Vance Jacobs is a sports photographer based in San Francisco. He recently released a new portrait series that celebrates the self-titled “Old Goats”, a group of older swimmers who take on the freezing waters of the San Francisco Bay year round. All members of the Dolphin Club of San Francisco, the “Old Goats” range in age from 65 to almost 90 years old. One member, Walt, has been a member of the club for 65 years.
As a triathlete who’s swum the bay himself, Vance was drawn to this unique, hardy group of athletes. He decided to photograph each swimmer and to preserve their history as a club. This is Vance’s experience about chronicling this unique group of people:
I can’t imagine swimming in that 50 – 55 degree water without a wetsuit, let alone in the dead of winter and in my senior years. Having done a lot of athletics in my life and having been around elite athletes, I’m more impressed by longevity than by being able to produce amazing numbers when you’re young. The ability to stay motivated over a long period of time was interesting to me. It’s also clearly physically more challenging because of the wear and tear that comes with age.
I first stumbled upon the “Old Goats” when I was scouting for a project on ultra open-water swimmers. One of the swimmers had me meet him at the Dolphin Club, which I’d never heard of. We were checking out a rowboat to use to scout locations on the backside of Alcatraz. When we returned at about noon, there were all these older members sunning themselves on the back deck of the club. My friend explained that they called themselves the “Old Goats”. Many of them swim in the San Francisco Bay almost daily, throughout the year, with no wetsuit.
Some of the older members have been going to this club year after year and have formed awfully deep friendships. The longest-standing member joined in 1948!
Quite a few of them would round up their ages, which I thought was funny. I’d ask them how old they were and they’d say, “I’m 87. Well, actually, I’ll be 87 in October”. So much of our culture is about appearing and staying young. But these folks were aging themselves up because they knew I thought what they were doing was bad-ass.