Monday, December 30, 2013

No swim at Bongin. Was that wrong?

Dawn at Bongin Bongin Bay. Just after dawn, anyway... Well, quite a way after dawn. The wind is howling.
This morning -- Sundee morning -- we went for a swim. But we didn’t swim. And we’re just trying to work out whether that was wrong.

We went to Mona Vale to swim in Bongin Bongin Bay with our good friend, Glistening Dave. Dave has been away for 10 days, in Adelaide for Xmas, and we’d missed him. Normally, Dave swims at Bongin every day with his cobbers.. Yes, Dave has cobbers... Yes, yes, we’re surprised, too…

Dave and his cobbers refer to themselves as the Dawnbusters, swimming at Bongin every weekday morning of the year at 6:30, and at 7:30 on weekends. All year ‘round, summer, autumn, winter and back into spring, cold days and balmy; stingers or clear. About the only thing that will stop the Dawnbusters, according to Dave’s daily reports, is a sea that makes crossing the bombie that lies in the centre of the bay foolhardy.

It’s just a short hop across from the spit at the southern edge of Bongin to the headland, just a few hundred metres. The Dawnbusters usually swim over to the headland and back. On weekends, they will go out of Bongin, around the rockshelf with the Mona Vale pool and into the beach at Mona Vale proper. On Sundees, they’ll head south towards Warriewood then swim or walk back along the beach, to get a bit more distance. Once a year, the Dawnbusters marshal their significant others, who drive them over the hill to Bungan, on the other side of the headland, from where they swim back to Bongin. It’s the Bungan to Bongin swim. It’s barely a kilometre itself around the headland, but it justifies the annual Dawnbusters barbie in the park behind the beach afterwards.

Otherwise, the normal daily swim is barely half a kilometre. Not a long distance; not a big ask. But it’s every morning; it’s a swim; it maintains their feel for the sea; it forms the raison d’etre for a whole bunch of mugs to get out of bed every morning; and it performs that vital function: it qualifies the Dawnbusters for that climactic culchural phase of ocean swimming: the morning cuppa, which they take at one of the caf├ęs just off the beach past the other end of Mona Vale surf club.
Show me your huddling, seething masses, for they will swim, whatever the conditions.
 There are groups like the Dawnbusters on every civilised beach in Stra’a. In more populous areas, there’ll be several groups, and they’re made up of a wide diversity, a disparity, of ocean swimming mugs in the ultimate egalitarian environment: in the sea, dressed only in cossies.

This morning, we took our other friend, Jane -- yes, yes, we have another friend, too -- and all three of us left Meadowbank at 6:30am for the hour’s drive to Mona Vale. We knew when we left that all was not well: when we arose from our beds at 6, the southerly was blowing briskly up the river. And if the breeze is brisk at Meadowbank, an hour from the beach, at 6 in the morning, then it’s likely to be howling over Bongin at Mona Vale.

We could feel the wind strengthening as we headed, within the speed limit, along Mona Vale Road, through S’nives, past the showground, past the Sundee morning cyclists with their colourful lycra stretched tight over their expanded middle-aged bellies, by the Bahai temple and down the hill into Mona Vale. The drive was across the wind all the way. We felt it blowing the vehicle around, the gusts swirling around us as we dropped down hills through gullies and rose up the other side again. The wind was so strong by along the Terrey Hills highlands, we wondered how some of those cyclists – some of them in particular – managed to stay upright as they pushed across it.

We were amongst the first to the beach. It was truly howling there. A couple of punters braved the pool. One or two hung around the car park overlooking the beach, huddling in the shelter of fatted pine tree trunks. We stayed in the car, fogging up the windscreen from inside. Or was that the salt deposited in layers by the angry southerly that blurred our view? As we sat there, we could feel the wind, gusting, rattling the vehicle, rocking it from side to side. We wondered about the physics of motor vehicles, and how strong a wind need be before it flipped a car over. The surf was blown out. It wasn’t a heavy swell; it was all wind chop. It came in from the sou’-east, blowing what waves there were onto the beach and across the sandspit, picking up the salt and layering it across our windscreen, and whipping up the sand, dropping it into Bongin Bongin Bay.

7:30 ticked over. There were a dozen or more punters here by now, including Dave, who greeted them all effusively. Much more effusively than he greets us, in fact, leaving us with a tinge of jealousy. Maybe… maybe Dave has other friends who are more important to him than us… Just wondering…

Mrs Sparkle and Jane, who doubles as our roadie when we haul our branded tent along to weekend ocean swims, jumped out of the car to greet the assembling, shivering Dawnbusters. We alighted gingerly. We didn’t like the look of the sea, the sky, the feel of the wind, or anything much outside our cocoon. As we stood there in the wind, we lost three layers of skin from the back of our neck, sandblasted by a smash repairer’s hose.

The sea looked worse from outside the car. It was blown-out flat on shore, on the southern edge of Bongin Bongin Bay, but as wind reached across the bay, the chop rose up again towards the headland. It would be a quick trip over, but it would be a blustery, barging, head-butting swim back.

The Dawnbusters readied themselves. They were going in. Weather doesn’t stop them. They shifted onto the beach, like a sandhill inching across the desert. They disrobed, pulled out their goggles, and shoved their towels into the packs. Some of them clutched fins under their arms. A lonely dog, a beautiful patchy collie/border collie, was left, tied by his master to the fence. The puppy panted with worry. He couldn’t see the beach from behind the overgrown grass that followed the fence line, and he didn’t like it. He knew his master was down there somewhere... He barked that high-pitched, squeaky bark that dogs do when they sense a loved one is in peril.

The Dawnbusters launched themselves into the sea. They surged through the break, blown almost completely flat by the southerly, and they plunged across the bay, a series of grey splashes against the grey sea and the grey, grey sky marking their patchy tracks. They swam across the bay almost to the headland. Then they turned and swam back, much more slowly this time, for the return journey was like squeezing through a gap in a wall, repeatedly.

It was blown out.
We didn’t swim. We stood on the grass between the carpark and the beach sullenly, watching the brave, dour Dawnbusters straggling from the sea, the wind blasting the water from the amongst the greying hair on their middle-aged bodies – and that’s not an easy thing to do -- our emotions a mixture of relief, that no-one had forced us to go in; and guilt: that we hadn’t swum just because the weather was no good, that we hadn’t taken upper body exercise since Xmas Eve, five days before; and that we’d disappointed ourselves, yet again, because we’d failed the test of “What would you do when conditions turn bad?”

We’d looked forward to a swim at Bongin – we’d been telling ourselves for months that we wanted to get up to Bongin early one morning to swim with our good friend, Glistening Dave – but we swam often enough that we didn’t feel the need to discomfort ourselves in such unpleasant conditions just to prove a point, whatever that point might be.

We went all that way, and we didn’t swim. Even more brazen, we still had a cuppa afterwards.

Was that wrong?


  1. You done the right thing.
    Nobody loves an Extremist.

  2. It were wrong. No swim for 5 days, you hadda get in, even if it jus be 2 get wet for a bit. Wrong wrong wrong.


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