Emilio Casanueva Named Local Hero

The Santa Barbara Independent named Oceanducks founder Emilio Casanueva a Local Hero in their 23rd annual honor roll of men and women who make Santa Barbara such an amazing place to live. Here’s what they said:

Emilio Casanueva
Swimming Sensation

Since he was a five-year-old living in the small Chilean village of Zapallar, Santa Barbara Ocean Ducks and Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association founder Emilio Casanueva has been paddling the open waters. “The ocean introduced me to it,” he laughed. “It was expected. When you swim, you swim in the ocean.” Today, Casanueva, 69, has taken his childhood love and turned it into a full-time effort to promote physical fitness, self empowerment, and environmental awareness throughout Santa Barbara County.

Emilio Casanueva
Photo by Paul Wellman

A 10-year resident of S.B., Casanueva’s Ocean Ducks evolved from a swimming group he helped put together. “It was not a decision,” he recalled. “One day I just decided to give it a name.” In its current incarnation, the collective holds weekday and weekend group swims, distance training, multiday swim clinics, races, relays, and international adventure trips to some of the world’s most picturesque locations. A self-described noncompetitive type, Casanueva looks at open-water swimming as an activity he does for himself. Still, his annual cross-channel relay (aptly titled theBIG SWIM), now in its sixth year, has raised more than $100,000 for local ocean-minded nonprofits, including Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and the Environmental Defense Center. Next year’s race will benefit the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center.

Likewise, it’s Casanueva’s work with the association that’s earning him praise from both his fellow Santa Barbarans and his international peers. Currently, Casanueva is one of 14 nominees in the running for Open-Water Swimming Man of the Year. “I’m very honored to even be in the company of these people,” he said. “The Channel Swimming Association is only two years old.”

Still, it’s Casanueva’s passion for the open waters of his community that drives him daily. “This town is made for swimming,” he passionately explained. “It’s a bloody shame so few people swim here. : Santa Barbara could be a swimmer’s paradise. I intend to make it the next English Channel-but bigger.”

Read the whole story at www.independent.com/news/2008/nov/26/local-heroes-2008/.