Over the past five days, I’ve spent a great deal of time watching these guys:
Those would be the United States Navy Blue Angels, visiting the Salinas Valley for last weekend’s California International Airshow. My son and I went to see them on Saturday afternoon, and I also had the pleasure of seeing them prior to the airshow – as I’ll explain a bit later.
But first, a confession: I’ve been a Blue Angels fan for almost 20 years now – ever since they were featured in the music video for Van Halen’s “Dreams” [see the end of this post], which was one of the coolest videos of the late 1980s, and far and away the best song in the otherwise regrettable Sammy Hagar era of one of my all-time favorite rock bands. (I know, that’s a pretty lame reason to get hooked on something - but remember, I was a teenager. I also bought an insane amount of Crystal Pepsi just because they used VH’s “Right Now” song in their advertisements. I was pretty much a PR agency’s dream consumer – but we’re getting off subject.)
However, I grew up an Air Force brat, and was fortunate enough to see many shows by the Thunderbirds precision flight team as a kid. So I’ve always had some internal conflict about liking the Blue Angels.
I mean … it’s OK to like the teams from both branches of the military, isn’t it? Isn’t this the equivalent of drinking both Coke and Pepsi – where both are very good and very similar aside from some subtle differences, and you just enjoy whichever one is available to you at the time? Or is it a more serious offense - like a form of military bigamy, or like simultaneously cheering for both the Yankees and Red Sox? I’ve never been really clear on this. And yes, it troubles me sometimes.
(On that note - If anyone from the Air Force or Navy happens to read this and can give me some sort of ruling on the situation, I’d appreciate it. Otherwise, I’ll move on with the post.)
Here’s my favorite picture from the airshow. It’s a bit blurry, but keep in mind that the fighters are flying in excess of 800 mph, and I'm shooting them with a 3” x 2” camera. The fact that this shot captured anything besides vapor trails is a major accomplishment for me.
Anyway, the show was great, and my son had a blast – but that wasn’t my favorite part of the Blue Angels visit. Rather, the best part of Airshow Week for Salinas residents is the three days prior to the show, when the Angels conduct rehearsal flights above the Salinas Valley in preparation for the weekend’s event.
For my group of swimmers who train in an outdoor pool at midday, it made for some pretty impressive distractions from a couple of tough workouts. During backstroke sets, we saw the Angels buzz over the pool in a tight delta formation. While swimming breaststroke or freestyle, our normal breathing patterns allowed us periodic glimpses of solo fighters doing barrel rolls, or pairs doing inversion maneuvers in our visual periphery.
And for me individually, the Angels’ flights actually helped me get through the sessions more easily.
I’ve written before about how I have a tough time keeping up with the rest of my masters group. I’m frequently the last person to finish an interval, thereby getting the least amount of rest before starting the next one. I usually hit the wall just in time to hear the instructions for the following set, and rarely have a chance to catch my breath before pushing off the wall to keep up with the others.
Last Thursday, the situation was different, and worked substantially in my favor. Instead of me hitting the wall just as the next set was announced, here’s what happened several times:
Me: (touching wall, gasping for breath)
Swimmer #1, simultaneously: … next is 2x 300 leaving on the …
Swimmer #2, pointing: Here they come, from over there!
And we’d all pause as the Angels passed overhead in formation, before resuming our next set. Each time, I would stare toward the sky, savoring the few extra seconds of oxygen, thankful for the intermittent disruptions to the relentless grind of the workout.
The funny part is, it was never discussed – nobody ever said, “Let’s wait a few extra seconds so we can see them fly past.” But unanimously, and without hesitation, we all did. I guess if there’s any way for me to describe how captivating these precision flyers are, that’s the best thing I can say: the sight and sound of them just freezes you in your tracks, commanding your attention away from whatever else it is you’re doing – even if it’s a masters swim workout.
Those extra moments of rest were exactly what I needed to keep up with the group, and those sessions during the Angels’ flights were the best swim workouts I’ve had in several weeks.
It’s a crazy consequence of swimming during Airshow Week in Salinas – one I look forward to every September.
Van Halen - Dreams: