Monday, January 31, 2011

Cole Classic... here we go again...

The Cole Classic is this weekend, the third outing of this event under the ownership of Fairfax Meeja. And we expect to be welcoming a whole lot of new ocean swimmers as a result, and that's terrific. But every year, we have a whinge about how we believe Fairfax Meeja diss the ocean swimming community, and every year, we get the odd few people whingeing back at us for our whingeing in the first place. These issues remain, however, and we feel we have a duty, as the unofficial meeja outlet of ocean swimming, to point out a few things. Heaven forbid, if we didn't do it, all these new swimmers whom Fairfax are bringing into our sport -- and we acknowledge that they bring in lots every year -- well, if we didn't point out some truths, then all these new swimmers would think the treatment they get from Fairfax is common to the sport, when it's not. The only result of our whingeing to date, however, is that Fairfax won't play speaks with us, and by and large their dissing and ignorance of the ocean swimming community continues.

This blob now is prompted right now by the imminence of this year's Cole, next weekend, and by the news that Fairfax Meeja now have taken on a "new" event -- new for them -- at Dee Why, where they seem to be perpetuating many of their existing practices. The third prompter is an email we received today from David Collins, who wrote to Fairfax yesterday, thus,
    I have just broken my wrist and cannot compete in the Cole this year. Can I transfer my registration to another person? If not, is a refund available?
Seems a reasonable request to us. Most swims automatically would allow a refund, especially seven days ahead of the event. We do this all the time in cases of genuine need and, often, when swimmer's circumstances change and they cannot make a swim for which they've entered and paid. Generally, we retain a small admin fee to cover bank transaction fees for two transactions (payment and refund). Anyway,  Fairfax's "Natasha" responded to David...
We are very sorry to hear that you will no longer be able to participate. Unfortunately, was have passed the cut off for a medical refund.
Then Natasha appears to cut and paste a section of the Cole Classic's FAQs...
    "Can I get a refund or Transfer my registration?

    There are no refunds or transfers for this event. If you have an injury that prevents you from swimming, a medical certificate may be submitted for a refund of 50%. This can only be done up until 5pm on Friday, January 14, 2011."
David is not the first one to be disadvantaged by this policy of whom we're aware, but it's sad and a reflection on the Fairfax organisation that they are so unsympathetic to the plight of people in his position. It's not as if, after all, David planned to break his wrist right now and contrived to seek the refund. The matter is even worse when you consider that "earlybird" entries to the Cole's main event are $49, and $59 in the final several weeks. Fairfax are making a fortune out of the Cole and give very little to charity in return. They trumpet their support for charity, but most of their support is to encourage entering swimmers to raise funds themselves to donate. Fairfax themselves donate very little, indeed nothing that we're aware of apart from a $25,000 donation to Manly LSC for providing course layout and water safety services on the day. In the meantime, Fairfax are raising something in the area of $200,000 from entry fees alone, never mind sponsorship, and that's a conservative estimate.

It's hard to know how much precisely they make, and how much they may pay to various organisations and individuals for various things, because they don't publish their accounts. Indeed, we went through Fairfax's annual report last year to see what we could find, and we couldn't even find the Cole Classic mentioned, or any of their other highly lucrative events.

Apart from exorbitant entry fees and unreasonable requirements for "early bird entry" -- swims are not runs: New South Head Rd does not change in wild and windy weather, whereas the ocean does, and swimmers like/need to better assess conditions closer to swim time before deciding whether to enter -- they also do questionable things like require you to pick up your "Race Pack" in the city on the Friday ahead or at Manly on the day ahead (early, early entrants have theirs mailed out to them). What this means is that swimmers are inconvenienced by having to make a trip across town, probably two trips in two days, just to get their chips.

There is a worrying corollary to this: by distributing chips in advance and not providing on-day registration, Fairfax Meeja has absolutely no idea who enters the water on race day. Thus they have no idea whether all swimmers make it back to the beach safely. We remain amazed that their insurers let them get away with this. We regard that as an unsafe practice.

There are many other matters that we would raise, but ...

But if you have problems, issues with the Cole Classic, then this is the place to vent them. Often, it helps just to be able to have your say.


  1. No it's all too hard for me this year -
    The higher swim entry fees are a little sour, You have to think about it too far ahead of time, It's difficult to pick up the swim caps and timing chips before the event if you miss the early entry, The course is tame with the start at Shelly beach. Parking and crowds on the day are a hassle.

    There's a better organised ocean swim at Manly on 6th March (in my opinion)- Manly Daily 1k and 2k. I'll do that one in preference to Cole Classic in Feb (and TamaCloey on the same day 6th March - don't get me started on their seeded waves system)

    I'm doing an informal swim at Manly this Saturday 6th Feb. at 7am. Will be more challenging and heaps more fun.

