Sunday, February 23, 2014

Wonderful world of blueys...

Peter McCrae's course, he said on swim day, would betray the fact that he stupidly followed others the wrong way towards the first booee at Bondi. It doesn't look all that bad to us, but reality is all in the mind, after all.

Some things, we hold as self-evident. So self-evident that we hardly need to say them. Like, dive under broken waves, don't stand up and face them head on. Don't body surf dumpers onto shallow banks. Don't swim in the fast lane if you're slow. And, best of all, don't breaststroke around booees. You know, the kind of things that qualify for “The Bleedin' Obvious” category in Mastermind.

Another is: Don't follow those ahead blindly, for they are following those ahead of them, and they in turn, and really, unless you sight for yourself, no-one really knows where they're going. Take responsibility for yourself.

They are all self-evident truths. Which is why Peter “McGoo” McCrae, the most eccentric and idiosyncratic oceran swimmer whom we know, was so sheepish when we approached him on Sunday, after the main event at Bondi, to collect our GSP-in-a-plastic bag, which we'd affixed to his wrist shortly before swim start in the expectation that we'd do probably only to the first booee then across to the final one. We wanted someone who was intending to do the entire course, and we couldn't trust ourselves, loaded as we were with our Brownie Starflash-in-a-plastic bag.

McCrae was sheepish because, he said, the GPS would show that he headed to the wrong booee after getting through the break at Bondi, towards the middle booee on the back reach rather than the sou'-western booee off Mackenzies Point. “I was following everyone else,” he confessed, and that, he said, got him into trouble. He wasn't looking forward to seeing the course. More importantly, we suspect, he wasn't looking forward to everyone else seeing his course, as well.


The bleedin' obvious...

We hold as self-evident that you should sight for yourself, not just blindly follow. But swimmers do follow, thinking it saves them time, that they won't then lose ground when they “stop” or slow to sight the next booee. They just trust the mugs in front of them. And how many times do you hear them lament on the beach afterwards that trusting in the mugs in front of them led them astray.

Branded by a Medusa.
Looking at McCrae's course (above), though, it doesn't look too bad. Sure, there is an early tendency to head straight out rather than towards the point, but McCrae must have caught it quite early, for the trend, as you see on the stock exchange graphs on the evening news on the telly, was in the right direction overall.

We were reminded of this truism earlier than McCrae's complaint on the beach after the race on Sundee, however. On the way back in from Ben Buckler, after rounding the nor'-eastern turning booee to head back into the finish, and just after we'd crossed the shark net, we were almost run down by a laydee swimmer heading, head down, at 90 degrees to our own course. She was heading towards North Bondi. Perhaps she was just a very slow swimmer from February 9. In any case, the water safety laddies, who were very attentive at Bondi, very quickly put her back on course. But had we been a metre ahead of ourselves, she'd have sliced us in two. And we wondered, to ourselves, in our inner monologue – isn't it extraordinary how many people, when they tell you what they were thinking, say, “And, I thought to myself...” Another one of those self-evident truths from “The Bleedin' Obvious” category. – “How could anyone go off course so radically? I mean, it's not as if there's a big sea, or sighting is impaired, or you can't see the next marker, which is Stra'a...”

Another thing we regard as self-evident is how to extricate oneself from the grip of a bluey.

We've been extricating ourselves from the grip of blueys all our lives. The first bluey sting we remember was when, as sweet little boys, we sprinted down the beach at a surf carnival at Caves Beach to greet our uncles as their boat crew returned victorious from a race, ignoring the blanket of blueys that lined the length of the beach. They were just stings on the foot, but the beach was thick with the blighters and their tentacles oozed up between our toes. The stings were in unreachable places.

We've never done that since.

The accused.
But we've been stung by blueys plenty of times. The most salutary sting we received was at Dee Why, which we've long regarded as synonymous with bluebottles. It's not Dee Why's fault, of course. But in the old days, their annual swim, which was a biathlon or a swim, depending upon your preference, ran on the third Sundee in February, so it was high season for blueys and there was usually a nor'-easter blowing which, as we all know – it's self-evident – is a bluebottle-bearing breeze. Every year, there seemed to be blueys at Dee Why. One year, our cobber, Michael Williams, was carted off to hospital by ambliance (as our kids used to put it) with severe bluey stings. Glistening Dave went with Michael to see that he was ok. It was a bromance.

