All posts by Maria Bruun-Schmidt

Journalist at Xpress Magazine. Follow me at @mariabschmidt on Twitter.

Hardcore Workout: Swimming the Bay

Photo by Maria Bruun-Schmidt, edited by Alec Fernandes

While most San Franciscans run along the polluted water in the harbor near Fort Mason, a few people have bewildered others by working out in the bay. Meet an open-water triathlete who swims among the boats and oily soil every week to train for Hawaii Ironman Triathlon – referred to as “the most demanding triathlon in the world.”

So you made your way to the end of the pier of Fort Mason. It is Saturday and the silence seems scary out here, no honking horns, no downtown sounds. You can’t even here the sloshing water from the Bay that is as still and grey as the sky. So you pay attention to the Golden Gate Bridge in the horizon – covered up in fog as always. You turn around clockwise; there is Alcatraz, the skyline of San Francisco, here are the big boats, the polluted water and an old sign in front of you.

“Only allowed for swimmers!” the old paint reads. You wonder what it means. Who would swim in a dirty harbor? Wouldn’t it be dangerous?

It doesn’t make any sense, so you forget about it immediately before something breaks the silence.

You hear the sound before you see the man. A red swim cap is moving slowly by, up and down, like as the needle on a sewing machine. Now and then the swimmer raises his head and reveals his swimming goggles and an open mouth – it looks like he screams with no sound. He is not alone. A blue swim cap is following him at the same pace and you look around – behind both shoulders – stoked to share the moment with someone.

Nobody is here.

You look back at the water. It looks freezing.

“It is! – it might be around 50 Fahrenheit today!” exclaims a person behind you, it is 42-year-old Robert Rogers who is an open-water swimmer and a triathlete.

“But actually your body get used to the low temperature. If you sit in the shallow water for about 5-10 minutes the body will acclimatize – and you can go for a swim. If you don’t your body will go into shock,” he says and zips his wet suit at the back of the neck as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

“Luckily I have a wet suit, but look at these guys,” Rogers says while he points with his index finger on the man with the blue swimming cap. “He doesn’t wear anything! That is crazy! He is definitely a Polar Bear,” Rogers says and explains that there are different groups of swimmer in this harbor.

The Polar Bears don’t wear any wetsuits. “The guys from Oakland do,” Rogers says. He does as the rest of his local club – The Dolphin Club; he is swimming with a wet suit. This is his second time swimming in the San Francisco Bay. He is originally from Los Angeles.

“I am used to 60 [degrees] and above – so the first time I swam here it was so very cold. I think it was 49 [degrees]. It was freezing. But now I am getting used to it. I am not afraid for the grey water, or for boats suddenly coming into the harbor. This is a pretty safe area to swim in,” Rogers says.

He swims here every Tuesday with The Dolphin Club.

“But it is open to everybody who wants to do this on a Tuesday night,” he says and bursts into a laugh, as no one other than triathletes would ever do this. And while he is laughing there is not really any body fat that vibrates under his skin. He is well-trained as a result of all the exercise he has done.

“The hardcore workout has changed my life! And I am very happy with the way I am living today ’cause it hasn’t always been like this. I was a smoker. That was in 2011,” he says and pauses so the drizzling sound of the waves, that hits the edge of the sand, yells in the afternoon. When the foam grows it looks like when you pour your soda in a cup.

“I was a smoker,” Rogers repeats: “My friend too. He kept saying he would sign up for Ironman – ’cause his assistant did it and all – and I said, ‘You’re joking, you’ll never do it. If you sign up, I sign up,’ I said. So one day he actually did it. And I am a man of my word so I had to do it too. I didn’t even think about it, I just did it. That was the last day I smoked a cigarette, it was in January 21, 2011.”

Roger did an amateur triathlon race in 2011. “And I just got hooked! When I finished my first run, I just wanted to do it again. And again. And again,” he says as if he is talking about his tattoos.

“It is just addictive,” he says – even though the first month was though with smoking lungs and him in bad shape. He started to swim in an open water pool but after a month he transferred to the real deal.

