Overcoming his fear of the open water was a challenge for Bryan Mineo. Now A swim coach, he helps others overcome their own challenges.
- Written byAmber Klinck
- Photographed byJeff Berting
Bryan Mineo grew up swimming. “I was on the swim team from the time I was around 4 or 5 years old,” he notes. But at the age of 18, while swimming in a small lake in Texas, he discovered he had an intense fear of open water.
“It was terrifying; I never knew I had this fear,” Bryan says. Now he’s an open-water swim coach—plunging into the Pacific Ocean 365 days a year for two to three hours a day. How did he turn his anxiety into expertise? He faced his fear head-on.
It all started with Bryan trying to impress a girl. “She was training for a triathlon,” he says. The plan was for the two of them to head out to the lake and for Bryan help her train for the competition.
“I swim out, maybe a couple hundred yards, and I start panicking,” Bryan remembers. “I swallow a couple of gulps from the wind and the chop. I’m treading water and hyperventilating. At this point I knew I couldn’t do this.”
The jig was up; quickly it became clear that Bryan was the one who needed help. “She swam over to me and mouthed the words, ‘Just breathe.’” Those two words would stick with the young swimmer and later become a big part of Bryan’s coaching approach.
This challenge to overcome his fear was new—and a little inviting for Bryan. “I’ve had an amazing life and a really fortunate childhood,” he explains. “I really had no hardships, no family deaths at that point, so I really didn’t know what struggle was. This was the first time I was like, ‘Whoa, this is a challenge for me. Maybe I should approach this; maybe this is a good opportunity.’”
“I knew I wanted to create a community within my field. [Open water swimming] is a really niche thing as it is.”
So rather than backing down from his fear, Bryan began driving 30 minutes to the lake, four to five times a week. Day one began with him standing, chest deep in the lake. By day two he was treading water.
“I didn’t realize it [at the time], but I was creating a progression and a methodology. I’ve refined it, of course, but how I teach now is how I learned to overcome my own fear,” Bryan says.
Today, whether he’s coaching one-on-one, leading one of his weekly, year-round Swim Mechanic Ocean Groups (SMOG) of some hundred-plus swimmers in Redondo Beach, instructing a smaller SMOG squad in the pool or coaching remotely online, Bryan is constantly evolving the Swim Mechanic brand.
“I knew I wanted to create a community within my field. [Open water swimming] is a really niche thing as it is,” he says. “It started with just me and a few clients. Then it kind of blew up … it’s still so humbling.”
With a wide range of clientele—from athletes training to obtain peak performance and master technique to ocean newbies looking to shake themselves of the fear of what’s below—Bryan’s focus is individualized with each swimmer. “Everyone moves really uniquely in the water. For me, it’s about trying to pick up on that and connect the cause and effect—which is not intuitive and not a given with swimming.”
But there’s more to it than the physicality. “There’s a deep bond with swimmers,” Bryan explains. “It likely has to do with the lifestyle and the kind of commitment it takes.”
Never one to be competitive against others, Bryan is no stranger to challenging himself … be it testing the limits of his temperature tolerance with ice baths, cold showers and year-round ocean swims sans wetsuit, or pushing the distance of each swim from five miles to 10 and beyond.
“My addictions are more about the mental thresholds,” he explains. “That’s been the most rewarding thing—to find these thresholds and raise the bar. The biggest takeaway is that it bleeds over into other facets of my life.”
This is true for his clients as well. Like a form of swim therapy, Bryan gives people the techniques to overcome their fear … and that doesn’t go away once they’re back on dry land.
Bryan’s Year in Health
“My life is awesome by the way. You’re going to hate me after I tell you this. I sleep in till 7:00 or 7:15, get a water, juice or coffee and head to the beach. That’s my favorite part of the day. I work with two or three hours of clients. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., basically, every day I have open. I go to a lot of coffee shops, I read, I write and then I’ll typically do something active. We [he and his massive Great Dane, Joey] go for a hike every day in PV. And then I may have one or two nighttime clients.”
“I’ve been vegan for about four years, and I’m gluten-free. I eat clean, but my vice is baked goods.”
“I’m always moving. I used to be much more regimented, and I didn’t even realize how unhappy it was making me. So now I’m much more about approaching it in a fun way, seeing how can I move my body differently. So I climb, I do Pilates once a week, I do yoga and I hike every day.”
“Bourbon and cookies. (Best answer ever.)”
A fitness craze you want to try:
“I feel like I need to try CrossFit. Another thing I really want to do: It’s not really a fitness thing, but I want to go skydiving.”
A sport or fitness routine you are NOT good at:
“Ha, there are many.”
Preferred training shoe or athletic footwear:
“I’m never wearing shoes. If I am, they’re sandals.”
Next health goal:
“I’d like to do a long-distance trail running race.”