Another year, our other cobber (yes, we have two), Shelley Clark was carted off to hospital, by ambliance, from the now defunct Bridge to Beach swim from Lavender Bay to Manly. That year, the entire peloton had run into a carpet of blueys stretching for a kilometre across the outer harbour from Middle Head towards Manly, and across towards North Head. As the leaders were stung, some of them were hauled from the water, but the followers kept running in to the carpet of blueys. As we recall, a third cobber, Peter Thiel (“Man of Steel, except when it comes to lice, and blueys”) also was carted off to hospital. Shelley's problem wasn't just to do with the day, however. She was a regular swimmer in long open water events at international level, and she'd been stung so many times that the toxins had built up in her system. The stings this day just tipped her over the edge.

This day at Dee Why, we were half way back from Long Reef Headland when we ran into a bluey with very long tentacles, which wrapped themselves around our head and neck. It wasn't nice. We grappled with them for what seemed like minutes (seconds, in reality), but try as we might, we couldn't get rid of them. The stingers kept stinging.

If you've never been stung by a bluey, you will have to imagine what it's like. We've been stung by some fierce creatchers in our time, but blueys always took the cake (until we were stung by a Medusa in the Mediterranean last year, which was like being branded). The bluey sting is very sharp, piercing, and it stays with you. It sears through your body, the sting that keeps on stinging. The Medusa, on the other hand, was like being branded, but after the initial shock, the sting subsided. You stayed stung, and you felt it, but it didn't keep giving it to you as the bluey does.


Cobbers awash

Then there was our cobber (we've more cobbers than we realised), Derek Mortimer, who swam Cabbage Tree Bay from Manly one Sat'dee in high summer, and ran into a swarm of blueys hiding around the point. The swarm overwhelmed Derek, who sank as he grappled with them. Passing board and ski paddlers ignored him; he was rescued by scuba divers in the bay, who called and ambliance, which took Derek up the hill to Manly hospital, which is soon to be closed. So Derek was in care, but his wife, waiting at Manly, knew none of this; it happened out of sight around the point, you see. She waited, and waited, and... And eventually she set out to search for him. This was early afternoon. She could find no trace. And it wasn't until that night that she found Derek in a bed at Manly hospital.

The hospital released Derek at 11:30pm. They said he could go. His wife asked how he felt. He said he felt ok, now, except that he couldn't hear very well. That might be, Derek's wife said, because you still have your earplugs in.

So, half way back from Long Reef Headland, we grappled with the tentacles; we tried to unwrap them from around our neck, but every attempt just stung our fingers. It was difficult to unwrap them without touching them with a hitherto unstung part of your body. And nothing would move them. Eventually, we ducked under the water, as deep as we could go, and as long as we could stay. And the tentacles floated off. They're attached to the balloon, you see, which is what you can see floating on the surface of the sea. So if you duck down, the connection to the balloon, which continues to float, pulls them off you. Self-evident, you see.

You have to make sure that you surface some distance from the bluey, of course, and you must hope that you're not simply resurfacing into another bluey. This day, we didn't; we surfaced into clear water, tentacle-free. We remained stung, of course, and the sting kept searing through us as we finished the swim and trudged gingerly up the beach, looking for the first aid facilities.
That was in the early noughties, but ever since then, we've barely had a bluey sting, and certainly not one as bad as that one. 


Tell Jonesy 


We have no reason to use this pic, except that
we came across it whilst searching for a pic of a bluey,
and it is a pic, after all, of an ocean swimmer.
We've always thought of blueys as high-summer threats, at their worst when the onshore breezes are at their blackest. The last couple of years, though, things have been a bit different. Was it last year or the year before, the first bluey plague of the season was in September! Now this season has been relatively bluey-free. Perhaps Jonesy could explain this to us?

At Bondi on Sundee, there was a rumour that there'd been blueys sighted in the nor'-eastern corner at North Bondi. We weren't surprised, since there'd been a stiffish sou'-easter blowing all morning (plenty of people associate blueys with nor'-easters but, really, in our experience, any onshore wind brings them in: the balloons act as sails, you see. Apparently, some are oriented one way, others the other way, so they respond in different ways to the different onshore breezes. The bottom line is, any onshore breeze will bring them in somewhere or another). When we approached the start line at Bondi, however, we were wary. We have difficulty rationalising the sense in setting out into water that you know carries blueys nearby. Our plan was to take pitchers of the start, then to swim to the first booee, then across to the final booee, thence to return to shore, thus to limit the exposure and the risk. We strapped our GPS-in-a-plastic bag on the wrist of Peter McGoo McCrae, and headed down to the edge, where a voracious rip ran through a gutter out to sea.

When we arrove on water's edge, however, we were struck by the clarity of the sea. We'd swum at Mona Vale on the Sat'dee, and the clarity was nice. But the clarity of the water at Bondi was several powers ahead of Mona Vale. As we stood there on the water's edge, the break washing around our feet, we looked into the rip that ran out through the gutter past the break, and it was so clear, it was calling to us, like the Lorelei on the Rhine, “ Come hither... Enter us, Come hither...”

