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April 15, 2020 – Open our beaches!

Open our beaches!…


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Emailed to 41,000 ocean swimmers weekly in season.


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The mob at Bongin, on a bewdiful autumn morn... Image by David Helsham @glistenrr

Look below...

Authorities over the top

Open our beaches! (Please.)

Imagine this: It’s morning. Clear, crisp, a touch below balmy; a gentle breeze whispers offshore from the beach. Swell is up, but in the breeze, it stands up, high, proud, upright, shoulders square, its snowy hair feathering behind as it rolls towards the beach, defiant of the wind; translucent, the sun behind outlining every ripple on its face. Ashore, on the water’s edge, a peloton of codgers and younger boofheads, and laydees, approach the water, their toes digging into the sand, squeaking as they grip. In the backs of their minds, quietly, they calculate and recalculate the time between dumps of the shorebreak onto the edge, the timing of their dive into the sea. It is a personal call: Everyone’s timing is their own, and no calculation need interrupt the morning repartee. At 7, the sun is above the horizon, but it’s not enough yet to soften the air. They are all, all these codgers, they are thinking the same thing: Early autumn morns really are the best time to swim…

We are watching this in our imagination, through a broad-gauged, wire-netted wall, for there is no-one on the sand; no-one approaching the sea; no-one gazing wistfully at the spray thrown back from the erect swells in the offshore breeze. There is no-one on the beach at all. It is deserted. The waves are ignored. The sea is empty, at least of wo/man.

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Northern Beaches Council has, kindly, decorated the picnic tables at Mona Vale to make them more festive for early morning swimmers. Photograrph by Glistening Dave (@glistenrr)

Over the top? Leur?

Many punters will recognise this feeling at the moment, particularly in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, where councils have closed beaches completely as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the top? One might argue so. Indeed, we do. No reasonable person would argue with the need for precautions to constrain the spread of this virus, against which we are pharmaceutically defenceless. It is good that “the authorities” have recognised that, whilst necessarily restricting contact amongst humans, humans still need to get out a bit and stretch themselves. Both are in the interests of their health. A daily outing will make a prolonged lockdown easier to endure, and to manage. It’s a question of balancing the needs. But local councils have gone over the top in closing the beaches completely. You don’t need to close the beaches in order to stop the silly behaviour of a few.

It’s not just in Sydney’s eastern suburbs where they have closed the beaches completely. It’s happening in many other places, too: Sydney’s southern beaches around Cronulla; the northern beaches, particularly in the more populous areas closer down towards the harbour – Manly, Dee Why. But you can swim farther up the northern beaches, and we understand the Sutherland Shire beaches have reopened post-Easter. MidCoast Council even closed the beaches around Forster. Thank heavens we weren’t there at the time. How about the Melbourne Bayside beaches? The Goldy and the Sunny? Freo, Cott to Swanny? Glenelg? Et al? Are they doing this in Auckland?

The closures are in response to large gatherings on beaches in defiance of the need for social distancing. Bondi has had particular problems, especially with the preponderance of backpacker hostels there, and the random crowds that gather there habitually on warm, sunny days. Since that notorious Sunday a few weeks back (see below), Bondi has developed its own coronavirus cluster. Yes, we understand the need for action.

This is largely a council thing, it seems. State rules don’t compel beach closures, although the police appear to be enforcing them. Where the authorities – the councils involved -- are wrong is in their application of the balance. The closures, and the erection of barricades because we can’t be trusted, also recognise that people need to exercise, all the more so in a contemporary economy with such a preponderance of sedentary jobs. There’s not much incidental exercise in office work. So we’re allowed to run and to walk and to cycle, provided it’s not on the beach. Ironically, the temporary barricades actually crowd the runners and the walkers and the cyclistes into a narrower space on Sydney’s beach promenades, making social distancing more difficult to achieve.

That said, the local authorities have a difficult job in managing their areas in response to state and federal restrictions on movement and gathering. This is new territory for everyone. They are doing as well as they can. But in the great Strã'an tradition of deference, they can always do with gratuitous advice.

The error is in the authorities assuming that the only exercise their communities need is walking or running or cycling. As we know so very well, there are many punters who don’t or can’t walk or run or cycle. We swim. Because we prefer to; because we have to; because we can’t, for one reason or another, do the land-based stuff. Whither us? What about me? Personally, we walk because we live inland a bit, when we’re not at Forster. But we prefer to swim. We get a bit of both. But we cannot run, and we don’t have a bike. And it's an hour to the beach.

This is not an argument against restrictions aimed at constraining the spread of the virus. It is a plea for commonsense in how they are applied; to cater to the large number of us who swim. We need our exercise, too. Those authorities are wrong to think that running, walking and cycling is all that matters.

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Bondi beachgoers practise social distancing in the age of coronavirus. Image tweeted by Isabelle Truman (@isabelletruman). Next day, Waverley Council, with the Bill, closed Bondi down. Be aware, the telephoto lens used for this image has the effect of compressing the distribution of beachgoers, so many of them are not as close to each other as they may seem. But there certainly are lots of them.

Our voting strength

In season 2018/19, Australia racked up 53,000 entrants in organised ocean swims, about a quarter of us in Sydney. Including those who swim informally – early morning swim groups, etc -- there are probably more than double that around the joint. Many others use the beaches for daily exercise, although they might teabag at the end of a beach walk or a run. It's not just swimmers who are being dudded. And don't forget surfers; they need their fix, too.

