Kostich pounds rivals in Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier Swim

Alex Kostich

Alex Kostich powers through the homestretch for a commanding win in the Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier Swim. Photo

When swimmer Alex Kostich hove into view of the Manhattan Beach Pier, he was so far ahead of his 1,000-plus competitors in the annual Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier 2 mile swim that spectators at the railing had trouble believing he was part of the race.

A tentative cheer went up as the blue cap and brown, pumping shoulders of Kostich drew closer.

“He’s not the leader!” a know-it-all bellowed, stifling the initial applause. The bellower theorized that the blue-capped swimmer was in the water training on his own, placing himself coincidentally near the race, which was part of the weekend-long International Surf Festival.

But when the 40-year-old Kostich pulled close enough for the onlookers to examine his powerful, gliding strokes, there could be no mistake.

Sunday morning’s two-mile race from the Hermosa Beach Pier would not feature a nip-and-tuck battle like the recent ones Kostich had waged with friendly rival Micah Carlson. This time Kostich rounded the Manhattan pier, strode out of the surf and crossed the sandy finish line in 38 minutes and 50 seconds, almost three minutes faster than Carlson’s 41:48 second-place finish.

Separate battle

Diane Graner-Gallas (bottom) slugs it out with Taylor Spivey (silver cap) before edging Spivey for the first-place women’s finish. Photo

Another Pier to Pier icon, Diane Graner-Gallas, 46, of Manhattan Beach, once again finished first among the women (and seventh overall) at 42:45.

Graner-Gallas, who has multiple Crum victories including one in which she beat all the men along with the women, battled neck-and-neck with Taylor Spivey, 19, of Redondo Beach, who finished second among women (and 10th overall) at 42:55.

On the way into shore, Graner-Gallas caught a wave that Spivey missed, and that was the difference, Spivey said.

“I was disappointed that I didn’t catch it,” she said.

Graner-Gallas, who has competed in the Pier-to-Pier since she was 14, has served as a willing mentor to Spivey, “like a coach,” the younger woman said.

Don’t look back

Kostich, of Los Angeles, attributed his speedy finish to favorable currents, a fast start that allowed him to pull clear of the congested pack, and a healthy respect for Carlson, of Carson, the 25-year-old lifeguard who Kostich expected to pop up at his shoulder at any moment.

“I never looked back,” Kostich said. “Things can change, so you don’t want to let up.”

In addition, a competitor could be close by and still be overlooked by a quick over-the-shoulder glance, Kostich said.

Kostich was surprised at his fast start. He said he lacks the foot speed normally required for the race’s sandy beginning, and he runs conservatively on top of that.

“I don’t want to get elbowed and get hurt,” he said. “One year I twisted my ankle, and I’ve seen people get trampled.”

This year Kostich got free of the pack right away, and was not forced to use extra energy passing other swimmers.

“For some reason I got out like a slingshot,” he said.

As Kostich spoke to reporters and well-wishers on the sand, a smiling Carlson walked up. He asked for Kostich’s winning time, and reacted by bending his knees and arching his body backwards, in a spontaneous pantomime of being blown away.

“You left me like I was standing still,” Carlson laughed. “You were just a blur.”

Kostich sportingly pointed to two advantages he believed he had over Carlson: a skin-tight “tech suit” he wore instead of the traditional shorts, and the rest he got the day before, while Carlson was burning energy competing in Taplin Bell lifeguard competition the previous evening.

Carlson would have none of it.

“Naw, don’t let him tell you that,” he said. “This guy is great.”

Pier to Pier organizers have banned wetsuits, but not the light, hi-tech, sleeveless competition suits. Kostich said he was beaten in a recent ocean race by a swimmer in a tech suit, and determined not to let it happen in Hermosa.

Top competitors say the Crum race is similar to a 5K run, a two-mile “aggressive sprint” in the words of Kostich. Both men, along with the two top women finishers, train in pools.

Kostich, who works a day job marketing Sony movies overseas, competes in numerous ocean swims. Carlson competes in lifeguard competitions, and considers the swim-paddle-surf ski medley his best event, along with the Crum swim, which is not a lifeguard-only event.

Style points

Kostich and Carlson provide a contrast in styles and strategies. Kostich says he needs to beat Carlson in the open water, because if the two are neck-in-neck as they struggle to the shore, Carlson will win the day with his supremacy in the shallows and his greater foot speed in the sand.

In addition, Kostich is among the Crum swimmers who take a wide line during the north-to-south swim. He stays somewhat west of the Manhattan pier, which the swimmers must round before heading for shore. He figures the currents will pull him toward the shore, and swimmers trying for a straight line from pier to pier will be tricked into following the inland bend of the shoreline, which will leave them wasting energy to get back to the outside.

Carlson, on the other hand, is a straight-line swimmer.

“The race is long enough,” he said. “I don’t want to add any distance to it.”

Neither method has proven itself clearly superior, and each man has multiple victories on his side.

Kostich is also among those who like to draft a couple inches behind the feet of another swimmer to save energy.

“I’m notorious for it,” he said with another broad grin.


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