It was so clear, the water so lively, and we couldn't resist...

We left the beach after the antepenultimate starting wave. We caressed the ocean in the rip, and we whooshed seawards. As we think of it, we've never seen a rip so clear. Normally, rips are murky with the whipped up sand caused by the raging torrent of water rushing back to sea. But this was the clearest rip we'd ever seen. As we passed the break, we just wanted to keep on swimming.

We're always alert to the sudden brush of a bluey, especially on a day when they're known to be around. But we felt nothing all the way around the course: just the gently rolling sea of absolute clarity. We'd been watching the swell forecasts leading up to Sundee, and for days, they'd been predicting a two metre swell on swim day. It was nothing like that on the beach, but out by the back reach, it was two metres, all right, and some swell bigger. But they dissipated by the time they reached the shore.

All the way, nothing, not a bluey in reach.

Phil Reichelt with his new "nipple tat",
and el Bernard Buncle, fresh from the embrace of a bluey.
Manly, eh?
So we were surprised, when we arrove back on the beach, to find a bunch of victims, including Phil Reichelt, with a bluey sting circuitously around his left nipple; Jillian Pateman, with a fat lip; and el Bernard Buncle, everyone's whipping boy, this time whipped by a bluey which had wrapped itself around his torso. 

He had grappled with it, el Bernard said, but it just wouldn't shake free.

Why didn't you just duck down and let it float off?” we asked, in all innocence.

Why didn't what?” he said.

Some things, we'd regarded as self-evident.

The colour of booees

By the time we arrove home, we had already, in our email inbox, this comment...
I had to send you this as it occurred to me while flailing around at Bondi today.

The swell was quite high and challenging, but the buoys are very similar colours to the lifesavers tops, so I found myself swimming towards a yellow "buoy" in the distance only to find it had paddled away somewhere else. Then I spotted a red "buoy" and as I got closer it started its motor and drove away!

Malabar had the smarts last week to have a helium balloon attached above the turning buoys.

Now we don't want to remove all the challenges from Ocean Swimming but perhaps when a larger swell is predicted the Surf Clubs can add some extra help to the flailers

Regards, Jeremy Wheeler
Fair point. But that said, the only two colours that really work in all conditions are the yellow and the orange. (We declare an interest: They're our booees.)  Bilgola also use helium balloons. But they often don't work in a breeze, which can lay them flat on the sea.

In the meantime, tell us what you thought...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Swimming in the rain

Not Malabar, no. Byron Bay last week when a mob of punters turned up to swim newd. A bit distracting for the locals, according to our reporter on the ground The Sports Mistress (@Sports_Mistress).
I love this swim for lots of reasons.
  • You've got the choice of a short/long or both. 
  • There's a relaxed atmosphere - pretty much the only people that are there are those there for the swim in some way. 
  • It's in aid of the Rainbow Club - which is all about getting children with disabilities swimming in order to realise their potential (and today into the ocean). 
  • The club turns on a great show - loads of water safety, briefings, fruit, 'tap' water, energy drinks and a running commentary with loudspeakers on the beach and in the park to keep everyone well informed on what's going on! 
  • Added to that is some live entertainment (the songs of which can stick in your mind for the swim), a bbq stall & coffee van, prizes by the bucket load and a great day out.
Today - a bit gloomy and grey. Not raining - at least not at first - but it didn't stop HEAPS of us coming to swim - the only thing missing today was the accompanying families. It was warm & humid at the beginning of the morning but cooler and very wet by the finish. I was glad of the hoodie I had with me, and the umbrella and rain jacket!

Anyway, the swims 

Lynn tells us she's been using her BK Selenes (the world's best all-'round goggle, we reckon),
in her right hand, for 10 years, "longer than I've had him", she said, pointing at her husband.
They've been married eight years. Lynn bought a new pair, in her left hand, at Malabar yesterday.
Obviously, Lynn observes Goggle Respect.
The 1km is a quick out - across - back swim. It's not far off shore - the buoys are big and visible - straight out to the first buoy, turn, swim across to the 2nd buoy, turn and then swim straight back in (note, straight is what you try to do, and sometimes achieve - my route looked a bit wobbly). For the whole time you are still well within the shelter of the bay - so there's life to the water but not so's you struggle to catch a breath or see where you are going.