Miles away from swimming in a pool

“And that is a whole other thing! When you swim in a pool, you follow a line. In open water you might think you swim completely straight. But you don’t. You can’t see anything, that is why you raise your head, and you are not sheltered as in a pool,” Rogers says and explains that different elements in open water as the flow of the waves and the tone of the water all in all make it more difficult to swim in open water. Especially here near Alcatraz, according to Rogers, where a famous triathlon race is held every year. It is called the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon.

“They’ll say that if you make it here, you make it anywhere. That is because the water is so brutal,” says Rogers. And that makes is difficult to swim in a straight line, as you would normally do in a pool. That is why it is a good idea for the open water swimmers to choose a specific spot they are swimming towards – to keep sight of the track.

“For example…” Rogers says in long words while he points out to his right. “The roof of that red building is my point and when I am going back…” he says points in the opposite direction, “…the tower of that white church is my spot.”

Rogers normally swims less than an hour. In 40 minutes he can make two loops in the open water. As a part of his training he rides his bike 4-5 miles with the club afterward. This helps him improve the transition between different sports which – according to himself – is the hardest part of a triathlon.

“I take it step by step. I want to swim 2.4 miles within two hours as you would have to complete the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, which is the highest level a triathlete can complete. That race is my next goal,” Rogers says. According to him, you have to finish the run within 11 hours.

You wouldn’t imagine this man had smoked a single cigarette in his life.

“For me it has been a complete lifestyle change. That’s for sure. And everybody can do it, just sign up for a race! Don’t think about it!” says Rogers as he straps on his goggles and gets up to enter the freezing water.

Forget about your selfie stick

Photo by Maria Bruun-Schmidt / Xpress Magazine


Film your exercise with a flying go pro!

A drone has just left the ground.

It’s rising with steady speed while singing like a gigantic bumblebee that also has characteristics of a drone.

In San Francisco, Dolores Park is turned into a spin-off of Big Brother, where the drone follows all the activity in the park from above; athletic women attempting to hula hoop, the dog owners in the corner, the line for the bathroom, and the couples kissing in the grass.

One man is monitoring it all. He is controlling the drone with a remote controller, although it looks a lot like he is playing a PlayStation.

Antoine Level is a passionate entrepreneur from France, who is making a demo of he and his French colleagues’ newly developed flying camera, HEXO+, a camera that follows and films you autonomously. When you attach a GoPro camera to the drone and set your framing in the HEXO+ app, you are ready to film from the sky.

“A lot of people use it for sports – running, skiing, skateboarding – you name it. In that way you can record you active moments – whether it is to capture the moment or to see how you can e.g. improve your running style. It is giving new perspectives to a go-pro camera,” said Level, who is the CEO of HEXO+.

The company was founded in August 2013. Last summer, HEXO+ was completely funded in one hour during their Kickstarter campaign, and in one month the HEXO+ raised $1,306,920 from 2236 people, according to the tech-blog ProVideo Coalition.

The final product will be available in May 2015.

“There are possibilities for us here in US because of the great context between the product we develop and the American market,” said Level.

Meanwhile changes can, and will, always be made. The HEXO+ developers would like to improve the flying GoPro in the future.

“We would like to adjust the size of the drone so it gets smaller – and easier to work with on outdoor adventures,” said Medhi Mugnier, the digital project manager of HEXO+.

Level bends down to activate the GoPro camera on the drone in front of his feet. He gets up again, pulls his phone out, enlarges the image on the screen, then hands me the phone.

Suddenly the deep sound from the drone increases. It’s right behind me. I start to run. The drone follows my every step. It can fly with a speed of up to 42 mph. I make a spontaneously turn – and another one – the drone follows while I’m running in circles around Dolores Park. Turns out, it is not following me, but the GPS on the iPhone that’s in my hands.

I’ve only just completed the circle around the park before the drone is yelling: “Low on battery.” I stopped at my starting point, yet the drone continued – with a steady pace – right into a big tree nearby.

