The Cambrian

Renowned channel swimmer David Yudovin of Cambria dies

David Yudovin is shown on June 30, 2013, after completing a swim against a swift, turbulent ocean current for more than 11 hours to become the first person to swim across 16 nautical miles separating the Cape Verde islands of Maio and Santiago, off the Western coast of Africa.
David Yudovin is shown on June 30, 2013, after completing a swim against a swift, turbulent ocean current for more than 11 hours to become the first person to swim across 16 nautical miles separating the Cape Verde islands of Maio and Santiago, off the Western coast of Africa.

David Yudovin, 63, of Cambria, a world-class open-water channel swimmer, died of an apparent heart attack at his Cambria home Saturday. He had been training for his next swim in the Maldives.

A public viewing is to be held from 2 to 4 p.m. today (Thursday, April 2) at Benedict-Rettey Mortuary, 1401 Quintana Road, in Morro Bay. A memorial service is set for 3 p.m. Friday, April 3, at Leffingwell Landing, including a ceremonial paddle-out. A barbecue sponsored by the North Coast Ocean Rescue team will follow at the Cambria Fire Department.

Donations in Yudovin’s honor can be given to the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (www.imshof.org), City of Hope (www.cityofhope.org) or a related charity of choice.

Yudovin was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an honor open-water swimmer in September, a ceremony held in Loch Lomond, Scotland. He had spent nearly four decades in the sport, becoming the first to swim across more than three dozen open-water channels around the world.

Yudovin and wife Beth — who was his boat captain, cheerleader, coach and an active partner in every way during his swimming and his life — traveled the world, seeking out and training in remote areas with ocean channels filled with tide pools, deadly jellyfish, harsh tides and winds. 

He had also mentored countless other swimmers in many countries, and had recently become active in Hall of Fame activities and responsibilities.

Noted channel swimmer Lynne Cox, the Yudovins’ longtime swimming pal who has known David Yudovin since he was 23, said Tuesday, “He did swims that nobody in the world imagined. In doing so, he inspired others to do amazing swims. But he did more than that. He mentored them and sponsored them and followed their progress. He really connected with people, and in doing so, he changed the sport of open-water swimming.” 

Cox knows well the power of their sport, having helped to ease U.S.-Russian tensions in 1987 by swimming (in just a swimsuit and cap) in the icy waters from the Aleutian Islands to Russia.

Yudovin was known for so much more than his remarkable swimming accomplishments. He was a quiet celebrity with a passion for life, a passion he shared with many, often one-on-one. 

Having survived a heart attack early in life and leukemia later, he had lectured frequently on motivational subjects, including verve, involvement, enthusiasm and accomplishments after a life-threatening illness. 

Some of those lectures were for North Coast nonprofits, such as the Friends of the Cambria Library and the Cambria Adult Resources Education and Support (C.A.R.E.S). 

Jeri Farrell, president of the Friends group, described Yudovin and wife Beth as “such gracious and generous people … who did a wonderful fundraiser for us when we were trying to raise money for the new library.” 

The Yudovins drove for Meals on Wheels for about 10 years (and also for the Cambria Community Bus, which provides free transportation to housebound seniors), according to Jesse Miller of C.A.R.E.S., the Senior Nutrition Program and Meals on Wheels. 

Miller said David Yudovin was a guest speaker at fundraising events the Yudovins organized and managed. He often “donated his talents and films of his swims” for C.A.R.E.S., Miller said, and frequently played his guitar to entertain the senior clients, many of whom had dementia and other aging-related medical problems. 

The Yudovins’ generosity was deep, Miller said. “The money we made at an event? He’d donate all of it to the organization,” totally underwriting the fundraiser’s expenses. 

David Yudovin also was generous on a person-to-person level, and some of those incidents are what people remember most. 

Pat Riley, a 30-year Cambria resident, recalled that “David was the first to take me out on a paddleboard in Morro Bay and show me the ropes. … I went the distance because he paddled by me and made it like a walk in the park.”

Later, Riley recalled, she was invited to be “on the escort boats when he paddled in the Catalina Classic, 32 miles from Catalina Island to Manhattan Pier, and on a (22-mile) training run from San Simeon Pier to Cayucos.” She called Yudovin “a force to be reckoned with,” a man who set an “example of how to aspire, actualize and succeed.”

The Yudovins also were active members of the North Coast Ocean Rescue Team (NCOR), a stalwart group of volunteers who go out in rough seas to save lives. The couple also helped coordinate the Pier to Point Fun Paddle that raises funds for and awareness of NCOR. 

Tom Benton, NCOR member, said, “David was a wonderful friend, so generous, so thoughtful, so giving … whenever anything was needed, he was there. All you had to say was ‘I need some help.’ ” 

Benton said Yudovin “had the greatest passion for life. So much enthusiasm,” for his sport, his beloved wife, his radio-controlled airplanes, his skiing, his guitars, his travels or even his ever-changing assortment of vehicles, from an old van to a Bentley. 

“He lived life to its fullest every day,” the grieving Benton added. 

Yudovin was on his treadmill in his home gym in Cambria on Saturday, training hard for his next swim challenge, “when his generous heart finally gave out,” said Cambria Fire Engineer Emily Torlano, one of the paramedics at the scene who tried unsuccessfully to revive him. (The rescue crew included friends and fellow NCOR members.) 

Besides wife Beth Yudovin of Cambria, survivors include brother Bobby Yudovin (Pam) of Thousand Oaks, sister Susan Yudovin of Van Nuys, father Sandy Yudovin (Dana) of Arroyo Grande, numerous nephews, nieces and greats, and countless friends worldwide.

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