dec 8-9, 2012
The Grand Challenge, Mornington, Sat'dee, Dec 8, 2012
Bilgola Ocean Swim, Sundee, Dec 9, 2012
Book Four: Confessions of a Forty Year Old Ocean Swimmer
Mornington sets new record for check-in
And so my fourth season with oceanswims.com rolls along with, the Grand Challenge Swim at Mornington kicking things off. Victorian ocean swimming has taken a bit of a hit early on this season, with the two opening swims, the Club to Club and the Funky Trunks Splash, Bash and Dash at Brighton both being postponed due to "unforeseen circumstances and water safety issues" -- a real shame for them. This was good for the Grand Swim however, as this swim and Brighton Funky Trunk's swim were scheduled for the same day. Total number of entrants had increased on last years, with twenty six more participants; it's good to see a local swim grow each year.
With temperatures set to hit thirty-seven degrees, the beach was certainly the place to be and be sans wetsuit, that's for sure. Struggling with a recurring bursitis knee issue, I was tempted to wear my wetsuit so as to lessen the pressure on my knee when kicking. But with temperatures this high, the decision was a very easy one to make; stay true to the no-wetsuit stance AquaGirl! The water was still a little fresh at approximately seventeen degrees but oh so delightful on days like today.
This swim has registration at one location (the ever professional Mornington Life Saving Club), and then swimmers walk around the cliff face a short distance to the starting line at Mothers Beach. This year it was the club president's goal to streamline the registration process and to his credit, he succeeded, with my turn around being all of one minute, a PB for me too! I love that the club has decided to keep the towel as an entry gift, as they did last year. It's a welcome change from a t-shirt.
I did notice a couple of people had been caught out along the way to the start line, bolting in the opposite direction back to registration at the lifesaving club, which they thought was at the starting line. It's an easy mistake to make. I wasn't envious of them at all, starting a race in a rush like that, messes with a girl's chakra alignment, not to mention they had to run back to the start line. If they were triathletes, they'd probably log is as a brick session in their training diaries.
From the time I arrived at registration to the time I hit the water's edge to warm up, the conditions had changed. Ah, the bay is a feisty beast! No different to the week before where I found myself in the rather traumatic position of rescuing a poor non-swimmer off the pier at my local beach, the conditions here had changed just as quickly. But instead of short one foot waves crashing one after the other, the swell picked up out along the back straight, catching out many swimmers when it came to judging their ability to swim in this type of water. Info later shared with me from local lifesaving extraordinaire and all round top bird, Bernie, said that ten swimmers were pulled from the water and brought in to shore, unable to swim in those conditions. What a shame for them.
This race had six waves, starting with the male fossils, followed by all women except those amazing creatures in the open category and youths. Race briefing was on the beach at the start line and difficult to hear due to wind direction. I listened as best I could and passed on information to Smokin' Jo ( @DolphinJo5 ), who is an amazing swimmer and also deaf. She and I are well used to race starts like these and spend a lot of time together training in the open water over the season. She's an excellent swim buddy and always looks out for me on the beach and in the water.
I had issue mid race with a squirt well under fourteen crowding me and zigzagging; cutting me off. Normally I'd fix this with our club "see a head, kick a head" mantra but small kids don't deserve that. (Note: I'd like to see this changed next year, it's nothing short of dangerous for small kids to compete next to adults, considering that the wave behind us were the men's forties and then thirties, who happily swim over the top of anything in their way.) The water was clear and clean though and the rise and fall of the swell was a welcome rhythm maker, setting me in good stead for a happy race finish.
Over the "off season", I had turned 40 and heavily considered wearing the wetsuit again if only to be mildly competitive; money buys speed (and neoprene buys podiums). I was very much outnumbered in my sans suit capacity here at this race, but managed to snag 9th position in my new category. Looking at the results, I now have formed a mental target on a few people's backs and hope to sneak up a few positions as the next races come along; my suppressed competitive nature re-awakened after a winter of hibernating.
Presentations were started swiftly after the last swimmer hit the shore, good etiquette and respectful behaviour at its best. I saw some wonderful smiles on the faces of locals and visitors who crossed the line with complete and utter satisfaction. A big shout out to Danni on her top effort, supported by the whole family at the finishing chute, and to Michael, son of the great Con Duyvestyn (Olympus camera winner last year at Rock to Ramp) who started swimming lessons at the start of the year and now has his eyes all set for the big kahuna, the Lorne Pier to Pub. Michael, you're going a ripper job, keep up the fantastic effort!!!