I always intend to do this as a 'warmup'. Right. I took off in my wave with another swimmer who kept such a steady pace to my right it was lovely to swim with. Occasionally she'd be further over, then we'd be closer together, then I might be in front (not often), then she - right until the very end really. All I tried to do was not stay behind her - I don't find it easy to be behind people - can't 'see' as such. It was a good pace and I totally enjoyed the race! The downside - after I stopped for a breath, had a drink, is I got a little cold. I spent the time between this race and my start in the next wrapped in my towel and dancing around under the umbrella trying to stop shivering and warmup. I did in the end stop. Just before I had to unwrap and head back into the water.

So - that meant I had to get going to get warm. Off we went. It seemed a faster pack of swimmers this time and I was going slower too - yep, run out of puff. It didn't matter one bit - this was the course that changes when you keep going past the first buoy . . . you are heading much further out - all the way to the farthest buoy with the helium balloon on top of it - the great thing was that the red of the balloon stood out really well against the grey seas and skies so it was a nice target.

There's more of a swell out the back - so you are sighting on top of the roll and just swimming through the flat. I seemed to notice the sea life more - more rocks, more fish (and there was some rubbish unfortunately - those plastic bags just float around) and a huge clump of seaweed at one point. I had time also to watch the rocky cliff edges a little more - time to breathe more regularly and then rounded the first buoy+balloon and out a little to the middle buoy and then across to t'other side and second buoy+balloon. This bit was FUN. The ocean was giving you a push on your way over - I always feel it's a bit like catching a wave that doesn't break - but just rolls you along with a little pause between push. Lovely. Rounding the farthest buoy+balloon was a bit odd for me - I got there but was being pushed just a little to the right by both the ocean and another swimmer so I literally brushed past it at the turn. Kind of caught me by surprise - I usually stay wide. I'm putting it down to just having too much fun and not paying enough attention to my course. To the guy on my left I hope I didn't throw you off as well.

Back on course, and heading straight(ish) for the shore - it was a long ways out. You could see the buoys but you really just had to head to the finish (keeping left of any buoys) - so I just sighted off the blue sails over the kiddies playground which were directly above the finish line and kept it simple. That meant I was over to the left of many swimmers - I remember last time there seemed to be a current running against me on the way in but this time we were in the lull around the high tide so it was just a good swim in.

The water was still moving around out the back - but the closer you got to the shore the calmer it became - then you were just gliding through the water.
Look who was in town for weekend swims: Killer brought his unique brand of living, heaving ocean swimming culcha to Sydney where, each year, he does Swim for Saxon at Queenscliff. Killer said to us once, "I didn't get called Killer for bein' nice to people on the footy field". Sydney's gain was Mur'bah's loss for the weekend. Also in town, The Sports Mistress, from Brunswick Heads. We thought for a while, there was some connection between the two visits. But, no, it was just her Big Sleepover at Casa Sparkle.

Exfoliation - Free!

Well, there was one surprise. The pumice stones.

There were patches of them floating on the water and it was an odd feeling to be swimming through rocks. They don't hurt, they aren't heavy or large - it's just really strange to swim through. If I hadn't been looking at them on the beach before the swims I mightn't have know what it was. Sometimes we have that exfoliating swim through seaweed - today our skin was perhaps being smoothed as we swam. Added bonus.

And so the race came to an end - the last few metres swimming over the rocky shallows that last year we had to stumble over as the tide was low. Much easier - swim right up to the sand then engage the legs and run (not fast) to the finish.

This swim was done - but the show wasn't over yet.

For me, there was a quick shower to rinse off and change, and don the warm hoodie I'd brought with me. Then a wander up and over the road to the nearby cafe to get a takeaway bacon & egg roll & a coffee - then back for some chitchat with other swimmers, checking of the results, staying
around for the FOS random draw (ok - at this point I have to say I got lucky so that was very nice - thanks & BudgySmuggler) - and then the presentations and speeches. For the first time there were also prizes to recognise the achievements in both swims of both senior and junior swimmers with a disability. These swimmers swam the race with everyone else in their age groups - there's no quarter given and none taken or expected! It's just all in for a swim.

Now I have been remiss in not mentioning the Rainbow Club more - and those swimmers who outswam many today yet who are challenged day-to-day by their disability. There's the amazing Louise Sauvage - a Paralympian who swims in my age group and is a patron of the club; James Pittar  who swims the so many long swims around Sydney (not to mention the world) and is an ambassador for the club; and young Georgia - the first club member to participate in the 'Magic' and who swam the whole 1km swim course today! This is what the club is all about - and what all today's proceeds and fundraising efforts are for - supporting kids with a disability to learn to swim and through that perhaps help them realise their potential.

Added to that - the swim bears the name of the great Murray Rose. I love these words from the website ...
Murray Rose was a great supporter of the Malabar Magic and one of the original creators of the Magic. It was his vision to have an Ocean Swim to raise funds for Rainbow Club Australia, a charity of which he had been the Patron for many years.