Level looks at HEXO+ that is lodged in a tree. Photo by Maria Bruun-Schmidt/ Xpress Magazine
Level looks at HEXO+ that is lodged in a tree. Photo by Maria Bruun-Schmidt/ Xpress Magazine

“That was not planned,” said Level. He then ran toward the drone, which was hanging in a tree. Nearly 15 minutes pass before Level, and a group of others, manage to shake the drone out of the branches.

“That happens, I guess we have to charge it next time we fly with it,” said Level.

To find more visit the HEXO+ webpage.


Danish students about terror attack in Denmark: “We were not surprised”

It was Valentine’s Day when a terror attack struck Denmark at 3:33 p.m. It turned out to be one of the worst acts of terrorism in decades to hit the small country, with 5.6 million citizens who regularly rank in opinion surveys as among the world’s happiest people.

Two people were killed when a 22-year-old gunman shot a Danish film director at Oesterbro and, later in the night, murdered a Jewish guard at a synagogue located in the heart of Copenhagen.

In the hours and days after the attacks, more and more evidence and information has emerged and the Danish media has covered the attacks thoroughly.

Here are some immediate thoughts from Danish students who were situated in Copenhagen while the attacks were going on:

Elisabeth Eskildsen, 24, Politiken:

“I was situated in Copenhagen when the first shootings took place at Oesterbro at 3:55 p.m. I was far from danger, but I saw my Copenhagen drown in sirens in the blink of an eye.

“I went with my friend directly to the inner city, to Hans Christian Andersens Boulevard and past Denmark’s biggest newspaper, Politiken, there were many policemen, many civilian cars — or whatever you call it — and large black vans, which I think is PET, [The Intelligence Service of the Police].

“When we came out of the heart of the city it did not appear that the shootings had affected the Copenhagish Saturday-mood. Young people were carrying beer and wine in cartons. I kept repeating that it was inconceivable that it happened… My friend and I were both affected by the terror attack, but in different ways.

“I was very silent and I would just sit with a lump in my throat while my friend phoned his family and cried for a bit.

“I think in fact that I felt the shootings were so far away from me that I felt it would not affect me in any way. Since we were going to sleep, I got an urgent [text] about the second shooting in Copenhagen – this time at a synagogue in the inner city – and my friend and I turned the television on to watch TV2 News. They had crazy professional coverage, I think, and I actually came to looking at the situation from my profession as a journalist.

“I would analyze the coverage of the media, so to speak, and I could feel that it disassociated myself a little from the events. I followed the events on television for several hours, would stay awake until the police press conference at 4 o’clock in the morning, but ended up falling asleep when it started.

“I also wrote a little with my ex-boyfriend Nicolai, who passed the inner city when shots were fired. He shared a video on Facebook, and I wanted to make sure he was okay. We wrote together while he sat in a rail-replacement-bus-service on the way home – because the trains were not running. I just think that everyone felt they would comfort each other and look after each other – especially after the importance of the whole thing were underlined when the second shooting took place at the Jewish synagogue.

“It affected me a lot, all of it happened so uncertain. The Prime Minister spoke about ‘dark forces that would hurt us,’ and the police searched parks in Copenhagen to find this monster that everyone was talking about.

“Meanwhile, my colleagues went around the streets – the photographers were out all night to shoot pictures, and I was proud of them and our newspaper. My friend said she thought I was very succinct, but I wouldn’t agree. I was relieved that I was not on duty that night, but I still could not help imagining how busy it would be in the editorial.

“When I woke up Sunday morning, my friend turned on the TV. The alleged offender had been shot a mile from where I am living. I immediately felt I had lied to her the evening before when I kept repeating that we were far from the danger.

“It took a long time before the public got the name of the alleged offender, but when the media published a picture of a maladjusted and mentally unstable 22-year-old, I was relieved. The dark forces were as summarized in one dark mind, and it made the situation clear to me. He is neither part of a terrorist cell or been trained to fight in Syria. He was a lone wolf, and although there are some people who sympathize with his actions, I think and I hope that the unity conquers the suspicious publication.

“The next day I followed my friend to the bus while a helicopter hovered over our heads. The second after I held back for a whole caravan of police cars – both patrol cars and PET – who turned up on a minor road in the inner city.

