Friday, 27 May 2011

The tale of the stripey towel: how I missed my chance to savour success

Ya gotta laugh at life. 

Last weekend I did the Bondi Bluewater Challenge ocean swim and crossed the finish line, grateful (as always) that I wasn't the last swimmer home. 

Afterwards my support person, Ms Fivestar, and I didn't consider going to the awards presentation at the surf club. I have a dismal track record for lucky-door prizes and raffles. And I never ever place in a swim (I take that back - I came third in the Mollymook swim in April, but there was no prize, just an honorable mention).

Insead, last Sunday Fivestar and I trotted off to a cafe and then home. 

It wasn't until Wednesday night that I thought to check the swim results. My time was ordinary, but I wasn't unhappy with it. Then I noticed where I finished in my age group - 3rd. What? How could that be possible? 

Disbelieving, I checked again and discovered how. There were only three women in my age group! How funny is that.

Nonetheless, I had placed behind two extraordinary competitors, Jillian and Jenny - the latter is an elite swimmer.  

Apparently my name was called out, and my prize for 3rd place was a 'stripey towel'. 

Am I disappointed I wasn't there to collect the stripey towel and to stand beside and shake the hands of my fellow athletes, just like the placegetters do at the Olympic Games? 

Sort of. I've never stood on a podium before (I'm sure there was no podium, but I always imagined I'd stand on one if I ever won anything). 

Never before have I won a medal, trophy or prize for a sporting achievement, though when I was 10 I got a sew-on patch after my primary school's B-grade netball team, of which I was a member, won its category in the inter-schools netball competition. (I played wing defence.)

I guess it would've been nice to bring home the stripey towel so I could show off to Spanner who, after every ocean swim I do, sends me the text message: "Did you win?" Ha ha. Ho hum.

Then again, I'm not the sort of person who's comfortable in the limelight, no matter how small the globe. And it's just a nice feeling to know I finally placed in an ocean swim, though I'll never get to rub third prize in Spanner's face.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Last Sundee at Bondi: the cold and the beautiful

On the day of the Bondi Bluewater Challenge ocean swim, 'controlled' burning-off of bushland on the outskirts of Sydney left a smog smear on the horizon, but above it the sky sucked up the colour blue like blotting paper. It was a magnificent autumn day.

I drove to the beach with Ms Fivestar, whose dream (along with around 20 million Australians) is to one day live by the sea in a nice house. However, Ms Fivestar and the rest of us would need a couple* of million to put a downpayment on a beach shack anywhere in Sydney. 

In Bondi, finding a parking space on a sunny day has the same effect on my mood as when I find loose change in Spanner's dirty jeans' pockets. We arrived early and I inched in to a perfect METER-FREE parking space. Feeling pretty pleased with ourselves, we strolled down to central Bondi just in time to see the punters lining up for the 1 km swim. There was still a chill in the air - I'm guessing that at 9.30am it was about 17 degrees. The water temp would've been around 19 or 20 degrees. Noice.

By 11am, the weather had warmed up, with the sun pushing its way through the clouds to keep us all comfortably warm.

I've posted two photos. In one is a gorgeous pregnant woman about to do the 1 km swim. Sunday was her due date but she wasn't concerned because her obstetrician was swimming, too. A water birth maybe?

The second pic is of the blokes in the 1 km swim peeling off to the southern end of the beach before diving in. This had something to do with a mild rip and a sandbank directly in front of the start.

Anyway, I followed everyone else and ran to the right at the start of the 2.1 km swim. Although the conditions were perfect, I found the swim challenging (which is just a veiled way of saying it was bloody hard) and spent a fair bit of time on my own, wondering "why on earth do I keep doing this to myself?"

Once the swim was over and I was sitting in a cafe, sipping on a flat-white and eating cheese on toast, I could answer that question: "Because I love it."

*We're talking more than $3 million - a lot depends on the beach location, size of property and of land, etc.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Ocean swim on Sunday: Bondi Bluewater Challenge

Just when you think it's time to get out of the water along comes another ocean swim.

This weekend's 2.1 km bolt at Bondi should've happened in April but was cancelled because of rough conditions. At the time, I was on the NSW south coast at Mollymook where wild surf on Saturday calmed down just in time for the annual ocean swim on Sunday.

Sydney weather has had a chilly edge to it for the past week. I've been wearing my overcoat and scarf to work. I'm sniffly, sneezy and over the seasonal change already. Bring back summer!

Today's surf is mean and nasty, with a Bureau of Meteorology warning to avoid swimming because of dangerous surf conditions. 

So, what's the prediction for Sunday? 

Seabreeze reckons conditions will be mild, with a half-metre swell and light winds. BOM has a minimum temperature of 13 and a maximum of 22. 

It's looking good, so I guess I have to get back in the pool (I've had a cold, so that's a good excuse to be slack) and do some laps before Sunday. 

An ocean swimmer's work is never done.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The cost of ocean swimming: it's not cheap but it's worth it

You might think ocean swimming is a cheap hobby once you've bought the flash cossie and goggles. But think again!

If you want to swim in the relative safety of a pack and participate in the numerous Surf Life Saving Club co-ordinated ocean swims that run from October through to June, you end up handing over a fair wad of cash for the privilege.