Murray always believed that magic occurred in the water - when he swam for Australia or indeed just swam, when the children of Rainbow Club accept the challenge to fully explore their abilities, and when 1000 swimmers splash into the waves of Malabar Bay to raise funds for these children.

The Rainbow Club Australia was saddened when Murray passed in early 2012. His enthusiasm for all things Rainbow Club and for the Magic will be greatly missed. And it is in his honour that the Board of Rainbow Club Australia agreed to rename the event Murray Rose's Malabar Magic Ocean Swim.
It was a great swim and despite the rain and the grey day the magic was definitely there both in and out of the water.
Jen Gwynne
Results... click here

GoBraveDave was at Phillip Island...

Read his blob... click here

Tell us what you thought of the weekend's swims... 

Swim for Saxon at Queenscliff, Murray Rose Malabar Magic, Phillip Island swims... click the comments link below

Monday, February 10, 2014

A smug feeling of superiority on a swell

The Passing Parade. ('grarph by Glistening Dave)
Sitting at the Farncy Fish place over the road from North Bondi beach after yesterday's swim, we spotted a bloke on a motorbike with a milk crate strapped to the carrier behind him. In the milk crate was a beautiful border collie, a black one, with a happy face, shining hair, a tongue panting out the side of his mouth in the summer afternoon heat.

The bloke stopped at the crossing that links the beach to the stairs heading up to Military Road while beautiful people crossed the road to and from the beach. Around him swirled the colour and the pageantry of Bondi on a summer Sundee: the pretty, delicate, sun-tanned girls in their evocative finery, less of it all the time; the aging butch body builders finding difficulty walking, their thighs rubbing uncomfortably together, setting out for a promenade along the beachfront, both shirtless, one of them shoeless, soon not chappless, either; the stylish yummy mummies and daddies with exhausted toddlers schlepping up the hill after a morning building sandcastles; the C-listers taking a break from the paps, or perhaps hoping the paps might still be looking; the tv stars and the fashionable chefs and vets; the leathery surf clubbers still doing it after a lifetime in the sun, filling in time between bouts of melanoma.

 Farncy Fish and its environs were full of colourful people yesterday. Particularly notable was the surge in celebrity chefs taking up ocean swimming. We were there with our cobber, celebrity chef David Tsirekas, of the Greek persuasion, on his weekly morning off from Xanthi in the city. A few tables in was apparently recent convert to ocean swimming, Miguel Maestre, of the Spanish persuasion, whom we see on the telly on Fridee nights on the living room couch sitting next to celebrity vet Dr Chris, a regular ocean swimmer. And there he was, on Sundee at Farncy Fish, sitting next to celebrity vet Dr Chris. 

Once more unto the sea, dear chaps. ('grarph by Glistening Dave)
Bondi is a colourful place at the best of times, but on a summer Sundee, it's particularly special. A noice place to be any time, on a good swim day, it's special. As it was yesterday.

North Bondi is a good swim venue for a range of reasons. The surf club there has been running ocean swims for decades, and they know how to do it. The template doesn't need to change that much; it's honed from years and years of swims, changing subtley as experience mellows. For example the water safety lads and lasses are much softer now than they were at North Bondi a few years back, when it was their way or no way.

The venue lends itself to mass swims. With Bondi facing a little east of south, North Bondi is protected in many conditions, such as yesterday's when the east-sou'-easterly swell ran into South Bondi, leaving North Bondi as the proverbial Lake Bondi. The Backpacker Express in the corner is an invaluable tool, matching Avalon for glory in swim starts, if the organisers allow its use. The start at North Bondi yesterday was a little farther sarth (west) of the runout than it usually is, making the run north (east) into the corner a little too far to make it worthwhile. The Almighty was watching over us, however, as the easterly sweep on the nadiring tide picked us up on entering the water and took us east, anyway, so the effect was pretty much the same. We can't recall a sweep that strong that far along the beach at North Bondi, but then we don't swim at Bondi more than a couple of times per season.

The water was coolish, perhaps 19C, and a bit lower than reports from the day before. Nothing like, what, four years back, when the day was similar, cloudless, warmer, hotter, and the mug punters dashed gaily into the surf only to find it had dropped from early 20sC the day before to 16C overnight. They danced on the water. No warning from Him upstairs about that one. We don't mind a bit of cool. As we've said before, we have our wettie built in. That gives us a luxury that some other ocean swimmers don't enjoy (although most ocean swimmers swim with built-in wettie). We find the cool invigorating, refreshing. You last longer in cooler water.