As always, much swim club post-race conversation/sledging took place, many thinking the course was longer than 1.2km, with times reflecting this. All in all it was a great event that continues to grow and change as the years have gone on. Photos of the event can be viewed on
Results... click here
By the way...
On a side note, my team mates Cat McAlister (@RealDeal_Cat) Michelle Massy (@seppo311) and I have secured a place to compete at Rottnest Island again in February. Liz (@swigbikeknit) has decided to sub off this year and has tagged in our very own Suanne Hunt (@sparkleocean) to join the Tweetybirds in our 2013 Rotto campaign. To say we are totes excited would be a huge understatement ☺
The next race for me is Point Leo on Boxing Day; I hope it's not hypothermic like last year. Now I've shaken off the winter cobwebs, I'm looking forward to unleashing the beast. I'll leave you with a t-shirt slogan I read on the beach after the race: very fitting, I thought: "Your ego is not your amigo".
Till next time thrill seekers,
The Cruel Sea... Glistening Dave was at Bilgola...
Click on Thumbs For larger size shots and Click on Page Number For more shots
HAPPINESS is an Xtreme Southerly Change
See Chris Ivin's brief video of Billie after the southerly hit... click here
It's one of those sticky hot mornings where you wake up and put on your swimmers and a cardigan and still feel like overdresses. I'm looking forwards to an easy breezy swim today. The conditions look just perfect!
Bilgola Beach is a lovely small beach hidden from the main road. It's name is Aboriginal and means "swirling waters". Hubby drops me of at the beach parking and clouds have just gathered above. I'm delighted to get out our stinky hot station wagon, dying to pee from all the absorbed cold drinking water. (Keeping that body hydrated!) I'm in awe as usual of the immense long line in front of the public ladies toilet (the usual sight at an ocean swim). Choice it to run into the men's (empty as usual) or sneak into the surf club and use their private toilets. I do the latter. Being a surf life saver myself since this season, I feel I can allow myself this extra bit of special privilege.
Registration is a breeze for those registered; I'm red cap today. I wonder what has happened to five-years age groups as suddenly we are now divided in 15 years age gaps and I find myself in 35 - 49! This is new to me! The 3 points challenge swim, last week had the same division. The late registrations table seems to be a buzz. In only five minutes from the moment I left the car the weather seems to have changed drastically. The sky has turned dark grey and the clouds have tightened, a wind has started to sweep the sand around the beach and the temperature must have dropped about half. It suddenly feels cold, so there I am with many other ocean swimmers stuck on a beach only in our hot summer gear. All what is left to do is wrap our towels tightly around our shoulder to keep us warm. (I make a mental note to myself to next time, even on a super hot day to bring a jumper along.) Hubbie's promise of the Southerly won't arrive till late afternoon, proves to be wrong.
The announcement is made that, due to the extreme sudden Southerly change, we will be now swimming the opposite course, which means anti-clockwise. This way the ocean should be able to push us along most of the course. My Dutch friend (who was the one to get me into ocean swimming) is worried and doubts if she should swim. I tell her to follow her gut feeling and she decided to give it a go. We are informed that the start will be a bit delayed due to the large amount of late registrations, a clearly visible queue still needs to be signed in. "Those most be all folks from down south" the announcer yells out "as here on the Northern Beaches we are never late"!
The beach looks barren and "bored" only colour in it is the large team of pink cozzies of the Babewatch team www.babewatch.org.au. It's great to see them back! They bring a much loved funkiness and coloured flavour to the swim. It's great to have seen them grown from a handful of guys to a large group of mixed beauties of different age groups!
Finally it's time to go and the first caps seem to spread out in all directions. Someone says they supposed to follow the rowing boat. Next yellow wave spreads out heavily too. I see some swimmers return (and I think if this might be my Dutch yellow capped girl friend). Once in the water I don't even think about the cold (my issue last week), my right goggle fills with water, very annoying as usual. Only thing on my mind is trying to make sense of this splashing and pushing around of the waves. But it does not make any sense to me, the further we get the more we get shoved and pushed around. It feels like I'm in this gigantic washing machine on the wrong colour cycle. As someone has mixed all colours together I see large groups of red, yellow and an occasional green cap. Normally in an ocean swim there seems to be a line of swimmers! Today there seems to be a field of swimmers, People stretch out over ten, fifteen maybe even twenty meters width.
I see a yellow cap putting up his/her hand; the IRB sees her and makes a move.
