Eight Decades of Embracing the Velvety Ocean

A euphoric feeling rolled over Diane Sanson like a wave when she stepped from Little Dume Beach and into the Pacific Ocean to begin a swim on Aug. 29. 

“It felt exhilarating, memorable and special,” she said. 

Sanson, a retired family therapist who grew up on Point Dume, wasn’t just going for any ocean dip. The lifelong swimmer was at the start of an activity she has done numerous times before—a swim from the beach to the Paradise Cove Pier—but last month, the journey, around a mile long, was a bit more meaningful. Sanson was passing a milestone—she accomplished the task in celebration of her 80th birthday.

“It felt wonderful,” Sanson, whose birthday was two days before the nautical jaunt, said. “The ocean is velvety. I’m an ocean girl. I’ve been an ocean girl all my life.” 

The Malibuite, who also lives in Ventura part-time, didn’t complete the ocean exercise alone. 

Sanson was joined by over two dozen friends and family members, many of whom have completed the swim with her before. 


Sanson’s sons Kai and Brett paddled on surfboards with her grandchildren, five-year-old Nikko and four-year-old Merrick, while the new octogenarian’s other grandkids, Milana, 10, and Jax, 7, paddled themselves on surfboards to the pier for the first time.  

Everyone else, a group of locals and friendly swimmers from Ventura, made swimming ripples with the birthday girl in the water. The Malibuites included Alex Von Furstenberg, Cameron Farrer, Dave Anawalt, Jenny Pietro, Kelly Meyers, Kevin Hanna, Skylar Peak, Nicole McGinley, Polly Schreiber, Tim Corliss,  couple Jeff and Shanti Louks, and father and daughter pair Jeff and Emma Fleeher. The group from Ventura, who often make waves around the Ventura Pier, included Michele Boroski, Susan Czajkowski, Johanna Gabbard, Lori Hall, Elizabeth Reyes and Steve White. 

Brendon O’Neal paddled along with the group to take pictures. 

Sanson and many members of the bunch have completed the beach-to-pier swim once a year for a decade now. She said accomplishing the task with the group in celebration of her eighth decade was a great feeling. 

“It means so much more than a lunch and a glass of wine,” Sanson said. “We are in Mother Ocean—our beautiful ocean. We swim out there and it is not easy to swim a mile. We all accomplished it. It meant so much to me to celebrate with my friends.”

Sanson’s longtime swimming buddy, Toby Schreiber, also attended the birthday swim but didn’t hop in the water. The 95-year-old, an experienced free diver, has taken part in the beach to pier activity nearly every year.

Sanson said Schreiber is a special lady who encouraged her to do the swim. 

“She had been swimming at Point Dume until last year,” Sanson said of Schreiber. “We have been swimming together forever. She was happy to be there to celebrate my 80th birthday.” 

In a write-up describing the swim, Brett said the swim was designed to celebrate health and friendship and was a challenge for swimmers of all ages. He said the faster swimmers waited for the slower ones and cheered them on. 

“Mother Ocean cooperated this amazing morning and offered a flat and warm swim to Paradise Cove Pier,” Brett wrote. 

Brett’s mother trained for the beach to pier swim for two months. She wanted to complete the enterprise for her birthday to prove she could still handle her own in water she has paddled and stroked through all her life. Plus, doing something monumental for a decade birthday is nothing new to Sanson. 

She climbed Mount Whitney to mark her 70th birthday. For her birthday 10 years earlier, Sanson swam in the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, a swim of just over two miles that is known as one of the top 100 open water swimming races on the planet. Sanson has also checked swimming with dolphins and whales in the wild off her to-do list.

Brett said he and Kai credit their mother’s “strength and vitality” to why ocean swimming is one of her passions.

After the birthday swim, Sanson and her group munched on a meal prepared by Oren Zroya, a well-known private chef, that included salmon and vegetables. Von Furstenberg organized the lunch. 

Sanson said the feast was elegant. 

“We usually have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” she noted. “We were starving, so it was nice to come home to a nice lunch.”

She said she hoped she inspires others to do something special for their decade birthdays. 

“I will swim next year,” Sanson said. “I feel great about accomplishing it.”

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