    Respect, Cole Classic is attracting new participants to ocean swimming and it's a good fundraiser for the surf club.
    It's just not a great swim for me any more.

  2. My mates and I have boycotted the Cole since it was taken over by Fairfax.

    It's great that new people are introduced to the sport, but from all accounts the swim is expensive, poorly run (remember the year when the bouys were moved during the race??), bloody crowded, and a hassle to get race day packs.

    Plus the thought of Fairfax making big money from the swim really irks me. Ocean swimming can get expensive, but it's always nice to know the money goes to clubs and charities that need it to give back to the community.

    I only hope that newcomers don't get put off, thinking the Cole is representative of all ocean swims.

    Looking forward to the other Manly swims this season, they're always great fun, and probably more newcomer-friendly!

  3. Hear hear! $59 for an ocean swim is outrageous. Any hint of swell and the course will be a tame in/out at Shelly. Also will be a mucher shorter distance than advertised (I'm sure many out there remember the 2km event from a couple of years ago that was more like 1.3km). No thanks Fairfax!

    I can't wait until another Sydney club has the guts to go head to head against the Cole (hello, North Bondi SLSC?!?). I'll be at the other swim with bells on. Until then, I will sit on the sidelines this weekend, content that I'm not getting ripped off by an organisation that does not respect ocean swimming culture.

  4. I understand Mr Fairfax you are having falling revenue from newspapers. Why stop at two oceanswims take over all the oceanswims, charge $100.00 a swim, wrap each swim in the fundraising charity flag. Darn why did I not think of that buiness model.
    For us mug swimmers who regard oceanswimming as a weekend sport and race every weekend , will this mean more informal swimming.
    Peter Mccrae

  5. Yes - I'd love another surf club to put on another 'proper' ocean swim on Cole Classic day - I'd be there for sure!

  6. Possibly a shortened course again this year if the forecast weather arrives
    Latest forecast for Sydney Sunday (seabreeze) is a 1.6m swell and a fresh Southerly
    Don't think the organisers will risk swimmers handling a decent sized swell out of Cabbage Tree Bay

  7. The figures speak for themselves.
    North Bondi Roughwater AND Classic 1+2km entry: $80 for four races
    Cole Classic 1 + 2km entry (early bird): $88 for two races

  8. I can't be bothered entering the Cole Classic any more - too expensive, too annoying to go and pick up the timing chip beforehand, too crowded, too hard to park (in the good old days they organised parking and buses near Manly which was a huge help). Having whinged, I do acknowledge that the Cole Classic is introducing new swimmers to our wonderful sport. I hope they enjoy themselves and go on to try some of the other smaller swims with so much to offer and contribute to the community.

  9. Had a great swim at the Cole yesterday. Swam from Queenscliff to Shelly and back just outside the race course and even got into a bit of a race with one of the packs. I decided to pay the $60 entry fee by way of a Cantoo swimmer sponsership where I am sure a much higher percentage will actually go to charity.
    Colin Reyburn

  10. I was a bit worried about doing the Cole after reading this blog as I rate ocean.swims quite highly. However, I found the Cole to be a great event. It was well organised and they handled the numbers well(ie large gaps between packs, great starter). Course was a ripper! BTW with the timing chips they record your entrance into the starting pen so they actually have more of an idea who is on the course than most events. In sum, I think each event over the Summer has its own style and needs to be approached with an open mind. I've swum in Av, mona vale, Bondi, Palmy this year - they all have their own pros/cons - so does the Cole. cheers

  11. Dear Colin Reyburn ,

    I am the Can Too East coach and I would just like to say well done to you . I myself have been in silent protest of the Cole for many years but as the coach I have to remain positive about it in respect for the many swimmers we train to swim in it.

    Bondi have a swim on the 17th of April that they assign a percentage to a charity , you guessed it , Can Too ! Not only is Can Too an amazing charity raising funds for cancer research , it brings many 100's of newbies to the sport annually.

    I think more of the ocean swim organisers that benefit from the extra numbers of swimmers they get as a result of Can Too could consider something similar.

    As for the Cole .... maybe next year we will have another option the first weekend in Feb??......!!

  12. Did anyone else think yesterday's 2km Cole swim was actually more than 2kms? It felt really really long to me.
    Near the end, I was even feeling nostalgic for the 2009 Cole "2km" swim which turned out to be about 1.5km!

