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March 18, 2021 – Journey through Autumn

Journey through autumn…

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Emailed to more than 42,000 ocean swimmers.

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Much ado about… Well, not much, really. It's just a little wave.

Look  below…

Journey through Autumn

It's pay-off time

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'Jesus light' (see explanation below)… We can't recall where we obtained this image, from March 2, whether it's ours, or we found it somewhere and it was made by someone else. If someone else, we apologise. But it is such a beautiful image…

We’ve paid our dues. We are now at the pay-off time of the ocean swimming season: autumn.

We have raved about autumn swimming before, but each time it comes around, we still are blown away by how beautiful it is: that oppression of summer heat has gone from the air, leaving it with an early morning crispicity; but the water still is warm, and will stay warm for months yet; the water clarifies; there is likely to be a gentle offshore breeze that smoothes the sea and produces that playful, tingly spume off the back of waves as they break. And do you know what else that playful offshore breeze does? It blows the blueys out to sea. Away from me…

That’s how it is most years. This season, things have been a bit different because we’re coming out of a La Niña summer (see story below). We didn’t have the usual and incessant howling nor’-easters over December and January, but we’ve had plenty of cloud and rain, and that’s made the water less than clear. Indeed, where we swim mostly these days, at Forster, we haven’t seen much of the bottom in months. And just when you think it is clearing up, we get another wet week, and the rivers and creeks that feed into Wallis Lake become engorged and spew through the lake and out into the sea.

But we’d still rather be swimming there than doing most other stuff.

In oceanswims.com terms, autumn actually is our busiest time of year: we have more swims over March and April than over the height of summer, particularly this Covid-affected season, when swims at the end of 2020 were either cancelled or pushed back to early 2021. On one super weekend, April 10-11, there are six swims scheduled in NSW alone, four of them in Sydney.

The wonderful thing about autumn swims always was that many of the newer events that came with the explosion in ocean swimming over the last 20 years were pushed to this time of year in search of their own space. Many of those swims are in the country. They take us to places we’d probably never visit otherwise; not for lack of interest, more lack of opportunity. Many of them are in exotic, mystical locations, some of them in places that we remember from our days of youth when we’d pore through the surfing magazines drooling over some of the world’s best surf spots, many of them in NSW and sou’-east Queensland.

We are spoilt for choice with swims in March and April. It’s hard to decide which swims to do. So we’re going to help you: in a community service, here is our guide to autumn swims.

(We apologise at the outset, for the vast majority–most–of these swims are in NSW. That’s because the season of formal ocean swimming events has finished in all other states, except for the odd swim here and there. The exceptions are the West, where there is the icon weekend of Albany and Denmark over Easter, and New Zealand, where solid swimming remains on both North and South Islands.)

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Our friend, Mike Dodgy, tells us the light through the clouds like this is known by snappers as 'Jesus light', as you see in religious imagery. You know the kind: where 'Jesus' is standing there, benevolently, an aura around his noggin, his hands slightly apart solicitously. There's been an awful lot of 'Jesus light' around the joint this past summer. But if s/he's keeping an eye on us, it's definitely looking down, not watching over.

March 20-21

An appalling choice in NSW with two of the most spectacular swims on the calendar on the one day: Stanwell Park really is The Big Swim of the South, following the Illawarra Escarpment north from Coalcliff back to Stanwell (you must breathe left to appreciate the vista); and the romantic Avalon now has its Around the Bends Swim from Newport, past the points either side of Bilgola, and in to Avalon, before its traditional circuit swim off Avalon Beach. (STOP PRESS: As we write, Avalon swim has been canceled/postponed due to forecast heavy seas. Awgies are looking for a postponement date.)

This is the return of Stanwell Park after an hiatus of five years. Awgies paused it after 2016, but they’ve been trying to restart it for the last two seasons, only for seas to get in the way on each of their three scheduled dates so far. They deserve a break this Sunday. But, that said, seas are forecast again this weekend. Keep your eye on event pages and your social meeja feeds for updates.

In the West, you can swim from Freo to Rotto (solos must qualify). That’s always an epic. And in New Zealand, you can swim the Blue Lake near the hot springs resort of Rotorua. Mind you, that’s fresh water. Fresh water is difficult for boofheads, who carry no buoyancy on their lower halves.

March 27-28

Coffs Harbour represents escape to the country. There aren’t many swims in Northern NSW this season, with the demise of South West Rocks in recent years, and the abandonment this season of Byron Bay. But March 21 heralds three weeks of North Coast swims, with Coffs, followed on Easter Sunday by Pacific Palms, and Forster a week after that. We should all get out to the country as often as possible. These are such stunning locations. You never know, in these days of Covid, you might end up moving to one of them. Balmoral is breaking its event over several weekends this year. It's a very beautiful harbour swim.

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Boom! Crash! Embracing the break towards Shark Island.

April 3-4 (Easter)

One of our dreams long has been the Easter weekend down south in the West, particularly Denmark’s Southern Ocean Classic. So remote, and places that, for us in the East, we’d never get to otherwise. You can make a real weekend of this, with these two swims on successive days.

Back East, we have some of the most beautiful swims on the calendar. The Tilbury Classic at Culburra, on the coast from Nowra, threads its way around reefs as it skirts the beautiful Tilbury Headland. Culburra is a stunning beach. The first time we visited there, there were dolphins jumping out of the waves as awgies gave their briefing in the clubhouse.

Terrigal is always a buzz in holiday time. And on Easter Sundee, Pacific Palms (Elizabeth Beach, just south of Forster) usually has the clearest water of the season, nestled inside a nor’-east facing beach inside the Booti National Park. It is a stunning location,but watch out for the shorebreak.

Even farther east, The Mount swim at Mt Maunganui skirts the islands off the beach in its main event. This is a good looking swim, in another beautiful spot although, to be honest, we reckon the pick of the swims here is Around the Mount in January.

April 10-11

NSW – Freshwater, Coogee-Bondi, Shellharbour, Forster, Coogee, Narrabeen

All in NSW, but such choice: two swims on Sat’dee, four on Sundee; and four swims in Sydney alone. There are some magnificent courses in the city area – Coogee to Bondi, Wedding Cake Island at Coogee, one of the friendliest swims at Freshwater, and the iconic Narrabeen. But get a load of the country swims: in the Illawarra, Shellharbour, another of the prettiest swims you will do, skirting the rock shelf over myriad micro-reefs; and on the Lower North Coast, Forster, from One Mile Beach around the headland and all the way into Forster Main Beach. The water here is jam-packed with sea life: turtles, rays of many types, all kinds of other things, some of them big. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to spot Fluffy and his gang of grey nurses hanging behind the reef as you come into the finish.

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Remember this? Heron Island. We're going back there in November. Want to come with us…? (Click here)

April 17-18

It’s quietening down in Oz. There’s only Billie, on Sydney’s northern beaches. Another pretty swim on a very pretty beach, and pushed back this year by the Covid outbreak back in December. It’s safe to go to the Northern Beaches nowadays. In NZ, it’s full on, with two distances under the Auckland Harbour Bridge on each of Saturday and Sunday, and the totemic Rangitoto swim on Sunday.

Rangitoto is another of our dream swims. But you wonder why these swims are doubling up. The best we can say is that the shorter bridge swim and Rangitoto, both on Sunday, we imagine would appeal to different types of swimmers. It does seem to us, however, that organisers of large swim series, not just in NZ, but elsewhere, too, might be more considerate of smaller events when they jump on their dates.

Thereafter, it is disappointing that the season fizzles out. As we said at the outset, the water remains warm, and the weather pleasant, if not hot. There remains plenty of room for good swims in stunning locations. But we know nothing of South Curl Curl; and we know Byron is canceled, and Mollymook looks to be no more. South Head is running on May 16, although that’s for more experienced swimmers.

But that just leaves plenty of room for all the informal morning swim groups. Check out our guide to them, all over the joint, under Swim Groups on oceanswims.com. 

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Covid-19

Learning to do without

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On Twitter, we saw this tweet from @GreenAppleBooks, a swimmer in San Francisco Bay…

A year ago, when our swim/rowing club closed for “a few weeks to flatten the curve,” my swim pod hit the ocean. A year later, we know the post-swim sauna is a treat, not a necessity. Thanks to the OB/CB pod for the 200+ swims since a year ago today. Many good shivers.

Where we swim, the #ForsterTurtles learnt to live without hot showers and change rooms in the surf club. In the depths of winter, we found the outdoor shower behind the indoor public change rooms was warmer than the sea; and the laydees co-opted the end of the promenade in front of the closed surf club, the end facing the scrubby sand dunes, as their 'change room'. The boofheads just used a towel.

What else have we learnt to live without, thanks to Covid-19? How else have we adapted? Tell us…Click here

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Wettest summer in five years…

But is La Nina coming to an end?

DIANE NAZAROFF

This story was published originally in the online Newsroom of the University of NSW on March 12, 2021. Had we known this stuff earlier, we could have predicted La Niña last winter, so warm was the ocean water throughout the cooler months. In future, we won't need the BoM.

With more rain on the horizon in NSW and Queensland, a UNSW climate scientist answers our questions about whether we can expect more wet and cold from La Niña, and what’s in store for next summer.

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Clouds over Bongin (Image by David Helsham @glistenrr) 

The cold and wet conditions associated with La Niña will continue to appear in the future, although research shows that it will likely appear more often in a warming climate. Image: Shutterstock

The Bureau of Meteorology says Australia recorded its wettest and coolest summer in at least five years thanks to La Niña. But the wet and cool conditions are not finished yet, with forecasts of heavy rain to Queensland and NSW over the next week.

What can we expect from La Niña in future?

andrea taschetto 150Dr Andrea Taschetto (right) is an Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow at UNSW Science’s Climate Change Research Centre, as well as a chief investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes.

“This last summer was particularly unusual. We did receive lots of rain. It was the wettest and coolest summer in the past five years and that was basically because of La Niña,” she says.

What is La Niña?

“La Niña events occur when sea surface temperatures of the tropical Pacific, particularly the central and eastern Pacific, gets unusually cold, while the other side of the basin - the Western Pacific which is closer to Australia - gets warmer than average. The warm water near Australia increases moisture to the atmosphere and enhances the chances for more rainfall over northern and eastern Australia.”

“What we are seeing now is actually past the peak of La Niña event and it's slowly fading. We are expecting that La Niña will fade and go back to normal conditions by April/May this year. Without La Niña we expect to receive normal average rainfall in winter, not exaggerated as we've seen during the summer and autumn.”

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How La Niña is formed. Graphic: Bureau of Meteorology 

What causes La Niña?

“La Niña is the cooler phase of a phenomenon called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The warm phase of ENSO is named El Niño. ENSO is sometimes hard to predict but currently it is possible to predict a La Niña or El Niño nine months in advance. One of the things scientists use to predict La Niña or El Niño is the heat content in the ocean. When the Western Pacific has more heat content than average, then it is more likely that El Niño will develop, and conversely for La Niña.”

What causes the Pacific Ocean to cool during La Niña?

“It is a swing of the so-called Walker circulation in the tropical Pacific. The Walker circulation features trade winds blowing from east to west across the tropical Pacific. This piles up warm water to the western side of the ocean basin, creating a warm pool around the Indonesian seas and off northern Australia. At the same time cold water is upwelled in the east, making the eastern Pacific cool. Surface winds converge in the western Pacific and create lots of convection and rain. When La Niña events occur this Walker circulation gets stronger than normal, so trade winds intensify, making the eastern Pacific cooler, and the water surrounding Australia warmer, favouring more moisture, convection and rainfall for us.”

What makes the oceans warm during El Niño?

“El Niño occurs when this whole circulation weakens. As a consequence, the warm water that is piled up in the west by the winds spreads to the east, thus warming the central and eastern Pacific, and moving the centre of convection eastward. With less warm water around Australia and the convective activity away from the western Pacific, there are more chances for dry weather for Australia.”

What’s the prospect for ENSO next summer?

“La Niña and El Niño generally have a three to seven year cycle so we are not expecting to see another event like this develop at the end of the year. Although La Niña can sometimes persist for two years, seasonal forecasting agencies, such as the Bureau of Meteorology, are predicting neutral conditions for the rest of the year and next summer.

The strong La Niña event of 2010/2011 resulted in massive floods in Queensland. The 2010 spring season was the wettest spring in Australia since the 1900s. We simulated a similar event at the time to check how unusual the 2010/11 La Niña was, and we found the warming ocean surrounding the northern parts of Australia was extremely important for that event. It accentuated the chances of having extreme flooding in northeast Australia. Our simulation showed that north-east Australia was three times more likely to experience extreme rainfall during that La Niña than if there hasn’t been a warming of the ocean north of Australia. It was global warming making an appearance on top of La Niña.”

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How El Nino is formed. Graphic: Bureau of Meteorology.

What are the impacts of La Niña?

“The tropical Pacific covers about one third of the tropics, so when ENSO appears it is large enough to impact weather patterns beyond that ocean. It is also often the case that ENSO can combine with other climate phenomena to amplify the impact over Australia. For example, when the east Indian Ocean is warmer than usual at the same time as La Niña, it intensifies rain for south-east Australia. When the Antarctic Oscillation shifts the mid-latitude winds closer to Australia, it can bring more storms and rain to south and east Australia.

Generally during La Niña, there tends to be a higher chance of tropical cyclones around Australian tropics. That didn't happen this year; there were only three or four tropical cyclones this season. But there were a lot of tropical lows, which are less intense weather systems that can bring significant amounts of rain for northern Australia, and that's what happened this season.

Another effect of La Niña around Australia is marine heatwaves. Marine heatwaves are extreme ocean temperature events that persist for several days, sometimes months, and can develop due to La Niña in areas like the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. These events have massive impact for marine ecosystems, and coastal communities dependant on economic activities such as fishery and oyster farmers.

The impacts of La Nina and El Nino reverberate across the globe. We recently synthesised these complex effects as part of the book El Nino Southern Oscillation in a Changing Climate.”

Are there any positive aspects to La Niña?

“About three years ago, south-east Australia experienced a severe drought. The Murray Darling basin catchment area was very low. The amount of rainfall that La Niña brought this time contributed to bringing the Murray Darling basin and soil moisture back to normal. Overall, we need to think that ENSO is not a bad thing, but a natural oscillation of our climate system. It will continue to appear in the future, although research shows that it will likely appear more often in a warming climate.”

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Photo Essay

Going… Going… Gone!

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Diamond Beach snapper Steve White likes to get under curls. Here he is, at Forster (Steve is a Forster Turtle), disappearing, slowly but quickly…

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You can see what what images Steve captures himself… Click here

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Your most personal item…

Goggles: About straps...

V630ASA AMBK 300We reprint here our report on the importance of straps from our last newsletter following requests. Straps are way under-rated and disrespected…

Straps are an important and integral component of swim gogs. We all know that. So why don’t more punters take the time to understand them?

The problem with straps is that they’re not front-of-mind. They are, by definition, in the background; behind you; out of mind. They can be fiddly, but deep down, we all know they’re important. But they’re not as important as lenses, are they? Or are they?

wide eyes strap slip 300Goggles are an ensemble: you need the straps as much as you need the lenses. And you need the clips that control the adjustment of straps, just as much as you need the other two. A well-fitting, clear lens is no good if the strap is not just so.

Left: Not that easy to see, perhaps, but notice how one side of the strap is not through the clip: This is a recipe for disaster.

The problems that you can face with lenses are clear, as it were. Usually it’s lens fog (more often than not caused by dirty and greasy lenses; which is caused by disrespect) and poor seals (which can be dealt with at the point of purchase by a sales person with some clue about what they’re doing, eg Mrs Sparkle). They can also be caused by rubbish lenses, but we have little experience of this kind of thing these days.

But straps. How do you deal with straps.

The biggest mistake swimmers make with straps is to make them too tight. Some people think, weirdly, that the tighter the strap, the better the seal. Actually, the reverse is true. A strap that’s too tight can disrupt a seal through the tension around your noggin. Straps should be just tight enough to hold the gogs in position. They don’t have to be tight; indeed, a strap that’s too tight might cut off blood supply around your head, which could lead to all sorts of other issues. And, of course, that would be the fault of the gogs, wouldn’t it.

selene strap length 250Left: There's a lot of slack left when one end of the strap comes out of the clip; it's not easy to lose the clip itself.

Gogs that you can don straight out of the box to fit perfectly are worth their weight in gold. When Mrs Sparkle fits a punter with gogs, she always gets them to place the lenses into the eye sockets without placing the strap, which just hangs there. If the lenses sit in place even momentarily, then we have a seal. The role of the strap, then, is simply to hold them in place on your head, not to create the seal itself. We don’t wish to brag here, but that’s the experience we have every time we take a new pair out of the box. Lenses fit, they’re clean, and the strap tension is just right. Maybe we just have a perfect head. Some have said that.

Not every gog on every head is that perfect, of course. And this leads to fiddling. Fiddling happens when punters feel the strap needs to be tighter, or it’s already too tight and they want to loosen it. In the process, they loosen it too much, or they loosen in carelessly or unevenly. What happens then?
This is where the clip becomes important. Gogs have different styles of clips and strap assemblies, so it’s difficult to be definitive. Essentially, though, the clip locks the strap in place. Sometimes, however, straps flip the clip and come loose, which means the gogs can come loose, and you can lose the gogs.

wide eyes strap tighten 300Straps have to thread through the clip and out the other side, with enough hanging out to provide security for when the strap inevitably is stretched, such as when it’s being donned or discarded. If the strap is adjusted unevenly, one end might have plenty of free strap through the clip, while the other end is only just poking out. The risk is that, when the strap is stretched, this short end can slip through the clip, the strap comes loose and the gogs are gone.

Right: When you adjust the strap, particularly if the end is short, lock it into place with a gentle stretch.

One precaution you can take is that, when you’ve adjusted the strap and it’s through the clip, grab the strap either side of the clip and pull the loose end gently so as to ‘lock’ it in place. You should try to ensure that the loose ends are through the clip evenly, and that, if you can, the clip has plenty of free strap available, such as by sliding the clip closer to the goggle lens, if possible. Some straps are shorter than others, of course, and you will have more or less strap to play with. Another reason to be careful when you adjust.

Look closely at clips, and you will see that it’s very difficult to lose a clip completely. Even if the loose end comes out, the clip is designed such that the strap is still well within the other side of the clip, so it’s hard to lose the clip completely. Certainly that’s the case with View gogs. We have had a report of a clip breaking completely, but with all the more than a thousand gogs we’ve sold, we’ve heard of that only once.

Some swimmers tell us that they lose their clip, it disappears, and they can reattach their gogs only by trying a knot. Absent a snapped clip, that can happen only if the strap has been adjusted ‘inappropriately’.

So the message: respect your straps. Don’t diss them just because you can’t see them.

Swipes available

There are Swipe Selenes available in five colours. Wide-Eyes non-mirrored come in four colours, and mirrored come in three colours.

Out of left field: One of the least popular, but we reckon the best colour is the Swipe Selenes BR. The BR means bronze or brown, not sure which. It’s not a popular colour, just like brown suits, but it’s actually a very soft, forgiving colour for swimming in harsh sunlight, and a warm colour for cooler water swimming, over winter, say. We use the BR about half the time these days (alternating with BLEM – Blue/Emerald) Wide-Eyes mirrored. They’re terrific for early morning swims when you spend half your time staring into the rising sun. Every swimmer needs a quiver of gogs.

But every swimmer also needs to look after their gogs; to respect them. If you don’t respect your gogs, they will not respect you. And don’t go blaming the gogs all the time (although plenty really are shite), it will all come down to how you manage them.

Find out more and order your View Swipes, and other View swim gogs and swim gear… Click here

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Mollymook Ocean Swimmers

Rise & Shine

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Image by Dean Dampney

By Virginia Connor
(First published in White Wash, Milton Ulladulla Lifestyle Magazine)

It’s a beautiful morning—the sun is hovering just above the horizon, the reflection creating a sparkling corridor across the calm ocean to the shore. We are standing in front of the Mollymook Surf Club, and a chatty group of men and women in various styles of bathing attire is gathering. Despite the casual camaraderie, there is a distinct impression of purpose. They are in the water by 7am. With hands across brows to filter the glare before adjusting their goggles, the group spreads out after ducking under the small waves and make their way out about 50 metres and turn north. They are soon tiny dots in the vast ocean, the occasional arc of an arm or small splash visible as they travel parallel to the beach towards the reef, a bit over a kilometre from their starting point, and head back. This is a beloved daily ritual for most of the group of around 15 ardent local swimmers.

We are not talking about a dip or a splash about in the shallows, ocean swimmers are in deep water beyond the breakers, without a board or flotation device, for not less than 40 minutes. The water temperature varies between cool to very cold, there’s wind chop, swell, currents and various sea-dwelling creatures to contend with. And while shark sightings are rare, they do occur. Rays, small fish and dolphins are regular companions, with whales occasionally joining the scene during migration season.

It is estimated that about 17,000 people in NSW are currently participating in this activity at a competitive level, with over 100 events held across our island continent each year. They range in age from 30 to over 70, with typically more men involved. However, women are largely responsible for recent growth in the sport, in part the result of isolation and restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Despite the inherent risks, it’s the variety of conditions that are part of the attraction, compared with the predictability of swimming in the confines of a pool. The health benefits are an obvious drawcard too and, as anyone living near the ocean knows, even the visual impact of vast stretches of open water is an almost immediate endorphins’ trigger. Combining physical immersion and exercise, ocean swimming is believed to improve circulation, counter depression, boost the immune system, reduce stress, assist some respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis as well as arthritis, improve skin conditions, due to exposure to the ocean’s high mineral content and, of course, burns calories. All this without breaking a sweat! It’s no wonder then that the Mollymook Ocean Swimmers wake with the sun each day and dive right in.

Despite the inherent risks, it’s the variety of conditions that are part of the attraction, compared with the predictability of swimming in the confines of a pool.”

Formed in March 1999, in response to the seasonal closing of the Milton Village Pool, the Mollymook Ocean Swimmers began under the guidance of John Smeeth—the head swim instructor and general maintenance man at the pool during that time. He was training a small group of four women and two men who expressed a desire to continue swimming in the off-season. His suggestion that they meet down at the beach on Sunday mornings and continue their training in the ocean was enthusiastically received, and within just a few weeks the group had more than doubled in size. Some brought their children along and holidaymakers from Sydney also became regulars. John nicknamed the group the ‘Sunday swimmers’, due to their habit of meandering off course, in the fashion of ‘Sunday drivers’. And while encouraging the newcomers, he also kept a constant eye on them, always swimming at the back of the group while they developed confidence (and a better sense of direction). Over the next 18 months or so, some members of the group started swimming midweek and were soon joined by others who were eager to get in their morning exercise and enjoyed the company and the ritual.

The local ocean swimming group has no rules, no joining fees, no governing body or registration. Swimmers simply turn up and swim the direction and distance they are comfortable with, and at their own risk. Everyone is welcome and there is no judgement—just a community of people who love the ocean and the way that early-morning dip makes them feel.

We have a swim and a laugh. The ocean just lifts you up—it feels good and washes any worries away.”

While most of the swimmers are dedicated amateurs, some of the Mollymook Ocean Swimmers have impressive credentials, coming from Surf Club and/or competitive swimming backgrounds. Many representatives of the group have participated in iconic ocean swim events, such as the Cole Classic in Sydney, the Pier to Pub in Lorne, Victoria and the Rottnest channel swim in Western Australia. However, winning events is not the main aim for most—it’s the challenge of completing the course in unpredictable conditions and the sense
of achievement.

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The Mollymook Ocean Swim Classic was conceived in 2003 as a fundraising event with sponsorship from local businesses and a dedicated team of organisers led by Ken Banks with significant support from fellow swimmers and the Mollymook Surf Club. The inaugural Classic commenced and ended at South Mollymook with 84 starters, including 30 local swimmers. On the day of the event, the surf conditions were terrible, but the event was a success and is now held each year in April unless deemed too dangerous, which occurred in 2013 and 2014 due to east coast lows. The route for the Classic changed to a ‘destination’ style swim in 2006 and approximately 200 contestants now enter the water at North Mollymook, swimming out to buoys and completing the journey at the southern end of the beach, with a flotilla of Surf Club safety wardens monitoring the progress of swimmers along the course.

It’s all the faces and all the fun. It fills your whole day with happiness. Any twinges are gone—you can feel your body lengthening and loosening up.”

Ken competed successfully in surf club events as a teenager and joined the ocean swimmers when he ‘retired’ to Mollymook in 2001. He still swims daily and also maintains a detailed online newsletter that keeps locals informed on swim and social events. With contributions from many of the swim group, he published a delightful book recording the history of the Mollymook Ocean Swimmers, their participation in various ocean swims and the group’s extensive travel and social events. His research and effort reflect his admiration and gratitude to those who share his love of the sport. “It’s a wonderful group of people who are brought together by their love of being in the ocean,” says Ken.

An ambition to swim the English Channel motivates one of the younger members, Laura Wallace, to swim each day. As part of her training schedule, Laura often swims further than the usual two kilometres with support from her mentor and fellow ocean swimmer, Kaye Beer. Kaye is another member of the Mollymook Ocean Swimmers with competitive points on the board, having won gold at the 2014 FINA World Masters Games in Canada in her age group’s 50-metre freestyle event. On December 5, Laura completed four laps of the beach (8km) and an amazing 10 laps (20km) on December 12. As testament to the Ocean Swimmers’ strong sense of community, many of her fellow swimmers joined in as a show of support, swimming sections of her training laps with her, while others provided water safety aid on paddleboards or SUPs.

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Laura has been training hard for the 27km Palm Beach to Shelly Beach Marathon course that was scheduled to be held in early February. With the event now postponed until April, she must maintain her training levels and hopes to reach her target to raise $10,000 in sponsored donations to help find a cure for Motor Neurone Disease.

The diversity of the group accentuates their common commitment to ocean swimming. Many of these people would never have met were it not for their shared love of the ocean. A professor, labourers, lawyers, teachers, tradesmen, not to mention retirees from a range of professional careers, come together in this activity. “It’s all the faces and all the fun,” says Tim Mooney, as he emerges from the water. “It fills your whole day with happiness. Any twinges are gone—you can feel your body lengthening and loosening up.’’

Rather than appearing to be tired, or at least relieved, at the completion of their strenuous routine, the swimmers are laughing and energised. Vivacious Isabel Szanto, who moved to the area eight years ago from Cronulla where she also swam regularly, thrives on her daily routine: “I get up at 6.30, put the kettle on and put my cossies on,’’ the 76-year-old says. “Then I ride my bike down to the beach to join the others in the water. We have a swim and a laugh. The ocean just lifts you up—it feels good and washes any worries away.’’

Rather than appearing to be tired, or at least relieved, at the completion of their strenuous routine, the swimmers are laughing and energised.’’

Ray Ackerman is headed for the showers but not before having a joke with some of the others. A classically trained violinist and retired stockbroker, he swims each morning and plays the fiddle at a local bar each week. He’s chatting to fellow swimmer, John Louth, a quietly spoken Englishman who lived in South Africa and Mt Isa before retiring to Mollymook. A few of the Surf Club members begin to arrive around 8am and the pair engage in some good-natured banter about
ʻgentleman’s hoursʼ.

Many of the group have showered and are drifting towards the cafe next door for coffee. Some need to rush off to work or other commitments, others will stay for a chat. It’s all very casual, but there is a strong sense of community and joy.

The conditions on this particular morning are pretty much perfect. There’s no wind, no swell to speak of and the water temperature is an almost balmy 18 degrees. However, the group convince me that the positive effects of their efforts are consistent regardless of weather or swell. Their energy is infectious, their enthusiasm is compelling, and their vitality, impressive. Health and happiness radiate from this amazing troop of ordinary people. They are transformed, physically and emotionally, by gathering together and entering the sea.

They shine!

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  • Phillip McMahon Comment Link
    Phillip McMahon
    Tuesday, 23 March 2021 03:03
    The Byron Bay Winter Whales swim has an upper age limit of 74. This is ageism. "Please explain"!
    Report

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