Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The annual pilgrimage to Byron Bay for the Winter Whales Byron Bay Ocean Swim 2011

The official ocean swims season is winding up and is traditionally farewelled with the Winter Whales event in Byron Bay on the NSW north coast on the first weekend in May. 

For the last three years Mr and Mrs Snorkel and I have travelled north in the hope of fine weather and divine swimming conditions. And we've always been well rewarded.

This year Ms Onyabike is along for the ride. She's keen to have a geek at the royal nuptials on Friday night, but we warned her not to bugger up our routine - drinks and a relaxed dinner at a cosy bistro followed by a stroll around town - all because of someone's wedding. Hasn't she heard of 'highlights'? 

I'm excited. Not about the wedding. The swim. 

I'll let you know how it goes. The swim, that is.

Monday, 25 April 2011

A longer than usual long weekend in Australia

Aussies love a long weekend. We can't get enough of 'em. And I'm not about to complain.

This year an extraordinary clash of public holidays has led to a five-day long weekend. Usually, there's the four-day Easter long weekend that includes a holiday on Good Friday and another the following Monday.

But this year ANZAC Day, a national public holiday, fell on Easter Monday. Rather than roll the ANZAC Day and Easter Monday holidays into one, the powers-that-be added another day to the break. So, Tuesday is also a day off work for millions of Australians.

We're not bludgers. No way.

Anyway, the weather today is miserable and I feel for the Diggers who've joined ANZAC Day marches across the country.
There's also an ocean swim on today, from Coogee to Bondi. This one's a 5 km trek, which I'm definitely not ready for even though I was encouraged to participate by several delusional swimming associates.

Maybe next year.

The photos were taken yesterday when Spanner, The Hiss and I went to Bondi for a swim, though Spanner just sat on the beach while The Hiss and I practised body surfing. Afterwards, we had a small but nice cuppa up the road at a hole-in-the-wall cafe/tapas bar called Massive. And on the way home we stopped in Paddington for a squizz at the old reservoir, which has been preserved. Would you believe in 1985 there were plans to turn this historic piece of Sydney into a car park? Love it or lump it, this is Australia. Lucky there were no iron ore deposits under it.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Mollymook Beach Ocean Swim: big fish little fish

The southern end of Mollymook Beach

The significance of the above year in relation to the Mollymook swim cannot be underestimated. That is the year I was truly confronted by the force of the ocean. I, and a small peloton of bloody eejits including my brother-in-law Davo, endured an angry surf, three-metre swell and low visibility while involuntarily ingesting litres of sea water on a floundering hike from the northern to southern end of Mollymook Beach.

It was a scary experience, which made me swear I would never again swim in such extreme conditions.

Saturday, April 16, 2011.

As Davo had predicted (after a lengthy analysis of a couple of weather websites) it looked as though this year's swim would be a repeat of 2009. The weather was as nasty as The Hiss during a full-blown tantrum, the sky burdened by swollen gun-metal clouds, squalls of rat-a-tat rain and a south-easterly wind blowing up the beach and the surf. It didn't augur well for Sunday's swim.

I'd already forked out $90 for The Hiss, PP and me in registration fees, so I wasn't happy about pulling out. On Saturday night I fuelled up on white wine, pasta and Arnott's Mint Slices. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011.

Unbelievable. We awoke to an abating wind and silvery sunlight streaking the ocean. The southerly that was supposed to bring in a huge swell had, instead, flattened it out. There were still some hefty waves, but out the back it looked relatively calm.

My nephew, Little Prince, did the 500 metre swim, which started at 9.30am (that's 9am Mollymook time) at the southern end of the beach, not far from the surf club. La famiglia cheered him in as he finished first in his age group. Then it was a drive back up to the northern end of the beach for the 2km start.

Because this swim had less than 200 entrants, we all started together. I watched as my peers charged into the surf ahead of me. They became distant blobs as I copped a set of waves. It would've taken me a good five minutes to get beyond the breakers. Story of my life.

Once I was out the back I got to enjoy the scenery below. Schools of medium and large fish flitted below me on the reef that runs a fair way along the beach. The water was clear and magically warm at 24 degrees. I could see to the bottom for most of the journey.

At the northern end for the 2km swim Photo: Little Prince
 I'd braced myself for dumpers coming in, but was lucky to get a mini-set of gentle waves. 

S*** finishing time, but a fun time with all the sea creatures. 

My eldest daughter PP came second in her age group and won a Mollymook SLSC-embossed towel (as did Little Prince). And because there were only four swimmers in my age category, I got an honorable mention for taking out third place. How we laughed.

Afterwards my sister, Ms Cleverpants, and I walked north along the beach and spotted (well, she did) a couple of dolphins heading in the same direction. 

The perfect end to a perfect day. 

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Hands above your head and do the '96

Occasionally on this blog I post stories about family life. And recently I wrote about 'the boob job'.

Afterwards, I didn't give much thought to this short story about my youngest daughter's horrified reaction to seeing her mother's sagging breasts. I mean, who cares about some white middle-class, middle-aged suburban woman with nothing better to do than blog about her boobs?

But then my eldest daughter Precious Princess (PP) told me her friend, who's a swimming coach (let's call him The Coach), read my blog post and embraced the moral to the story. 

If you missed the post, here's the gist of it: my youngest daughter The Hiss was appalled at the sight of my saggy breasts, which she glimpsed as I hopped out of the shower. When she retreated, I lifted my arms above my head and observed my boobs in the the mirror. They looked magnificent - just the way they looked in 1996, the year The Hiss was born. 

Back to the present. The Coach teaches young children how to swim. He now has a new term he uses to encourage his pupils to stretch their arms above their heads and glide into the water. He calls it the '96. 

