HAPPY PEOPLE - Casimira Tadewaldt

February 17, 2024

By Christina Malango
Casimira Tadewaldt is no pessimist.  She's lived in Portland long enough to have seen things she cannot "unsee".  Where many people would sink into despair, she was energized and began a journey of involvement in individual, family, small group and larger community projects to help clean up various areas.  She came to realize that "once you see what is possible you can ...   read more

HAPpy People - Bret Winkler

August 4, 2021

Meet Bret Winkler, a River Hugger and ….
How long have you been swimming with the River Huggers? How did you find the group?

About 5 years. It's been long enough back that I remember swimming without an orange swim float. I learned about the group by word-of-mouth over dinner.  When I heard open water swimming in Portland, my ears perked right up, and I was compelled to ask follow ...   read more

HAPpy People - Robin Donovan

May 31, 2021

By Christina Malango  
HAP Reporter, Part-Time Mermaid 
Meet Robin Donovan, free diver, spearfisher, and Puget Sound gunkholer.  Yes gunkholder.
When did you discover the River Huggers and how?
River Huggers was one of the first things I did with people after I moved to Portland nearly six years ago now. I was trying really hard to meet people, and my strategy was to just ...   read more

HAPpy People - Amanda Cross

March 28, 2021

By Christina Malango  
HAP Reporter, Part-Time Mermaid

Meet Amanda Cross, a River Hugger with Boundary Waters and beyond in mind for the future.
How long have you been swimming with the River Huggers and how did you find the group?
Gretchan Jackson and our friend Elaine told me they were going to swim across the Willamette on the opening day of the River Hugger season ...   read more

Happy People - Andrea Stolowitz

April 7, 2020

by Christina Malango
Meet Andrea Stolowitz, a River Hugger swimmer and prize-winning playwright who is diving into writing an opera.
How long have you been swimming with the River Huggers and how did you discover the group? 
This summer will be my third summer and I found them on the Internet, of all places.
What is your swimming background?
I was a competitive swimmer as ...   read more

HAPpy PEOPLE - Peter Rock

November 24, 2019

Meet Peter Rock, member of the HAP River Hugger Swim Group, a writing instructor at Reed College, and author of a whopping 10 books including the recent release, “The Night Swimmers”. 
How and when did you find the River Huggers?
Well, I’ve been swimming in the Willamette for 7-8 years, and have swum (as a relay!) the Bridge Swim a couple times. I’m always looking for ...   read more

HAPpy People - Jim Leissler

May 23, 2019

By Christina Malango 
Meet River Hugger swimmer and safety paddler, Jim Leissler, who has actually thought about what to do if a seal wants to fight him while swimming. 
How long have you been swimming with the River Huggers and how did you find the group?
Three years. Even though I live a block away from Popina, I didn't meet Willie until introduced thru a mutual friend, Sky Boyer, who ...   read more

HAPpy People - Eli Nicholson

April 29, 2019

By Christina Malango
How did you connect with Willie and the River Huggers?
I was working for eNRG Kayaking at the time and looking for whatever additional work I could find when Willie reached out to the owner of the company, Sam Drevo. Sam proceeded to offer the safety kayaking gig to his staff and I jumped at the opportunity.
How long have you been kayaking? What about guiding? 
I've ...   read more

HAPpy People - Dametris Harrison

March 20, 2019

By Christina Malango
How long have you been a board member for Human Access Project?
I’ve been a friend of the Willie, and his wife since they opened their first Popina store on 42nd, but have been a member of the Human Access Project board for
about 3 years now.
What does being a HAP board member involve?
There are many roles involved with being a board member. Collectively, ...   read more

HAPpy People - Margot McKirdy

February 7, 2019

Meet swimmer Margo McKirdy,
who often thinks she is in a cosmic washing machine.

Have you always been a swimmer?  How did you find out about the River Huggers?  
I learned to swim at an early age and was lucky enough to live on property in Grass Valley, California with both a small in-ground swimming pool and a 5-acre pond/lake. I was unaware of the entire world/sport/religion of ...   read more

HAPpy People - Lars Rutkowski

January 15, 2019

Meet Lars Rutkowski, who can hold his breath as long as it takes to read this, no matter how slow you read. 

Have you always been part fish? How did you first find swimming?
I've always liked the water, but it wasn't a big part of my life until I was introduced to Underwater Hockey. That was the gateway drug to fin swimming, which led to freediving on our coast and open water swimming for fun ...   read more

HAPpy People - Andrea Milano

December 18, 2018

How did you find the River Huggers and what appealed to you about the group? 
My good friend, Hilary, told me about the River huggers one morning over coffee. It was just the tease I needed to show up one June morning at the Fireman's dock. Actually, my first swim launched from Audrey McCall beach and I lost my goggles that time. But that was the season we gained access to the Firehouse dock (our ...   read more

HAPpy People - Michelle Boisvert

November 25, 2018

Q. How did you find the River Huggers and how long have you been swimming with us?
A. When I first moved to Portland, I immediately joined the Portland Triathlon Club. I put a request out on their feed—looking for someone to swim with me earlier in the season. Janie Malloy responded and met me at Vancouver Lake. She told me about the River Huggers, so I investigated the group. I’ve been swimming ...   read more

HAPpy People - Enda Grogan

October 30, 2018

Q:  So, Enda, I hear you’re from Ireland. Have you always been a swimmer? 
Like most kids, my parents signed me up for swimming lessons from an early age. Other sporting commitments took precedence so I drifted away, only swimming casually in my teens. I started back three years ago and have had the bug ever since. 
Q:  What international swims ...   read more