The water appeared to clarify between swims, too. It was noice during the 1km, albeit not the clearest we've seen it at Bondi. But by the time the 2km started at 10:30, the tide continuing to suck out over the shallowing bank, it was clearer.
('grarph by Glistening Dave)

The real joy, though, was the sea as you neared South Bondi, which really is West Bondi, or Sou'-Sou'-West-by-South Bondi (we're drawing this from our days in the Sea Scouts in the late '60s. 1st Swansea). We expected this, given the swell direction: east-sou'-east. We'd been hoping to find it wrapping noicely around Ben Buckler, leaving the corner calm with the run out into an increasingly undulating break over the rounded boulders that line the bottom off Bondi's northerly (easterly) point. But it wasn't. The direction and the size weren't quite right for that.

But as we approached the sarth (west), below the 'Bergs, we found the swell picking up, making this swim an absolute glory. Sitting on the verandah of Farncy Fish afterwards, we pointed out to a new American cobber -- in the knowledgeable way in which we all point out to recent arrivistes who, we assume, just don't know, only to find that he used to live in Sydney and probably knew more about Bondee than we did -- how the swell increased as your gaze drifted from north (east) to sarth (west) and the 'Bergs. Still gentle and benign in the northern (eastern) corner, it was pumping in the sarth (west).
You'd think Lochie Hinds had never done an ocean swim in his life, judging by his colour. (Pic by Mark Ellis)
 And we felt it more, the farther we swam sarth (west) from Ben Buckler. You know that feeling, when you're swimming along in a fresh sea, and suddenly you feel your feet being picked up by the onrush of a following swell, running through you from toe to brow. Rolling you in a supple wave as it thrusts you down its face, you lengthen your stroke, you keep that leading arm out there just that little bit longer, to make yourself like the torpedo that we tell the little kiddies about at the pool, to make yourself more streamlined. You maximise your streamline and you minimise your drag, and you accelerate past rank-and-file hackers with insouciant ease, smugly assuming that only you know how to do this, because only you have grown up on beaches and take this swell surfing as a natural and private gift only to yourself.
Bondi life. ('grarph not by Glistening Dave)
That's the kind of feeling it gives you, of course, swell surfing. Not breaker surfing, where you swim hard to catch a wave that breaks and dumps you onto a sandbank. Swell surfing is when you run with the swells, feeling the gentle lift in your toes, lengthening and suppling your body (words can mean whatever we want them to mean) as it melds to take the shape of the swell, to be part of it, rushing through your body, shooting you ahead, then dropping you off the back, where you slip back into hackbeat, your bow-wave off your brow breaking ahead of you... Until the next swell, gently lifts your toes...

Even better, it didn't stop when we rounded the far-out booee off the 'Bergs to head in towards the beach. More swell, bouncier now because of the backwash from the rocks along Mackenzies Point, but thrusting and undulating and rolling nonetheless.

Gee whiz, it was nice.
Rozanne Green's 2km schlepp around Bondi.
Another lesson for our American arriviste, which we omitted to point out to him... but he might be reading this now... you never know... Someone must read it. Apart from us... Although Peppermint Pattie isn't around any more, so that rules out mum as a regular... Another observation from the verandah of Farncy Fish (from where our elevated perspective showed us stuff that you don't get to see from sea level) and that's to do with the topography of Mackenzies Point. We've talked about this in the past, comparing Mackenzies with Little Head between Palm Beach and Whale Beach, about the bottom dropping off Little Head immediately, so you can round that bluff close in to the rocks even in swell. But from Mackenzies Point, there's a rock shelf running to sea, so when the sea is running you need to skirt it by a hundred metres or more, depending on the size of the swell and the state of the tide. From Farncy Fish, that east-sou'-easterly swell bashed into Mackenzies then back art again when the sets coom in. It was a melee in the sea for 75 metres. Everyone should be made to look at that, as part of their education as ocean swimmers.
It was a noice day at Bondi.

North Bondi Classic 9/2/14 - Images by Paul Ellercamp

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Numbers shrink despite Cole’s weather

"Kevin's" calf after being drafted upon at
the Cole Classic. Noice.
If you’ve seen our report from last weekend’s Cole Classic in Sydney, you’ll have seen the report from “Kevin” who was drafted, heel-wafted and calf-thumped throughout the 2km at the Cole Classic last Sundee. Shocking. Check the pic for the effect on “Kevin’s“ leg...

You’ll also have seen our rundown on the Cole’s continuing falling numbers (… click here). Entrants in 2014 fell for the third successive year. Far from the “more than 6,000” boast of the organisers, Fairfax Meeja, in the weeks leading up to the Cole, entrants tallied c. 3,600, and participants just over 3,000.