“In the front car window was rolled down and a fight dressed man stuck his head forward – he was dressed all in black, I could sense a bulletproof vest, and his face was completely hidden by black fabric, sunglasses and maybe even a helmet. The cyclist in front of me was still exactly, but I went to a halt and put your feet into the ground to show the police that I held back. He waved to me. Maybe he just waved his hand to signal that I should hold back, but part of me would like to think that he actually waved.

“In the first few days of the shootings – at work – we talked a lot about security. Now we are not talking about it anymore. I think most of my colleges are comfortable to go to work – however I feel that there are journalists who feel discouraged in terms of how they can express themselves in the future.”


Tinne Hjersing, 24, Berlingske:

“I was thousands of kilometers away when I saw my journalist colleagues, who are also my friends, work under a huge pressure to cover the terrorist attack in Copenhagen. At that time everything was chaotic. I wanted to help, and I felt completely powerless because I was so far from Copenhagen. So a hash tag was my way to contribute. #Copenhagenshooting. It was actually the first thing that occurred to me that I had the opportunity to do: to translate Danish tweets into English and the immediate thoughts about the terrorist attack.

“I realized that I hardly think about it now, a couple of days after the attack. I was not surprised it happened, although I am shocked. In the last decade Danish journalist and cartoonish have been threatened by terrorists. What happened is horrible but now that it’s happened, it occurred to me how much damage the constant threat in the last 10 years has made to the Danish society. It strikes me how it has affected me.

“I think about what are potential terrorist targets, and often when I am in a public place amongst many people – for example Norreport during peak hours – I think that I am the centre of a potential terrorist target.”

Kit Lindhart

Kit Lindhart, 25, Ritzau:

“What happened in the weekend is horrible, unforgivable, and cynical. But I have to say, that it wasn’t shocking. I guess we all somewhere inside was expecting that something like this could happen, especially after the Paris-attacks.

“It has been amazing to see and feel the support from the rest of the world the days after. This is not just two Danes dead – this is an attack on freedom and democracy everywhere in the western world. It is very obvious that something like that can’t pass without comments from our neighbouring countries and even USA, who might fear, they are next.

“The press has been covering the events extremely thoroughly in Denmark. Every media wants to be first with new information – any information, even the smallest news – about the investigation, the gunman, the accomplices, the victims and the weapons. And I am sure that the rush and the speed of the news stream have led to some misunderstandings. I think that the media over all has done a good job checking facts, even though there have been some mess-ups.

“I am sure the role of the Danish press in this will be analysed very thoroughly soon and many times again and again in the future. Right now, when we are still right in the middle of it, it is difficult to see exactly what we could or should have done differently during the past four days.”

Simon Reenberg

Simon Reenberg, 25, Politiken:

“I received an urgent SMS about the terror attack at 3:40 p.m. It said a man had shot at an event which had freedom of expression on the agenda. I was glued to the television screen for the next 12 hours. I live close to the area of Copenhagen where the shooting took place.

“But anyway, I’m not so affected by it. The media, the politicians, and the social media have covered the terror attack so thoroughly that the event itself has almost drowned in all the attention. I visited however the synagogue where one of the shootings took place on Sunday morning and I attended the memorial ceremony at Copenhagen City Heart on Monday. I was touched by these arrangements but after thinking about it I am sure that I was so affected because I was surrounded by a large amount of people. All in all it is great to see that most Danes stand together not to do this for a religious war and I keep my fingers crossed that the politicians are not trying to exploit the episode to attack Muslims in the coming elections.”


Emilie Kleding, 23, Politiken:

“The thing that hit me the most while covering the terrorist attack in Copenhagen was how different my city and home was. Suddenly it lacked the life that usually fills up our capital on a saturday night – but this weekend it was empty (a few hours after the second shooting took place downtown). The train station was filled with police, the main streets was silent and the bars closed down. And there – in the movie like setting, walking around the most busy street in Copenhagen all alone in the night – it hit me. This is how it is living with war and daily attacks. Seeing your home change and feeling actually afraid (because the shooter was still not found). Where everything I associated with a saturday night, was gone. Then I started being afraid of what terror can do to a country and the life you knew.”


