Monday, January 27, 2014

A real ocean swim

Froth and bubble.
And that was about it, really: the story of The Big Swim. It was a bit of a chunderous start at Palm Beach, heavier sets dropping onto a bank as the tide reached its nadir, then a glorious, rolling sea, smooth at times, sometimes glassy, occasionally bumpy, carpets of froth off the point, a head current rounding Little Head into the bay, rocking and rolling back into Whale Beach, then a chunderous finish through heavier sets dropping chunderously onto a shallow bank as you come in through a break that most haven't seen onto Whale Beach.

What more can one say: it was what an ocean swim is supposed to be about.

We've often admired the judgment of The Big Swim organisers, because they'll run their swim in conditions from which many other organisers recoil. But most people, those who think about it, head to Palm Beach knowing that conditions can be difficult, and that's what happens when you swim in the ocean. The Big Swim organisers are themselves swimmers and have been doing this swim, themselves, since its inauguration in 1974. They know the sea and the breaks here reasonably well.
Mind you, the organisers can't claim credit for a sea that was fresh, invigorating, sometimes glassy smooth, rolling, bluey-free (we heard reports later of masses of blueys on the Eastern Suburbs beaches), and a swell that was sometimes dangerous, but always interesting.
Looking down on the great washed.
We were caught out at one spot, coming in at Whale Beach: caught on the bank, we turned and dived back under a dumper, grabbing the sand, only to find we were in water just a couple of feet deep, far too shallow to secure protection from depth and the bottom slipping liquefactionally through our fingers. The whitewater picked us up, threw us around, tried to dump us on our heads, and twisted our legs and hips a little alarmingly (we're just over 12 months from a double hip replacement... but you don't need to know about that).

But, hey! We survived. You have to stay relaxed in these situations. And you must never, ever -- and this is a message to all those CanTooers who probably completed their toughest ocean challenge at The Big Swim -- you must never turn your back on the surf without knowing exactly what is coming. When you're approaching the break from sea, and when you're coming in through it, you must keep turning around and watching. You must always know what's there behind you.

We proffer this gratuitous advice because we saw more than a few CanTooers -- we can identify them from their cossies, of course -- grateful to be almost finished, simply heading in through the break oblivious to what was coming behind. Disinterested, even. Focussed only on getting to the beach. Most of them time, you can get away with it. But Whale Beach will keep you honest on a day like this.
Isn't it terrific to see all these older gents out and getting stuck into it! Some of them try so hard, although their faculties aren't what they used to be.

One other thing we should say is a comment on the booees that the Pittwater swims have been using the past few weeks, Avalon, Mona Vale and now The Big Swim. The organisers borrow them from the local yacht club for free, which is nice of the yacht club and it's a bit of a saving for the organising clubs. But, really, those booees are not good enough for an ocean swim. They're the wrong colours -- honestly, who can see British racing green, particularly on a grey day in a swell? Even the "yellow" one used this weekend was too dull to be seen, merging into the sandy background -- and they're too small. Since those clubs have banded together to form their Pittwater Series, why can't they at least band together and buy a set of suitable booees? It would cost them a couple of hundred dollars each, and would pay off over time. It's not just a question of saving a couple of bucks here and there, fellers. It's a question of safety first and foremost.

(We declare an interest: knowing that individual surf clubs can't afford to buy a full set of booees for one day per year, we have a full set (11) of big, bright marker booees (up to 2m high and 1.5m thick) which we rent out to interested organisers. Whale Beach have used our booees sometimes, but generally they use the yacht club's booees. Ours are yellow and fluoro orange, which, in our experience, are the only two colours that can be seen reliably. And they're cylindrical, which means the bit you need to see, if you're a swimmer, the bit at the top, can be seen clearly. Other clubs use pink booees, conical booees, purple booees, blue booees, all of which are shite for our purposes, conical booees, especially. You can always tell a swim whose course has been set by someone who is not a swimmer, when they use conical booees. The only fat bit with conical booees is at the bottom, and swimmers can't see the bit at the bottom. We'd have thought insurers, at least, would have a word to organisers about this.

Our booees are available to the Pittwater clubs, but if they don't wish to use them, band together and buy a set that can be seen by swimmers. And memo to organisers: just because you can see them from the beach, or a boat, or from a board, doesn't mean you can see them when you're in the water as a swimmer. This is a matter of safety; it's more important than saving a few bucks.
The product of a chunderous break: we spot some very, very good gogs here in the arms of the lost property chaps at Whale Beach, including a pair of near-new Fully Sicks and several pairs of the world's best all 'round goggle, the Selene.

Now, have your say... click the comments button and vent your spleen...


  1. Fantastic swim. Offered everything: swell, backwash, froth, breakers, current, and some of those houses on the cliffs deserve closer inspection.

  2. Awesome swim , If only the 45 to 49 went earlier.

    Wish the dash for cash didn’t coincide with the biggest sets of the morning and that Rob Stokes didn’t flog me.

    Nice to catch up with me mate Jack Daniels, pity I didn’t catch up with Michael Pegum but thats ok cause I BEAT EM BOTH.

    Thanks for your work Paul

  3. Dear ocean swims, Thanks for your description of each swim which I read before and use to try to understand the sea. Also thanks for post swim results and photos. I always read the description of the swim after it is done too as it means more.

    What a thunderous beach is Whale beach. Wow. I am glad to have survived. Thanks to water safety guys yelling instructions so I could hear! Great swimmers!

  4. Hi Paul, If you got dumped and found it challenging I'm really glad I chose the Sydney Harbour swim over this one. Big scary dumpy waves don't do it for me any more I'm afraid. Glad you enjoyed it though.

  5. Fantastic swim, well done to the organizers for still going ahead with the swim in what was pretty challenging seas. Safety crew were great and visible too - one popped up beside me while I was waiting to go in at Whale (between the sets) and reassured me that "they hadn't lost any one yet".

    Well done to the Cantooers too amazing effort in the conditions!

  6. a big thank you to the ưater safety at whale on Sunday, I cramped my left calf muscle halfway between the two yellow buoys and ứas ultra thank ful for the support in getting my leg across a rescue board to stretch oout before completing the swim. it ứa my 13th P to Ư swim. chếers

  7. I know from personal experience how much you support Can Too Paul so I know your advice is well meant (some people have thought otherwise). If an old sea dog like you can dumped then it just goes to show how much we all need to channel Swimderella ( in the hurly burly and excitement as we head back towards dry land. Not only were the Can Tooers amazing but so were our devoted coaches and water safety who helped not just Can Tooers but many a non-Can Tooer safely through the break at Whale alongside the Whale Beach SLSC water safety team. It was great to see the whole ocean swim community banding together to make sure everyone was ok. I even heard of a spectator literally stripping off on the spot and offering to chaperone a frightened swimmer out back at Palmie. The swimmer declined. It’s important for us all to know our limits in the surf. It was indeed a real ocean swim in many ways!

  8. I lost my goggles at Avoca...maybe they're amongst that lot?


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