I wonder what is ahead of us and maybe a tiny part of me wished I was this person waving and getting whisked ashore, warmly and safe towards a cuppa brew. By now I really start to wonder what the "F#$@K I'm doing out here!! WHY do I have to go swimming, what is it that drives me into this ocean? Safe on land much, much later I discover these are all natural mental processes of many other swimmers. I guess none of us knows the answer really... or maybe deep down in our heart we do. After the second buoy we set "sail" toward number three which seems to be way, way out in the back. It has started to rain. Or has it' It feels like rain, but it comes in waves and feels wavy, I wonder if it's the splashing of the waves taking over by the wind. It looks like the washing machine cycle is speeding up, it really feels crazy and I've never swum in something like this before. Shock horror I feel my time tag is sliding off my ankle (everything has to be a first!). Quickly I bent down and just in time to grab it. Lots of thoughts spoke through my mind... $50 fine for loosing your time tag... Do I really care? Do I need a time today? I will be totally delighted if I swim this out.. with or without a time... fifty dollar .. again it says.. SO there I am in the middle of this washing cycle trying to attach my tag, it's hard to find the hole to strap the velcro through, by now I'm face down in the water trying to figure out what I'm doing. Got it in the hole only to discover it's upside down and twisted..I try to just wrap the velcro and push it. I see a green cap slowing down and asking if I'm ok... Suddenly I realise I must have looked weird hunching over in the water, face down. It looks like a position of a drowning man. I pull my head up and yell .."time tag".. he nods and swims on! I really feel touched by his gesture. Imagine IF something were wrong, every one else would have just swum past and over me. The green caps are the age group above me 50 +! I've learned this is a group of gentle and strong ocean swimmers, if you need guidance or advice ask them, many have been swimming for years and have been around the circuit. I always look out for them when I feel lost and in need of direction. Simple facts is, they started three minutes behind and have surpassed us already means they are stronger then me. When I started ocean swimming I was delusional, I thought age and physic had something to do with fastness in the ocean. I have dearly become to respect the older age groups! So thank you green cap whoever you are for looking out for your fellow ocean swimmer. All us swimmers can learn a lot from that!
I've managed to stuck the velcro together, it still feels loose. I wonder if I not better could just have stuck it in my swimming suit. Later I discover I'm not the only one to have lost their time tag today, swimmers also have lost their caps and even their goggles. By the third buoy I start to "despise" my fellow red cap male swimmers and wonder if it's really necessary if we already get swooped around like hell to push and shovel each other over around the orange markers. Really?! There exists an element of competition and an other one of plain rudeness. Can we have some decency back or at least courtesy towards females please?
The turn towards the rocks headland frightens me the most of the whole swim. It feels rough, scary and out of control. I don't seem to see the next buoy and figured there was one not that far of the rocks, but invisible. The IRB shows up and directs us towards the beach. In one split second I think about putting my hand up and giving up but I figure I'm not tired and still feel physically fit. This being afraid is a mental thing in my head and has nothing to do with my capability of being able to swim and finish this, in my opinion, tough course.
I surrender and fully committed, I try to become one with the ocean for the rest of the swim. By times I breaststroke and just float in the cycle. I make it safely back home towards and on the beach. I feel great when I run up the sand and have a big smile when the time tag gives a beep. Normally I would have taken this for granted, but today I don't! I feel like a survivor of a shipwreck, one I voluntary committed to being wrecked in. The adrenaline gives you an enormous rush of happiness.
In the courtyard of the club, lots of choices of fruits await, I eat like a ship wreck survivor who has been lost at sea for days and join in with the "wasn't this swim crazy" conversations. There is a nice sense of achievement in the air. Our times on paper will be way of what a normal 1.5km swim would afford. Though only we know what was truly out there and that connects us all, makes us ask and discover for more. The sheer joy of overcoming challenges, not brought but specifically sought by us, challenges which stretch us mentally, physically and spiritually. For me ocean swimming has only just begun...
A big THANK you to all the volunteers of Surf Life Saving Bilgola for their hard work in tough conditions in keeping a watchful eye over us. (They were still running around checking of names when we were having a nice hot shower!! Thanx for that too!)