The 22-year-old Danish-born attacker was killed in a burst of return fire the day after the terror attacks on Sunday, February 15th, the Danish police confirm. He left a pool of blood and an open wound in the Danish society.



A flying-feather fight on Valentine’s Day

Photos by Maria Bruun-Schmidt

Valentine’s Day is known as “the lovers’ holiday,” but for those who don’t care about red helium balloons and overpriced chocolates the day may also be associated with feathers. On February 14th, Justin Herman Plaza annually turns into a battlefield for the flash-mob-type event, the Pillow Fight.

Officially, it is an arena for lonely hearts on this dreaded holiday, but everybody with a child-like soul will show up and participate in the feathered rain.

“I think Valentine’s Day is stupid and a huge pillow great is great fun!” says 38 year-old Angela Noury. She traveled from Oakland by public transportation to share the cushion- strikes with her neighbor, Shanna Lander.

They brought two newly purchased pillows all the way from the East Bay. They even decorated their arms with colored pillowcases.

”We have bought synthetic pillows without feathers – $5 in IKEA,” says Lander and flaps on her pillow. “Then, we can throw them out after the fight and have a cup of coffee.”

None of the women are in a relationship and they don’t expect anything of the pillow fight – or Valentine’s Day.

“Why can’t you give each other roses and balloons any other day?” says Noury. “I think Valentine’s Day is a stupid, consumerism tradition like many others in the U.S. It is a waste of money.”


A waste of money

And that is exactly what Jermie Brown, 34, also thinks about this day of love. He sits slightly away from his neighbors on a grey concrete block just in front of Justin Herman Plaza where the battle is fought. In his hand he has a faded and tired pillow.mand

“I don’t understand why people would buy a pillow for a pillow fight. The whole idea is to destroy your pillow! I got an old pillow, right!” he says.

Like his two neighbors, this is the first time he is going to experience the pillow fight even though he has seen it on television for years.

“And I always say to myself – I’ve should have went!” says Jermie Brown who came all the way from Walnut Creek. “This time I actually had the opportunity to go because my wife and my son are away – so what else to do? I just want to have fun on my own and it looks like it is going to be fun.”

His expectation: feathers everywhere and people just getting hit.

“And that sounds like an ultimate party,” says Brown, who has some white earphones on his lap. “All they need is a DJ here! I got some music, hopefully that works. Kind of bad I don’t have a go-pro attached to me somewhere so I can tag people on Facebook just saying: Hi, that’s you getting hit!”


Normally he doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, even though he says he did when he was younger.

“But then after a while I just kind of like have seen through it. I don’t see the purpose in Valentine’s Day,” he says and explains that it is kind of like New Years.

“Everywhere you go you get overcharged – at the dinner as well as the club – but if you do it the day before… then it is regular price,” says Brown. “The day after… it is regular price! So they’ll raise the price because they know people actually are going to spend that money.”

“You can buy roses any day and they probably be cheaper too.”


No feathers, no pillow fight

Brown anxiously waits for the Embarcadero bell tower to ring at 5:45 p.m. when the pillow fight will officially start, just like everyone else gathered for the event.

pigeOne of them is 22-year-old Thomas Bartling, who is joining the pillow fight with his mother and little sister from San Diego.

“I am single and I really want to beat crap out of other single people,” says Bartling, who has been to the fight before.

“Last year was crazy,” says Bartling. “You just can’t stay here past 8 o’clock ’cause then drunk people come and… fill their pillows with stuff in it, rocks for example – and that makes it dangerous for other people. So you have to be careful.”

The family bought new pillows, stuffed with feathers. Soon, the feathers will be whirled around in the air until people can’t breath.


“It wouldn’t be a pillow fight if there were no feathers,” Bartling says and then explains his tactic.

“Find your target, hit it a couple of times, run away, move to your next target. Don’t give them the opportunity to hit you in the back,” he says, smiling.

The pillow fight starts promptly at 5:45 p.m. when the Embarcadero tower clock dings. Old and young, skinny and fat, black and white – people with masks, go-pro-cameras and rainbow-colored pillows run toward each other with pillows raised. In a matter of minutes, they pummel each other until white feathers fill the evening darkness.


