High Tide Club: Not Just Another Day At The Beach

Winter is here — with a vengeance. On the coldest day of the year, you and I think of crackling fires and hot chocolate.

Meanwhile, a group of 90-something Westporters warm themselves with a video about braving the Burying Hill rocks to swim every day — most of the year — at high tide.

What makes this especially noteworthy is that “90-something” refers not to how many people join the High Tide Club. There are just a dozen or so.

Nope — it’s their age. Many are nearly a century old — and still swimming.

The group was recently immortalized in a video by Howard Friedman. I started watching with an “oh no” feeling. I ended with a heartfelt “oh yeah!

I was inspired by the lively, energetic attitude of the High Tide Club. Their long lives have been filled with ups and downs. But the joy with which they approach each day at the beach made me want to join them as soon as I can.

Except I don’t think I’m worthy.

Vidal Clay is one of the swimmers. Now 91, she was widowed as a young World War II mother, with 2 babies. She remarried — but her 2nd husband died of a heart attack at 43.

Forced to raise his, her and their children — some were “birth control failures,” she laughs — she went back to school.

When she discovered Long Island Sound, she says, it was “heaven.”

Vidal Clay

Vidal Clay

Lucia White is also 91. She was a pioneering woman in the New York advertising world, then moved to Harper’s Bazaar. In 1952 she got sick of the city, and took her mother’s advice to start her own studio in Westport.

Through a series of coincidences, Lucia met Isabel Gordon. She’s now 98. Back then they’d walk along Burying Hill — to the onion farms nearby — and swim every day at high tide.

Rita Adams learned to swim in her native Bavaria. She became a showgirl in New York and Las Vegas. When she and her new husband, Dick, were ready to settle down, they came to Westport.

After decades here — and years in the High Tide Club — she feels like “a fish or a mermaid.” One of the highlights of the video shows her slowly making her way into the Sound — then casting aside her walker, to float buoyantly in the water.

Burying Hill

Those women — along with others, like Micki Magidson — invited Mari Meehan to join them in 1992. She, and other relative youngsters like Gesa Taranko, form their summer (and spring and fall) days around the high tides.

They schedule doctor’s appointments at low tide. “This is our medicine,” one says.

They celebrate birthdays together. They hold impromptu picnics. They support each other through illnesses, deaths of loved ones and everything else that happens in life when you’re 70, 80, 91 or 98 years old.

Mortality rates are stacked against us men, but there are a few guys in the club. Malcolm Watson notes that some of the women’s spouses were not swimmers, “and they’re not here today.”

The women (and few men) in the High Tide Club won’t live forever either.

But they’re already looking ahead to the first nice day of spring.

(Hat tip to Patty McQuone)


18 responses to “High Tide Club: Not Just Another Day At The Beach

  1. What a wonderful story! Thanks, Dan, for sharing. What stories these sweet swimmers must have to share about the “old” Westport…

  2. Susan Teicher

    What a glorious way to start my day! I must show this to my parents, both in their 90’s. Thank you.

  3. Inspiring! I love it! (but the thought of the water right now makes me shiver uncontrollably)

  4. Claudia Schattman

    Can’t wait to see the video! Our son, a summer lifeguard, wrote a college essay about the High Tide Club! He was very inspired by the mostly women Club.

  5. In a word, “OMG!” 😉

    In another word, “thank you” for sharing such a wonderful story, Dan…ah, to live by the tide of the moon and to do so so graciously — and SUCCESSFULLY! I’d love to see that video!

  6. Roberta tager

    These women are our light houses . They have great wisdom through courage and soulful guidance. It would be good to listen to them …😄

  7. Jill Turner Odice

    I would also love to see the video! These folks are an inspiration

  8. Loretta Santella Hallock

    I am so inspired by these ladies. I have also met a great group of ladies at The Treasure House in Norwalk. Many of them are 80 plus and and have volunteered for over 30 years. (The Treasure House is a thrift shop and all the profits go to the Norwalk Hospital.)

  9. My grandmother swam at Burying Hill until she was in her early nineties, and I used to go with her as a teenager…as someone who grew up on Compo Beach, I came to appreciate why ‘her’ beach was perfect for swimming, especially at High Tide…and to understand why my mother and aunt (and then I) were so drawn to the salt water and sand…another wonderful legacy of life in Westport…

  10. Total joy! What amazing women. Thank you Dan for posting this inspiring video.

  11. Really wonderful and worth sharing.

  12. Judy Kelhoffer

    God Bless them:)

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this short film. I love these women, and am grateful to have been able to meet them through this beautiful piece. Lovely music as well

  14. Hi Dan,

    I really wanted to see this video – is there a reason you didn’t include a link? I went to vimeo and don’t see it. Thanks in advance for any tips on how to find it.

    Leigh Gage

  15. Claire Curtis

    My Dad, Bob Curtis, was a loyal member of the High Tide Club. This last year, he wasn’t driving, but whenever I was there I would take him down to the beach. He wasn’t always up for swimming, but he liked to watch the water and the birds, and converse with the other High Tiders. You couldn’t ask for a better group of people. Dad’s in the video at about the 18:22 and 20:53 marks, at Mary Anne’s birthday party — he’s the one in a checked shirt. He passed away just before Thanksgiving, age 96.