A solution?

We beach users are not in the habit of gathering in large groups on the beach having a drink and a party and spreading coronavirus. We don’t even hang around on the beach much after our swim. We generally turn up, swim, then go home, or off to work. We might go for a cuppa at a beachside café. But we don’t sit around in groups on the sand passing around a flagon or a durry or having a chinwag so boisterous that it infringes the amenity of neighbouring beachgoers. In the ocean, there’s little risk of infringing social distancing rules. And if the authorities feel the need to police our usage, then beaches are far easier to patrol because they are clearly identified, defined spaces, unlike the many kilometres of bike and shared paths, and parklands.

It’s wrong on the part of policy makers to, on the one hand, recognise that we all need our exercise, but on the other hand, to block many of us from getting it. It’s not so much that it’s discrimination; it’s ignorance, and it’s bad policy. There could at least be defined hours for swimming, beach walking, and running -- say 6-9 in the mornings and 4-6 in the evenings -- with restrictions on group numbers.

We all need our exercise, but there is more to the world than joggers, walkers, and cyclists.

What you can do

You can make your views known to your local councillors. Don't be shy about it. Their phone numbers usually are on the council websites... Randwick councillors... Waverley councillors

Only the strength of numbers is likely to force change.

There are petitions circulating online urging both Randwick and Waverley councils in Sydney to think through their blanket bans. You can see these petitions – and sign them, if you like – For Randwick Council (Clovelly, Coogee, Maroubra) … Click here… And for Waverley Council (Bondi, Tamarama, Bronte)… Click here

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Proud swells stand upright, snowy hair feathering behind... Photograrph by Glistening Dave (@glistenrr)

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Calling crusty old sea dogs

pitt helen 250Attention all ocean baths swimmers: an ocean swimming journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald, Helen Pitt, is seeking ocean baths swimmers for a coffee table book she is doing with photographer Chris Chen, to be published by Thames and Hudson. Helen is seeking baths swimmers to talk to about their favourite ocean pools, and why they are their favourites. Ideally, Helen says, she would love the subjects to agree to be photographed in their cossies at their favourite pool.

Please email Helen (link below) with 100 words on what you love about your ocean pool (more if it has an interesting history).

If you are not willing to be photographed, Helen says she is open to suggestions of swimmers to photograph or talk to... Crusty old sea dogs, please apply.

Many will know Helen from The House (Allen & Unwin), her history of the Sydney Opera House, which won the Walkley Book Award in 2018.

Contact Helen Pitt... Click here

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New Swipe Wide-Eyes

More Swipes in stock now

V630ASA AMBK 300There's a new model Swipe: the Wide-Eyes cater to swimmers who prefer an adjustable nose bridge, and a slightly wider field of vision than offered by the existing Swipe Selenes. They come in both plain and fully sick mirrored versions. They will be more suitable, perhaps, for punters who need a longer or narrower nose-bridge.

We wore our original View Selene Swipes for 56 outings, until we lost them at Bondi a few weeks back. Left them in a change room. Now, we're using the new Wide-Eyes Swipes.

We had been cautious about promoting the Swipes when we heard about them from the folk at View. We wore them 30 times before we were comfortable with flogging them to you. If they do fog at all, generally it's in one corner of a lens. Each time, we took them off, wiped the foggy bit gently with our forefinger, and no more fogging for the rest of the session. No goo, no spit, no nothing, except wetting them and wiping them carefully

We've sold 310 pairs of View Selene Swipes since we launched them just prior to Xmas; so many, in fact, that we'd sold out of four colours and we'd almost sold out of the fifth. New stocks have arrived, and we have plenty of gogs in all available colours and styles.

The revolutionary Swipe technology offers anti-fog capacity that lasts 10 times as long as existing goggles, the makers say.

According to the makers, the "10 times as long" refers to distance they say you can swim before you start to see some fogging with new goggles. They say the standard is 4km, but the Swipes will go 40kms. Whatever, all gogs will fog if you don't respect them and look after them. The issue also is how to deal with the fogging if and when it does occur.

For advice on looking after your gogs... Click here

Find out more and order Swipes... Click here

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oceanswimsafaris 2020

It's all over for now, baby

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No-one should be surprised to hear that our early-season oceanswimsafaris this year have been cancelled. Or rather, they've been rolled over to next year, 2021. Our French Polynesia oceanswimsafaris will be in May, 2021, and our Philippines oceanswimsafari will be in June. We're lucky that our providers in both French Polynesia and in The Philippines have been happy to defer our bookings. They're suffering, too, at the moment. That's our mob, above, playing with whale sharks in The Philippines in 2019.

We're not sure yet about late season oceanswimsafaris in 2020. We're keeping a watching brief and we're communicating with those who've booked.

Enquiries... Click here

Controversy Corner...

What do you reckon about any of this stuff? We received a lot of feedback after last week's newsletter. Check it out... Click here

Let us know and we'll facilitate the debate... Click here

(Also see posts at the end of this newsletter.)

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Early morning autumn choob at Forster.

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Don't be an emergency eejit. It's 'strordnry how many punters enter swims online and list themselves as their own emergency contact. Just say something happens to you out in the sea, who are awgies going to contact? You? Get real. Think about it, and enter someone else as your emergency contact, event if it's your boss at work.

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