This was the lowest entry for the Cole Classic since Fairfax Meeja took over the event in 2009. And this despite that Fairfax give away many entries to the Cole for free to employees, to suppliers, to contractors and to large customers.

The Cole used to be the most anticipated ocean swim in NSW, with Fairfax claiming it to be the biggest in Stra’a. But it continues to fall behind the actual biggest swim in the country, The Pier to Pub at Lorne, in Victoria (which we suspect also is the biggest ocean swim in the world in participants).

Fairfax Meeja changed its rhetoric in the few days leading into this year’s event, to claiming only to be “one of the biggest” swims in Stra’a, and amended its prediction of “6,000”- plus swimmers this year to “thousands”. Judging by news reports, the flacks whom Fairfax hired to spin the Cole to the meeja were still pumping away at the inflated figures. It was always strange that Fairfax, which purports to be Stra’a’s most respected private meeja group, should have persisted with these untruths for so long, even as the results from previous years’ swims, posted on its own website, actually put the lie to them. But no hack bothered to check, which was a sad commentary on the meeja overall, not just on Fairfax.
Make it friendly

The fundamental problem with the Cole, we reckon, is that, under the Fairfax Meeja banner, the Cole is not a swimmer-friendly occasion. It’s become just another mass-participation event churned out by the Fairfax Special Events people, who run it as if it’s a street run. They have their template; never mind the world.


We’d love to see the Cole return to its glory days when run by the Cole family, although we doubt the family is keen to take over the event again. We’d love it to become the festival that it once was. Fairfax could do this, of course, given the will and responsive, aware, caring management.

It requires Fairfax to respect our community of ocean swimmers. That's what it's all about: respect.

Here are a few gratuitous tips as to what they could do…

Lower the entry fee

The organisers persist with the over-price on the Cole despite the dwindling numbers. They showed sensitivity to criticism this year by introducing a four-tiered timetable, which stepped up the entry fee over four stages. Enter by November 8 (three months ahead of the swim) for $50 ($40 for the 1km), rising to $65/$55 from January 25, still over a week ahead of swim day. The entry fees are unprecedented for NSW, apart from the equally over-priced Byron Bay swim in early May. Fairfax, as a private organiser, has some costs that traditional organisers – surf clubs, winter swimming clubs – don’t have, but much of that can be amortised over a much larger number of events and entrants. It doesn’t account for the difference. You can do the same swim at Manly in mid-December for $25/$15 when run by Manly Life Saving Club. Even the private organisers at Sydney Opera House on Stra’a Day charged a top entry fee of $50, and for that you got a goodie bag stocked with merchandise from sponsors, much of it useful. Fairfax explain the high entry fee by saying putting on the Cole is very expensive. But it’s not as expensive as, say, the City to Surf, or the Dee Why-Manly run the day before, which requires street closures and marshals. And while we can estimate how much Fairfax raises in entry revenue, we have no idea how much they also make from sponsors.

How can Fairfax charge so much? Are there other costs that punters don’t know about? Must Fairfax pay to run the event under the Cole banner?

At the very least, have a look around at other events and see what they charge. The Cole ran very nicely at $40 an entry before Fairfax arrived.

Reasonable close for earlybirds

Fairfax either doesn’t understand or doesn’t accept that swims are different to runs: a road is the same whatever the weather, apart perhaps from being a bit slippery in the wet. But weather and seas can change swim conditions overnight, perhaps making conditions life threatening. Swimmers need the opportunity to assess likely swim conditions before they enter. That’s why Fairfax’s earlybird entry timetable is so unreasonable.

Other swims close their earlybird entry fees when online entries close, usually the day before the swim. Why can’t Fairfax do this? Even if they closed earlybirds, say, two days before the swim, leaving a higher entry fee on the Saturday, this would be more reasonable. Fairfax deals with bigger numbers than most swims, but they also have much greater staff resources, and they make much more money from the event than those other swims do. It's eminently doable.

Make swim pack pick up easy

Enter the Cole and you must pick up your swim pack – basically, your timing chip -- ahead of swim day. Fairfax gives you two options: either attend Dee Why SLSC on the Friday ahead of the swim, or Manly LSC the day before the swim. Fairfax traditionally has had an inner-city view of the world; they don’t realise that requiring punters to go to Dee Why or to Manly ahead of swim day, then to turn up at Manly again on swim day itself, is difficult for anyone who doesn’t already live in Dee Why or Manly. Both are a long way from most parts of Sydney, let alone the rest of the country. The Pier to Pub at Lorne has many more entrants – over 5,000 – yet they distribute swim packs at the beach on race day morn. And they’re just a surf club.

Surely Fairfax, with its multi-billion dollar resources, and its dedicated special event staff, can organise themselves on swim morning.