In the dim light from the lamp posts, it almost looks like snow.


pige kaster fjer


Celebrating the life of a Mission veteran

Alfonso Texidor bridged together the Mission’s many communities. On Sunday we celebrate his memorial. Photo by Angelica Ekeke of El Tecolote

A man that didn’t complain — that is how most people would describe poet, translator and community figure Alfonso Texidor, who died of lung cancer at 68 years old on Christmas Day, 2014. He was a revolutionary artist that had roots in Puerto Rico.

This Sunday at noon more than a hundred people plan to gather at Café La Boheme to celebrate the life of this Mission veteran with poetry readings, Aztec dancers, music and stories.

“What is interesting about Alfonso is that he kind of bridged together all those different communities, which are connected in Mission. He was surely grounded in the Puerto Rican and the Latino community, but I guess people would call an him an internationalist. He sort of embraced all from all countries and all walks of life,” says Georgiana Hernández, Executive Director at Acción Latina.

In the 70’s, Texidor hung out a lot in the Haight, but he started gaining prominence in the Mission throughout the early 80’s. Hernández met Texidor in 1981 when he worked as a translator and calendar editor of the bilingual newspaper El Tecolote.

“Even before I knew him I remember seeing him around walking,” says Hernández, who describes Alfonso Texidor as a very elegant guy: tall, well dressed with a button-down shirt, a tie and a Fedora hat. Sometimes he walked with a cane.

“He was just this iconic figure in the Mission. You would see him walking around and hanging out at Café La Boheme, have coffee or a beer, get together. He was always walking, probably because he didn’t drive. [He was] very old-school, if you will. But that was part of him connecting,” Hernández says. “Even after he was in a wheel-chair he was very visible.”

A memorial wall was put up in front the newspaper’s headquarters. People have been coming by every day to honor the name of Alfonso Texidor and to get more information about his memorial.

“He was an iconic figure in the Mission District. It has been really neat to see people coming into the office… people who live in the neighborhood or people who he just knew from being on the street,” Hernández says. “I think people will remember him as a beloved figure. He will stay in our hearts forever.”



Rapper “The Jacka” Shot And Killed in Oakland

The Jacka was reportedly shot and killed this morning in Oakland. Photo from The Contra Costa Times.

A Bay Area rap veteran was shot and killed in an apparent shooting in East Oakland Monday night, KPIX-TV reported. KPIX 5 Reporter Christin Ayers confirms that the victim was 37-year-old Dominic Newton, who went by the stage name “The Jacka.”

According to CBS San Francisco witnesses said they heard several shots fired around 8:15 p.m. on MacArthur Boulevard and 94th Avenue.

The gunman is still unidentified. According to Mercury News, the Police and Crime Stoppers are offering as much as $20,000 reward or information leading to the arrest of the killer. Anyone with information may call police at 510-238-3821 or Crime Stoppers at 510-777-8572.

The American rapper got his start in Pittsburg with his first group Mob Figz, whose first album ’C-Bo’s Mob Figaz was released in 1999, according to AllMusic. In the early years of his career, he was influenced by local heroes such as C-BO, Mac Dre, and Too Short.

According to AllMusic, he launched his solo career in 2001 with a self-titled album. His second album, The Jack Artist, appeared in 2005, followed by a series of mixtapes and street level releases. In 2008 he won Ozone Magazine’s Patiently Waiting: California award.

In early 2010, The Jacka released his most recent album, Broad Daylight. He ran his own record label, called Artist Records.

According to iMesh Box, Newton converted to Islam in an early age and changed his name to Shaheed Akbar. He was born to teenage parents and raised in a hip hop culture, iMesh Box reports:

“I spent so many years in the studio just making songs, I really practice my craft. I make good music and a lot of these cats just do it because they wanna be famous. When they got the ball they dropped it because they’re not as raw as people was making them out to be, you know? I always had to prove myself and I never had anybody to just hand me anything, I was always putting in that work.”

The Jacka was 37-years-old. A rapper gone to soon. #TheJacka