  13. Dear Huckleberry,

    The only reason the Cole now record your entrance to the starting pen is due to feed back about the risk they have exposed themselves too in the past (much of it on this very website).
    I know of several swimmers who lost their timing chips during the race on Sunday. I know for sure no one took one of their names and the swimmer didn't report it. For all Fairfax know that person could be lying on the bottom of the ocean. At other swims, anyone who is registered at the start and is not accounted for at the end is tracked down (a couple of times I know of people have been found safe at home after pulling out halfway through - causing grief for the organisers, rescue helicopter on standby - But at least they checked.)
    Two of the Babewatch swimmers lost their tags but they are so high profile of course it was noticed and they reported it.
    The course was not well managed:
    The buoys were really hard to see, why would you put a sea green cover over a smallish hot pink buoy?
    Why were there two of the water safety with small children (under 8) on their boards with them?
    How could they help a struggling swimmer and manage their small child as well?
    Why were their so few water safety that they were not policing the swimmers swimming the wrong way around the buoys?
    Why would you serve hot Gatoraid and unripe fruit?
    Why do most of those new swimmers to our sport think that the new Fairfax Dee Why swim is the only other one? Don't worry though Fairfax we have an army of people telling people of all the other good swims available through I had to laugh as I heard one of my squad members and the coach (who is not an oceanswimmer) setting an audience of about 6 new Cole oceanswimmers straight. "There are better oceanswims than that!"

  14. We hate being negative, and it seems we are negative about Fairfax and the Cole so often. But we also feel a responsibility to point out issues, lest all those new ocean swimmers -- whom Fairfax brings into the sport through the Cole -- think the Cole is the norm. It ain't.

    The Cole is not the norm for a whole range of reasons, chief amongst which are that very few swims charge such exorbitant entry fees for no good reason (Fairfax gets its water safety and logistics from Manly surf club, for example), and the Cole and the Dee Why swims, contrary to what you might think from Fairfax, are not the only swims on the calendar. There's a year-round sport out there, vibrant, growing rapidly, exciting, diverse, communal and social, which Fairfax absolutely ignores. Indeed, if you took Fairfax's advice as to how to find out about other swims ("Ask you local surf club."), then 999 times out of 1,000, you'd encounter a blank, disinterested, ignorant, maybe even an hostile stare.

    It's good that Fairfax now are doing something to check swimmers in (starting pads), which they do after two seasons of us pointing out how dangerously there were running the event, and it's good that they had at last a good day for the event, and it was able to run as planned from Shelly to Manly. But there remain so many ways in which Fairfax are dismissive and disrespectful of the ocean swimming community that, really, little has changed. They reap the ocean swimming community through their very high entry fees (which some very silly swims now are copying - do you see Byron Bay this season is $65!, Bondi-Bronte immediately went to $40) -- and they treat swimmers like sheep (did you stand in line at Rebel in the city to get your timing chip -- both the Cole and runners in the Saturday job all trying to get their chips from two staff).

    To Saltwater girl (above), the 2km distance was 2.42km. See the report and course track as swum by Mrs Sparkle.

  15. Wow, $65 for the Byron Bay swim! That's ridiculous. I'll do it, but I'm not paying for it.

  16. As an oceanswimmer of several years, and having done the cole at bondi, at manly (pre fairfax) and at manly (post fairfax), I cant help thinking this annual stoush is becoming a little silly. Its a bit like the Judean People's Front vs the People's Front of Judea from the "The life of Brian".

    Its true that the event has changed beyond recognition. Some ways bad: increased cost, decreased consideration for swimmers, Fairfax distorting their contribution to ocean swimming. But some ways good: increased participation, donations to charity, increased media coverage. Along the way they have also had the bad luck (or karma) of poor conditions.

    Sunday's swim was fantastic for those who entered. Great conditions, good gaps between waves, challenging course. And I say that despite being in the M45-54 group that got the false start ! I just wish that the swim was the focus of more posts.

    Lastly, I think Paul, Mr Oceanswims, is fantastic. But he's not the Messiah, just a naughty boy (albeit in fluro cossies + olympus camera in hand).

  17. I do not regard the annual stoush as silly as where else can comments be made about the expensive entry fee, which the other oceanswims will invariably follow.
    I strongly disagree with the claim Mr Oceanswims is just a naughty boy, a pain in the butt occasionaly, but never a naughty boy.
    One day I would like to meet the very big anonymous family.
    Peter McCrae

  18. Out of interest, results suggested that the 2km course was very close to distance, with the winners taking almost exactly 12 minutes/km - this is a remarkably consistent rule of thumb for comparing performance in differing swims. As swims typically set a shorter course, I suspect that a lot of us are simply not accustomed to the effort of swimming an honest 2km in open water.

    And with regard to the technological evidence, it's fairly well documented that most consumer-level GPS doesn't cope particularly well with both the up-and-down (waves), side-to-side (human error) and frequent signal occlusion that leads to apparent jumps in the track. Expect your average GPS to read 10-20% over actual distance when being used in water, or approximately 2.4km for a 2k race.


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