I had a haphazard 2010/11 season owing to illness (shocker flu and killer back). In addition, my swimming partner Davo broke his wrist in January, which left me solo for two months. Without Davo's enthusiastic nagging (When are you going to register? Get online now!) I tended to wait until the day of the swim to register, which costs more. It's always cheaper to register online.

This is the first time I've added up the total cost of a season's worth of swims, so I'll probably get hysterical towards the end of this post. Here goes -

November: Dawny to Cockatoo Island swim - $40 (late rego is $10 more than pre-registered); Coogee Express Glass Island Challenge - $30 (early rego and then I missed it because of illness)

December: Bilgola - $25 (early rego)

January: Newport - $30 (late rego); Gerringong - $30 (late rego); Mona Vale $40 (late rego); Palmy to Whale - $35 x 2 (I also paid for Precious Princess, early rego)

February: Cole Classic - $49 (early-bird entry, but sick as a dog on the day of the swim so I missed it); North Bondi - $35 (early rego. I still can't believe I managed to do this swim as a I was still pretty crook. I probably didn't want to waste any more money); Malabar - $40 (late rego); Long Reef - $35 (late rego, which is $10 more than online) 

March: Manly - $30 (not sure if this was late rego); Sydney Harbour - $55 x 2 because I paid Precious Princess to keep me company (early rego)

April: Stanwell Park - $30 (early rego. I also lost a $29 pair of goggles in this swim); Balmoral Beach - $30 x 2 (late rego for PP and me); Mollymook - $30 x 3 (early rego for PP, The Hiss and me!)

May: Byron Bay - $65 (early rego). 

The total is: $629. However, when I factor in the cost of daughters' regos and lost goggles, the total jumps to $838

I'm actually feeling rather calm, but that might have something to do with a head cold dulled by a glass of Shiraz. And the other thing that makes me feel OK is that most of the money goes to good causes, including the SLSC and to fund cancer research. And it sure beats hanging out at the mall.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Four seasons in one day: The Byron Bay Ocean Swim Classic 2011 (with brief reference to snoring)

A gouge in the sand: the result of torrential rain and rough seas
 Rain. Rain. And more rain. Truckloads of it, accompanied by blinding camera-flashes of lightning and cracking thunder. This was Byron Bay on Friday night.

When Ms Onyabike and I met up with the well-informed Mr and Mrs Snorkel, they told us the swim's organisers were worried about Sunday. Huge swells were predicted, with waves up to four metres. In surfer terms that's "gnarly". For me it's plain scary. 

On Saturday morning, I joined the end of the traditional conga line of swimmers who stroll up to The Pass, a rocky outcrop at the southern end of Clarkes Beach, to swim back to the surf club on Main Beach.

It wasn't the most pleasant of swims. Although the water was warm, it was murky green and I was alone for the journey, apart from a brief encounter with the real (deadset) Thor who, after a chat about the crap weather, sprinted away never to be seen again. Story of my life. 

On the beach at the Byron Bay Ocean Swim Classic

Later that day, the Snorkels and I moaned at Ms Onyabike. We'd been coming to Byron for four years and it had never been this bad - rough surf, intermittent rain squalls and brisk winds. We blamed her for this meteorological abnormality.

Fortunately, Ms Onyabike sent out good vibes (it must have been her high-frequency snoring, which brings tears to the eyes) and the clouds parted on Sunday morning to reveal a glorious blue sky.

One of the fun things about the Byron swim is getting on the bus, in our cossies, at Main Beach with other swimmers (we're herded onto the old codgers' bus, though we're sure we look much younger). The bus drops us at the swim's starting point - Wategos Beach.

Another fun thing is not starting last. With the Byron swim, the older age groups go off before the younger swimmers and the elite SuperFish. For me, this is wonderful because there are still spectators on the beach when I toddle out of the water at the end of the swim. And I get to see the elite swimmers finish.   

Back to the start - I was relieved to make it through the surf and to the first buoy without too much trouble. But from then on it was a hike. The surf was pumping at The Pass, so the swell rose and fell in grand sweeps as I tried to push through it like a worm trying to burrow into clay. The water was eerily opaque in contrast to previous years, where its  crystal clarity allowed swimmers to ogle turtles, stingrays and schools of fish.   

Running out of the surf at Main Beach after the swim 

I managed to avoid getting dumped on the way in, but a powerful north-running current almost ripped my legs off when I stood up and tried to wade across the sandbank towards the finish line. 

Mr Snorkle was there waving me in, having pulled out of the swim after feeling that his heart just wasn't in it. Aren't men funny?

Mrs Snorkel and Ms Onyabike were there, too, but they swam using 'swimming aids' - goggles, snorkels and fins. Am I big noting? 

It's my blog. 

Afterwards, we kept our bragging to the mimimum because we didn't want to upset Mr Snorkel. No jokes were made at his expense. We didn't question his masculinity, fitness or mental stamina to complete such an arduous swim. Nope. We're bigger than that.
Next year the Byron Bay Ocean Swim Classic celebrates its 25th year. We'll be back.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Byron Bay Winter Whales Ocean Swim Classic 2011: pics first and then the report

I don't have time to write my report of the swim - I'll get to that tomorrow night - but in the meantime I thought I'd make you jealous by posting some photos of our fourth Bryon Bay ocean swim adventure tour.

Wategos at sunset

Clarkes Beach and the rainbow's end

The Pass

Aaah, this takes me back...