Saturday, December 28, 2013

The usual spirited exchange following a cancelled swim

We endured a spirited exchange of emails the week before Xmas a punter aggrieved that the Bilgola swim was called off due to heavy seas. He was not the first aggrieved punter to complain about a cancellation, and he certainly wasn't the first to feel he'd been ripped off.

We can understand the disappointment felt when a swim is called off. It happened twice that weekend: North Curl Curl was cancelled on the Sat'dee, then Billie was called off on the Sundee. Last season, there was a rash of cancellations and postponements that left hundreds and thousands of us swimless for weeks and lighter in pocket. Last season, one punter complained that he'd entered himself and his bride into the Bondi swim, only for it to be postponed due to seas. After the postponement was announced, he entered himself and his bride into Long Reef, which then was cancelled. The weekend cost him a bit, and he didn't get to swim.

We can assure you that amongst the most disappointed at cancellations are the swim organisers, who've toiled for months to bring these events to you, only to be thwarted at the final moment by the weather. Postponements are almost as bad. One of the hardest jobs for the awgies is to find the voluntary day labour. It's very hard, sometimes impossible to get them back for a second day.

Swims face significant costs just getting to swim day, which is what we explain to cranky punters after a cancellation. The vast majority understand and they accept it. But you get one or two who take it to another level.


When we're accosted by aggrieved punters, we notice one thing in particular: almost invariably, they are new to ocean swimming. We mention this not to put them down -- to be sneering, as one punter accused us, we think unfairly, a week or so back -- but to highlight the phenomenon that newer ocean swimmers aren't as acquainted with and accepting of the traditions, the conventions, and the exigencies of ocean swimming in the way in which regular swimmers are. Ocean swimmers essentially are generous: in our experience, the vast majority of you like the fact that, by entering an ocean swim, you're supporting a charity, to wit a surf life saving club. That's one of the reasons -- a big reason -- why most of you understand and accept when a swim can't go ahead: the funds are going to a good cause. Organisers of swim in the ocean cannot predict the seas (which is something the people at Fairfax Meeja overlook when deciding that earlybird entries should close seven weeks ahead of the Cole Classic). Ocean swimmers generally know this and accept it. The unpredictability of conditions on race day is one of the reasons they get up to this caper.

Some don't get it, however. They think all the money goes to a private organisation, and usually they think that is us. They can't understand, or accept, or they don't want to understand, or accept, that in the vast majority of cases of ocean swims, the awginizahs are surf life saving clubs who can ill afford the cost of a swim without the revenue they receive from entries. For when a swim is called off, there are some costs they still cannot avoid, such as the food for the barbie that they'd planned to sell you, the swim caps they've bought and had printed, the promotional leaflets and entry forms, and so on. That still must be paid for.

Punters generally get all this and understand.

Various punters have tried different techniques to get their money back. One punter a couple of weeks back claimed, several days after he'd missed a swim that took place in unpleasant weather, that we'd got the date wrong on therefore he'd missed the swim, therefore we should refund his money or credit it to another event. We reckon he just couldn't be bothered getting out of bed on a rainy day and this was a try-on. Another punter, after the cancellation of The Big Swim (Palm-Whale) a few years back, tried a technique that we won't tell you about, because sure as hell some smarty pants will mimic it. This punter got his money back, but not through any honest dealing. We paid for it. We haven't seen his name pop up on the online entries list since then.

Where it goes

We take online entries on behalf of swim organisers. They are the oganisers, not us. The funds are theirs, not ours. As soon as online entries close, we prepare an acquittal of those funds and we pay them over to the events. In the cases of larger swims, we pay the funds over in instalments as entries come in prior to swim day. (We retain a commission from the funds, which represents the prime source of income to But we don't retain the funds. When grumpy punters accost us afterwards for refunds, the funds almost invariably already have been paid over to the organising surf life saving clubs.

The numbers of grumpy punters are miniscule, but they make a lot of noise and cause considerable grief, such as the bloke this week who, last we heard, was complaining about us to the Department of Fair Trading. Even amongst those miniscule numbers, however, most of them are accepting when we explain the situation to them. Most swims have a clause in their waivers stating that there will be no refunds in case of event cancellations, and every punter agrees to this when they submit their online entry. That doesn't stop them trying to renege on their agreement after the fact, however.

Why are we telling you all this? Because while we have a reasonable understanding of the conventions in ocean swimming, some out there don't, and we want the word to get around.

Happy New Year to you all, and thank you for supporting us.

1 comment:

  1. Not being confident in the surf I always check the forecast for an upcoming swim (sometimes even on a Monday morning for a swim the following Sunday) and again just before I register ( or If the forecast is for what I consider “big seas” (2 metres plus or shoulder height or above as described by swellnet) I usually hold off registering until Friday evening or Saturday morning and if the forecast still looks challenging I might then decide to register on the day (if the option is available) while even though it may attract an extra $10 charge, if the swim is cancelled you save the full registration fee.


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