Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Bambi Code - Injecting Order into Anarchy

No central authority exists for ocean swimming. Events have sprung up spontaneously as fund-raisers run usually by community groups. As such, ocean swimming has no central code of conduct or any central standards or protocols. This might be considered one of its beauties.

So says Hunter Valley geologist John Bamberry, in the second edition of his widely praised, Ocean and Open Water Swims - Guidelines for Swimmers and Organisers. John published the first edition of his guide to etiquette, behaviour and organisation about five years ago. Now, he's revised it, aiming it especially at newer swimmers and swim organisers, attempting to capture in words best practice by swimmers and organisers alike.

Bamberry's is the first attempt to codify, informally, practice in a sport that's all the more glorious for its lack of central authority. What Bamberry is saying, however, is that even the most beautiful of activities descends into anarchy without some understanding of and respect for conventional practice. So here it is.

We've loaded the document onto To download it... click here

We welcome your feedback on The Bambi Code. Go to the oceanswims blob, where we've posted this report ready for your comments... Click the comments link below to leave yours...


  1. Nice work John. One thing you might want to add is the collection of electronic timing chips post race from both organiser's and swimmer's perspective. My preference is when organisers have people removing them from swimmer's ankles after crossing the mat to keep the finishers moving through.

  2. That's exactly the notion for some (many) of us. We are free out there. We swim in the ocean by ourselves or with friends and go any which way we want to. Freedom...and inexpensive....and a rush.

  3. Good work.

    Hey Bambi you mention that convention about entries being not refundable if an event is cancelled. I've gone along with this because generally $30 or $50 entry for an organised ocean swim is good value, and a couple of losses during the year is not an issue.

    Just wondering if it's doing the right thing by punters though. Especially like these privately run swims, sometimes no entries allowed on race day. Sure, part of the proceeds are donated to a charity, but if the swim is washed out then the organisers save some of their costs costs - private water safety, timing systems, council fees, cleaning, etc.
    In that case, wouldn't they want to refund all or part of the entry fees to the disappointed swimmers.

  4. A worthy effort, good to see commonsense codified a bit. It's probably worth making a top ten for swimmers and swims both, to help emphasize the most salient points - I'll add a semi-alternative list below just for kicks.
    There have been some good tips recently too on the os.c homepage that might be worth adding for pool swimmers, some are reproduced below

    Ocean Swimmers
    1. Don't panic. If you can float, someone can always see you, so float, wave your arms, and you'll be ok. Breathe too. If you're panting, take a few deep breaths, and it's funny how things suddenly start to feel ok.
    2. Go as deep as you can under the wave. Don't come up too soon. Practise this so you can judge it well - it's the most important part of the start of your swim, and if you can't do it, you won't do well in the race, and may well not even make it past the break
    3. No breastroking around buoys. Let your legs drag and doggy-paddle if need be, but don't start breaststroking
    4. Don't tap my toes repeatedly, or I'll try very hard to kick you in the fez.
    5. This should go without saying, but cutting buoys is very dubious
    6. Think carefully about wearing a wetsuit, and expect to be both vilified and shunned if you so do
    7. If you're scared of the pack, start wide. In fact- even if you're not scared, but just sensible, do it anyway. It's consistently very peaceful 2m left/right of the turbulent melee
    8. Water safety are there to help you out - unless you're very much sure of your line take their corrections with grace, and if you have enough breath, thank them as you pass anyway. They don't get much thanks for the effort they put in.
    9. Appreciate the effort that organisers, os.c, etc put in. Some things may not be perfect, but who is. Pay extra for the sausage sizzle too - it's going to a good cause, and it puts a smile on the face of the volunteers when you give them the change.
    10. IF you're last, and you've battled hard to finish, you'll get the biggest ovation on the beach. So if you think you're last in the water, and want to give up - just think of the positive reception you're going to get :)