HAPpy People - Christina Malango

May 29, 2018

So, Christina, what do you do in real life?
     I have my dream job!  I am an advice nurse in a women's clinic.  My coworkers are midwives and doulas working mostly with pregnant women.
How long have you been swimming with the River Huggers?
     Willie wrote an article for my neighborhood newspaper explaining what HAP is and inviting people ...   read more

HAPpy People - Chris Farmer

April 23, 2018

How long have you been swimming? 
I’ve been swimming since age 3.  Mom was a swim teacher.  I was on the high school swim team in LA and consistently placed 7th in LA city for backstroke.
How did you find the River Huggers?
Word of mouth.  A friend told me about the group.
How do you respond when people are repelled by the notion that ...   read more

HAPpy People - Gretchan Jackson

March 19, 2018

Gretchan Jackson
Q. Usually, winter is a down time for open water swimmers, but not for you. What exciting swim-related things do you have coming up?
Ha! All of the open water swimmers I know are continuing to challenge me to get in the Willamette each week! I must be hanging out with the wrong bunch. Ha. Ha. :)
This year I really jumped into my first real season of consistent pool swim training. I've ...   read more

HAPpy People - Cindy Werhane

January 23, 2018

What is this about the rumor that you started out doing Synchronized Swimming?
CW: When I was young, we lived blocks away from a Park District Pool. I spent as much time as possible there. By enrolling in Synchro I could start my day there at 10-12 for synchro, 12-1 for swim team, 1-5 for open swim, 6-9 for open swim. Once I was old enough to life guard, I had the option of teaming swim lessons ...   read more

HAPpy People - Tom Vandel

November 3, 2017

Meet HAP Board Member and Editor-in-Chief, Tom Vandel. T-Bone as some call him is a professional copywriter/creative director with a one-man firm called Les Overhead. He served as a River Hugger safety kayaker one year and swam the Mayoral Swim in high-top Converse tennis shoes, which he does not recommend.
Were you a swimmer as a kid?
Yeah, I have three younger brothers and we went to the pool every ...   read more

HAPpy People - Dave Hayden

October 8, 2017

Meet River Hugger and intrepid open water swimmer, Dave Hayden, interviewed by Christina Malango. Dave is a father, swimmer, aerial dancer, and ______ (who knows what else).
Q:  What else belongs on this list of who you are and what you do?  
A:  Father, swimmer, yep! I’m really excited about getting to do both at the same time as Cora grows up, and I hope she comes to feel as ...   read more

HAPpy People - Janie Malloy

September 22, 2017

 Meet River Hugger and intrepid open water swimmer, Janie Malloy, interviewed by Christina Malango. Janie lives in an historic house in Canby, is an Airbnb host, realtor, landscape designer, triathlete, and originator of the Naked Goddess Swim. For starters. 
Q:  Have you always done a dozen things at once in your life? 
A:  Yes, life is art, and I make beautiful art by being creative, ...   read more

HAPpy People - Garrett Martin

May 16, 2017

By Christina Malango
Meet Garrett Martin – architect, teacher, swimmer, River Hugger, dreamer extraordinaire. In short, a pretty cool dude.

How did you encounter the River Huggers?  

One morning two summers ago I was riding my bike across the Hawthorne bridge into work, I looked down and saw a bunch of people in bathing suits and swim caps just getting out of the water. I’d ...   read more

HAPpy People - Jim McGinn

February 18, 2017

Meet River Hugger, Jim McGinn, interviewed by Christina Malango.
Jim McGinn, Charter River Hugger Member, Dad, Outdoors Dude, Dancer, overall bad ass.

You started long-distance ocean swimming in California in the 1980s in cold, rough conditions. What drove you to do that? 
When I first moved to Redondo Beach in the early 80’s I met Ron Argueta who was sort of the quintessential CA ocean ...   read more

HAPpy People - Stephanie Debner

January 19, 2017

Meet River Hugger, Stephanie Debner, interviewed by Christina Malango.
How did you discover the River Huggers and why do you love swimming with them?
I was introduced to the River Huggers by fellow River Hugger, Hilary. We swim at the same pool and she knew that I'd been swimming the Columbia channel crossing for a number of years, so she thought I'd like being a River Hugger. She was right!
You ...   read more

HAPpy People - Jenny Ampersand

December 7, 2016

Meet Jenny Ampersand, runner up in The Big Float 6 costume contest.
Describe your TBF costume and how you made it. Was it hard to integrate the requirement for a portable floating device?
My costume was the River Siren. It was inspired by work I was doing with Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble that involved sea shanties, Moby Dick, and lots of liquid latex. I created a creature that  combined ...   read more

HAPpy People - Adam Murray

November 4, 2016

Meet Adam Murray, HAP River Hugger and all-around interesting guy. Interviewed by Christina Malango.

How did you get involved with the River Huggers?

Rock climbing and bike trips used to be my jam, but I had a disabling accident in 2008 that effectively retired me from those sports. I found that swimming greatly improved my well being, but I could only manage a few pool lengths and I hated (hated) ...   read more

HAPpy People - Leah Middlebrook

October 7, 2016

Meet Leah Middlebrook, River Hugger and HAP Board Member, interviewed by Christina Malango.
How did you learn about the River Huggers and start swimming with the group?

On Facebook, of all things! The call for River Huggers appeared in one of those random You Might Like items that creeps into your news feed. That was three years ago and it was love at first plunge. :)
Did you have ...   read more

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