca. He completed the 18.3-mile crossing without a wetsuit in just over 11 hours on July 8, 1955.

That’s next on Malinak’s to-do list for later this year. His attempt in 2013 is the only long-distance swim he had to abandon.

“It still haunts me,” Malinak said.

To prepare for Saturday’s cold water and long distance, Malinak trained since December at Alki Beach in West Seattle. He followed Marathon Swimming Federation rules for unassisted swims — no wetsuit or outside assistance.

Malinak began swimming marathon distances about six years ago and within three years accomplished his first major goal — circumnavigating 28.5 miles around Manhattan.

He was hooked.

“At the end of it I realized I really liked it,” Malinak said. “I really liked being able to push myself farther. And in this one I’m going to push myself colder. Just seeing where I can make my body go.”

At least Malinak wasn’t battered by the high winds and tides Thomas encountered on his swim, which took nearly 16 hours. Still, there are always unforeseen factors and Malinak was considering several of them before he left Tacoma.

“My shoulder’s been hurting, but what worries me more is missing a current, having a wind pop up somewhere, and there have been reports of orca activity in the Narrows. There’s lots of variables you can never predict. I could get eaten by an orca.”

“It’s unlikely, but it could happen,” Howley teased.

All joking aside, Malinak said he was confident he would follow Bert Thomas’ historical wake.

“With conditions like this and with the crew I have, it’s going to be a good day.”

Staff writer Kari Plog contribued to this report.