  5. Swim Organisers:

    1. Look at the os.c calendar before you schedule your swim, and try and find a free weekend. Consider Saturdays too - overlapping with other swims both hurts your numbers and makes punters sad that they can't come to your swim
    2. Make cap colours bright, buoys visible, and both different to colours of water safety (if you can). There's nothing more embarrassing and disappointing than accidentally trying to swim towards and round someone on a board, rather than a buoy.
    3. Differentiate prices sufficiently to discourage on-day entry, otherwise you'll have a kerfuffle in the clubhouse. $10 above internet price appears to be the magic number to help encourage people to enter online (publicise the benefit and availability of online entries too!)
    4. Put on an extra swim, and make it cost-effective to do both swims- ie give people a good discount to do so. This is becoming more popular with punters, and upgrading people who are already involved is the easiest way to raise more for the club
    5. Try to have results ready within a day or so, otherwise the keen-beans will complain and subsequently avoid your swim. If you can't currently do this, consider what about your systems is preventing it (eg if you're taking manual entries, can you put entries directly into excel tables on multiple computers rather than writing them on paper?)
    6. Water (even disposable cups) is a necessity. Fruit is nice. BBQ is also much welcomed, and will probably make you some money. Make people feel welcome, provide for them, and you'll do well.
    7. Separate waves according to numbers. For small swims (<200p), men then women as two single waves is probably good. Otherwise ten-year age groups are sensible at 2- or 3-minute intervals - 5 minutes is too long and drags on for later waves
    8. Be generous with age group & random prizes. If you're clever and can tie it in with local business it may not cost you much, but is much appreciated and helps build a feeling of loyalty
    9. Don't feel the need to blare out rubbish on the microphone - it's not a triathlon.
    10. T-shirts are a far superior freebie instead of caps, if this is an option. I proudly wear my various ocean-swim t-shirts throughout the year (great promotion for the swim, as they're an impeccable conversation item), but caps just go to waste in a pile in the bathroom

  6. Pool swimmers - some of these directly lifted from os.c
    1. Before you get in a lane, spend a couple of minutes timing the various swimmers in there already. Don't get in front of someone who is going to overtake you within two laps. Don't get in immediately behind someone who you are going to overtake within two laps. If you know someone is going to overtake you, keep left as you finish a lap so they can turn normally.
    2. If you swim with wide arms, be aware of people coming and shorten your stroke to avoid them
    3. Don't swim down the middle of the lane. If someone overtakes you on the left, you're swimming too close to the middle
    4. Don't pee in the pool. If you nonetheless do so, ensure to port a cheeky grin as you do.
    5. If someone is on your tail, let them pass at the end of the lap
    6. If you smell, shower before you get in the water
    7. If your speedos are loose or old, please don't breaststroke. If you're male (Vic Park Pool Regulars In Particular Please Take Note) don't wear white g-string swimmers and gaze lustily at fellow lane-mates, this is seedy and not appreciated.
    8. If waiting (faffing about) at the end of the lane, queue up the sides rather than blocking the centre turning pad
    9. Be nice to other swimmers. IF you clash hands, apologise, and say thanks if someone stops to let you pass.
    10. Enjoy your swim, but always remember how much nicer if would be if you were instead in the salty goodness of the ocean

  7. This is a valiant effort. I hope one or two observations might be offered in a spirit of constructive feedback. In general, I'm not sure the additions from the os.c edit help the cause.

    In particular, I thought the earlier drafts had a rather nicer, more inclusive, gently informative, sharing tone.

    The additions especially on wetsuits and drafting, which seem to be pet peeves of os.c, add a rather hectoring tut-tutting note that, in my humble opinion, doesn't sit comfortably with the more generous spirt of the initial purpose and detracts from the standing of the document as a whole.

    Writing like this : "This is rude, discourteous, disrespectful, an invasion of personal space and a form of assault" comes across as an exaggeration, and as indulging the author's rant rather than adding to constructive communication.

    It's true that having someone tap your feet can be annoying. And that like baby noises in a plane, some people let themselves get very riled up by it. It's also true that there are many occasions in an ocean swim where it can be hard to get round people.

    The code is now a very long document. Adding these wordy extras risks making it a bit bloated. It makes me wonder a bit who its audience is meant to be. It's perhaps likely to be more widely read if it's a bit shorter and if it's clearer which bit is aimed at which audience.

    It seemed originally to be meant mostly for newcomers. I think it's very useful to let people know why breaststroking around the buoy can be dangerous, to remind people who have (surprisingly) not considered that when they change to breast stroke to see where to go next they risk kicking someone next to them in the face. In the same spirit, it's useful to remind people that it can be very annoying to have your feet tapped.

    Equally, it's also worth reminding people that if they're in an ocean swim, unless they're very fast or swim very wide, they're going to bump up against other swimmers and encouraging them to resist rushing to anger over minor irritations. Having things kindly pointed out lets people learn. Berating them is seldom as effective.

    I applaud the effort that's gone into this work. Thank you. Please be cautious about listening to editors, and consider the possibility that sometimes, less is more.


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