Another very important point: if you don’t distribute timing chips and require swimmers to check-in on race day, then you can’t be sure who is in the water and who might not have come out of the water. You can lay mats at the start to detect starting chips, but that’s no guarantee you’ll get everyone. Requiring check-in on swim day gives you more certain knowledge of who actually enters the water, and of who should come out. We’d have thought Fairfax’s insurers would have had something to say about this before now.

Promote a safe event

… such as through cap colours. We mentioned this in last week’s Cole preview: many of the cap colours used by Fairfax are unsuitable – unsafe – for an ocean swim. The Surf Life Saving Association has identified five fluoro colours for caps to be used in ocean swims. We’d have thought Fairfax would have the commonsense to follow this guide in their swim, too. It’s a question of safety. These colours are about the only ones that will stand out in the sea in all conditions. Many of Fairfax’s cap colours belong to the “lost-at-sea” range. What say you, insurers?

Be compassionate towards the sick and injured

Once you’re compelled to enter up to three months in advance to get the lowest entry fee, but then you fall ill, or have an accident, rendering you unfit to swim, you might get only a 50 per cent refund, then only with a doctor’s certificate, and only if you fall ill or have your accident by January 10, almost a month ahead of the swim.

Encourage punters to enter both swims

The Cole is two swims: 2km and 1km (three if you include the 9km swim, but this ain't for everyone). Virtually all other organisers of multi-swim events encourage you to do multi-swims by making multi-entry cheaper. It’s more entry revenue for them, after all. At North Bondi this Sundee, for example, you could enter both swims, after both swims at North Bondi’s earlier swim on January 12, for $90. That’s $22.50 per swim. One swim is $40.

Under the Cole family, there was concessional entry for entering both swims. But there’s no concessional entry fee with the Cole. Indeed, Fairfax make it even harder to do both swims. You have to enter both swims separately. But once you’ve entered one swim, their online entry system rejects you because you’ve already entered. To one enquirer in January, Fairfax explained in an email how to go about entering the second swim:
“Once you have entered into one event, you will also need to alter your name slightly for the second entry as the system will think that you are trying to create a duplicate entry. This may be in the form of using a knick name (sic – and they’re a meeja group!) or putting a full stop after your first or surname.”
 One would think they’d be keen to encourage punters to enter both swims. It means more money for them, after all.

Tell punters about other swims; don’t pretend you’re all there is

One of our major beefs with Fairfax is that, while they bring many new swimmers into the sport, they don’t let on that there are other swims on offer. Maybe they’re worried that punters will discover how over-priced the Cole is and how unreasonable their conditions are. We had a discussion with Fairfax about this shortly after they took over the Cole. Their main issue with telling punters about other swims, it seemed to us at the time, was that that would mean pointing their entrants towards, which is where details of most swims are available. Even now, the Cole website tells swimmers, “If ocean enthusiasts are looking for the next challenge, The Sun-Herald Surf Swim takes place on Sunday, March 23, 2014” at Dee Why. But there are 12 swims around Sydney between Cole day and Dee Why on March 23.

As a meeja group, Fairfax enjoys a privileged position in the community as it goes about making its multi-billion dollar revenue each year: it enjoys a respect that most private organisations don’t have, and privileged access to most events and areas of the community, that most of us don’t get. They have a moral duty to be generous to their community, for example by promoting fundraising events run by community groups, such as surf life saving clubs, which are charities, after all. They shouldn’t be pretending that theirs are the only events on offer because that serves their commercial interests. The Monday prior to the Cole this year, the Herald ran a spread over pages 2 and 3 promoting the Cole Classic. It was the day after The Big Swim (Palm-Whale), and the Great Australian Swim in Sydney Harbour. Yet neither received any coverage in the Herald that day. The only other event that Fairfax has promoted in the past was Bondi-Bronte, and that because, we suspect, they’d engaged the private organiser of the Bondi-Bronte swim to help them with the Cole.

Support charities, don’t just boast about it

Fairfax makes an enormous play of how much fund-raising support its events provide to “over 800 charities”. So far, according to the Cole website, at the time of writing, entrants in the Cole had raised $168,153.42 for those charities. But none of that money comes from Fairfax, apart from the $25,000 fee that Fairfax pays to Manly Life Saving Club to provide race-day logistics. We talked last week about how much money Fairfax raises for itself in entry revenue. Fairfax gives nothing from these events to any other of those “over 800 charities”. Fairfax should put its money where its mouth is: kick off the fund-raising itself with some of its own money. Maybe pay a proportion of the entry revenue to be split amongst those charities. When they do something like that, then they can boast.

There is plenty more than could be said. But this will do for now. Until next year…