The Coach, raising his arms above his head: "What do I want you to do now?"
The children, raising their arms above their heads: "The '96!"

And how they glide!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Balmoral Swim for Children's Cancer Institute Australia

The sun spread its warmth over Sydney during the morning of the 35th Balmoral Swim. In the afternoon, the Southerly kicked in and the weather turned wet and miserable.

So, as you can see from the pics, the organisers and 886 participants of this 1 kilometre swim were blessed to get such a spectacular first half of the day. When the the party was over the rain clouds moved in.

I didn't think I'd enjoy it because of the crowd, but I loved this swim. Flat, short, pure harbour water and nothing to worry about except leaky goggles and a head butt from a fellow swimmer. 

You're never out of the peloton in this swim, which is another thing I like about it. In many swims I feel a bit lonely because the rest of the pack escapes from me (poor li'l ol' me). But today I was in the thick of it. I did a decent time and finished 6th out of the 49 or so women in my age group. Woo Hoo.

Eldest daughter Precious Princess (PP) came along for the ride and finished 6th in her age group. Not bad for a chick who only swims twice a week - if that. 

PP's boyfriend did his first ever ocean swim and lost his boardies (we didn't have time to buy him budgie smugglers). Nonetheless, he came out grinning (with boardies pulled back on over undies).

Thank goodness my time was faster than his.

The next swim is this coming weekend at Mollymook on the NSW South Coast.


Sunday, 3 April 2011

Stanwell Park Ocean Challenge 10th Anniversary Swim: battered and crumbed

At Coalcliff before the swim
 Let's get this straight. In surfing terms, one metre high is the measurement from the top to the bottom of the wave, not from the ocean floor to the top of the wave. 

Today at Coalcliff and Stanwell Park, the swell was more than one-metre high and both beaches experienced strong north-running currents. 

If you're not familiar with the location, Stanwell Park is on the NSW south coast, 55.95 kilometres from Central Station in Sydney. It is supposedly a northern suburb of Wollongong though, by the looks of some of the architect-designed houses that dot the coastline, it is more of a weekend-getaway destination for well-heeled Sydneysiders.

Stanwell Park: pretty as a picture

My brother-in-law Davo and I arrived at Stanwell Park nice and early and caught a shuttle bus south to Coalcliff, the start of the swim. The surf at both beaches looked formidable. The 434 registered swimmers all looked faster, fitter and stronger than Davo* and I.

Like, there was one chick there, I swear she was 50-something, wearing a two-piece 'Cronulla' cossie that showed off her tanned, washboard torso and pierced belly button. 

But, as I said to Davo, we are outstanding in other ways. We are into music, good food, culture, wine and other stuff - like more wine/beer. We don't have the time to waste on honing our bodies into finely-tuned swimming machines. Like, some people have nothing better to do.

Off my rant and back to the swim. It got off to a dubious start when a light plane flew over and the swim's commentator announced that the area was officially "shark free". The shark plane did another fly-by and gave another thumbs up. Collective sigh of relief.

Then, on the start line, waiting for our 50+ wave to enter the surf, we noticed two things: 
1. Most swimmers in the three earlier waves struggled to get out through the breakers. The waves were rolling in with little respite, forcing swimmers back to the shore.

2. At the starter gun, several swimmers from each wave peeled off to the far right and ran into the surf near the ocean pool and rocks. We noticed the breakers weren't as relentless at the far end of the beach and those swimmers got beyond them quicker than their struggling peers. The only disadvantage was that the clever swimmers then had to swim diagonally out to the first buoy. 

A local standing next to Davo and I said he was going to take the far-right route because it wouldn't be as tiring as battling the surf. We decided not to follow his lead and moved further to the left, almost direcly opposite the buoy. For me, this was a bad choice. 

It took me ages to get past the relentless breakers that surged forward like an army to stop me from reaching the first orange buoy. I finally got there and chucked a left. This took me on a journey past the magnificent cliff face, though I had little time to enjoy it. I was too busy looking up to see where the buoys were. 

I don't  care what the diehards say, there should have been more buoys marking the course. Before the swim, the commentator said there were "several" buoys as guides for the swimmers. I'm sure I missed seeing at least one. Also, when I swam past the cliffs I noticed a lot of people turning the corner to swim into the beach at Stanwell Park when they should have kept going straight ahead (I wonder if many people accidentally cheated or whether the support crews caught them out). This just goes to show there should have been buoys closer together so swimmers could see that they had to keep swimming north. 

When I finally came around the final buoy I swam towards the beach, lulled into a false sense of security by the gentle push of the swell. 

Closer to the beach, I turned around to see a massive wave breaking behind me. I ducked under but it was so powerful that I lost control as it dragged me down. All I could see was white foam. I scrambled up for air to see another wave bearing down on me. I went under again and was held down.

Up for air a third time. I'd almost had enough. "F..." and under I went again. When I came up, without my goggles or swim cap, I could feel the firm sand under my toes. 

A swimmer closeby who'd also been tossed like a salad, said: "Are you OK?"
I answered: "I'm alive." 


I followed in my swimming friend and ran along the beach to the finish line feeling like a champion.

I finished in the bottom 100 placegetters - again. 

But I have lived to tell the tale. And that's what counts.  

Davo finished a little after me, looking worse for wear. Later on, when we were showered, comfy and feeling like heroes, he said: "I'm glad I did it."

An ocean swim like this one today is always better after you've done it.

*At least Davo has an excuse for a less than impressive time. He has just returned to ocean swimming after a three month break - literally. He fractured his wrist in January and has been on the piss since February!