Swimming competitively since age 7 and surfing since 10, Laguna Beach native and Dallas, Texas resident Steve Gleason hopes to one day be the Ocean Festival’s oldest competitor. Photos courtesy of Steve Gleason.
Swimming competitively since age 7 and surfing since 10, Laguna Beach native and Dallas, Texas resident Steve Gleason hopes to one day be the Ocean Festival’s oldest competitor. Photos courtesy of Steve Gleason.

By Andrea Papagianis-Camacho

Steve Gleason can’t stay away from the water.

The Laguna Beach native began swimming competitively at 7 years old. More than 50 years later, at the age of 65, he’s still suiting up for races across the country. His top contest: San Clemente’s Ocean Festival.

Gleason, who now resides in Dallas, Texas, started masters swimming almost 20 years ago. In the ’90s and living in Thousand Oaks, Calif., he competed in the Bud Light series ocean water swims up and down the coast. He discovered Ocean Festival by word of mouth in the early 2000s and has been an unwavering contender each year since—even with roughly 1,400 miles between his current home and San Clemente.

Sunday is his day. Gleason competes in everything from the morning’s 5K beach run and biathlon to the afternoon one-mile ocean swim, run-swim-run and Splash & Dash Relay.

“It (Ocean Festival) is awesome,” Gleason said. “I love the whole event. The general attitude of the event, the competitors and volunteers. They are super helpful and excited. And they are into it.”

Gleason said the encouragement contestants receive from volunteers, young and old, is unmatched. That support, along with dory boat races, woodie car displays and kids races, make Ocean Festival his favorite.

Aside from Ocean Festival, Gleason competes in open water and pool contests coast to coast, including: the Newport Pier to Pier Swim, U.S. Masters Swimming National Championship, La Jolla Rough Water Swim and World Bodysurfing Championship—the latter he won in the 55-64 age category in 2007.

His six decades in the water started with a little brotherly love.

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“My brother is five years older than me and I can remember, at 4 or 5 years old, him telling me to jump off the board. I jumped into the pool, he caught me and I just loved the water,” Gleason said.

He was hooked. A former pastor and two-decade car industry veteran, Steve hopes to continue competing long enough to become the Ocean Festival’s oldest competitor.

When he hits the beach, Gleason will be surrounded by his wife, kids and sister. The older brother, Tony, who got him comfortable in the water then on a surfboard at 10 years old will be cheering him on too.

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