Angela van Boxtel
Ps my Dutch friend made it to almost to the second buoy. She has decided to become a "good weather ocean swimmer" only ☺
The curse of the monolateral breather
The route around the Billie anti-clockwise course described by Whale Beach municipal pay clerk Sue Kearney testifies to the obscurity of the booees. Sue swam 1.9km, according to the oceanswims.com GPS-in-a-plastic bag, on a course set at 1.5km. Note particularly the radical diversion back out to sea when Sue thought she needed merely to skip across to the northern headland. Lucky they got her.
Perhaps it was because, for one of our first times, we were mingling with the mob at the finish as a spectator rather than a swimmer, but we have never heard before so many punters whingeing about swallowing gobsful of sea water as we heard post the Bilgola Ocean Swim.
It was a blustery, bumpy day, of course. Glorious at the outset, the southerly blew through perhaps an hour prior to swim start, turning Billie beach into a sand-blasting cell. We were sitting under the registration tent. By the time we stood up, we had more sand on our heads than we had underfoot.
Out to sea, you couldn't see the booees, despite Billie organisers' best attempts. They are the masters of attaching helium balloons to the booees. The idea is that the helium balloons stand up above the booee, making the marker much easier to spot, particularly in a swell. On Sundee, however, the wind was so fierce that the helium balloons spent most of the time "sitting" on the surface of the sea. Every now and again, but, they'd bob up, just long enough to be of use to an otherwise hopelessly lost peloton. Which was just as well because you really couldn't see the booees otherwise. Not the organisers' fault, of course. They did their best. It was one of the most blustery southerly changes that we've witnessed blow through to change the personality of an ocean swim. We're reminded of Bondi-Bronte last year - when, from our positions at the top of the park, with our cobber, Murray Cox, we watched the change come through like a curtain descending on the first act. Like South Curl Curl at the end of last season, when the change blew through as the starting waves left the beach. The swim to Freshie was essentially one reach, head first into the southerly. It was one of those swims in which we spent more time going up and down than forwards, or even backwards.
At this stage, it's a race.
Billie was different: it was a circuit swim off the beach, so roughly half the legs would be into the southerly one way or another, whilst the other half - there were six reaches - were in some way with it, or at least across it. Organiser Cap'n Foran wisely changed the direction of the swim prior to the start, sending the mugs off anti-clockwise rather than the customary clockwise. This made the swim a little better, but perhaps not much. Mind you, we wouldn't know. We weren't out there. It was very, very blowy, and very, very bumpy. In such conditions, it's difficult to settle into a rhythm; difficult to get more than one decent stroke in succession. Into the southerly, it's just hard. The secret is to put your head down, lengthen and slow your stroke, and optimise your streamline. This will allow you to finish your stroke with an oomph and give you some push through the onrushing swell and chop until you deliver further momentum with your next grab. The optimal streamline means you will minimize the resistance through the water.
Sideways, it's different. A good streamline still will stand you in good stead, but the swell and the chop are coming at you from side-on. The difficulty then becomes one of getting clear air, as much air as you can to allow you to keep that long, slow stroke going. As soon as your air flow stops, your rhythm will stop, and so will your forward momentum.
The problem is, of course, that most punters breathe only one side, and if that side also happens to be the side from which the weather is attacking them, then every time they roll to breathe, with every breath they take, they'll take in an amount of sea water.
The causal problem is that most punters never were taught to swim proper as urchins, so they were never taught to breathe bilaterally.
Every decent swimmer should be able to breathe bilaterally: to breathe both sides. This is not to say that you should always breathe bilaterally: 3-stroke breathing, say, alternating your breath side to side. This also helps tremendously with your line. Bilateral breathing helps to neutralize your stroke defects: if you pull one way by breathing one way, then bilateral breathing will neutralise, or at least offset the damage. Interestingly, for us, anyway, many, if not most punters have different strokes according to which way they're breathing. And which arm is pulling through. For example, our right arm stroke is different when we're breathing right to when we're breathing left. It's probably true that we have four different strokes: one for pulling and breathing right, one for pulling right, breathing left, etc, etc. We know we have these different strokes, and we know that we pull to the left with some of them - ie go off course to the left - and we know we pull to the right with others. But breathing bilaterally at least will offset the damage.
But, as we say, it doesn't mean that you should breathe three-stroke or five-stroke. It means that you should be able to breathe both ways so that you have the choice. Our late mentor, Coach Sandra, once told us: "Breathe bilaterally, but breathe one way going up the pool, the other way coming back". The reason for this is that it allows us to breathe 2-stroke, which means we get more air. Some mugs need more air. We're one of them. So we generally breathe right heading up the pool, and breathe left coming back. (It also means that we always breathe away from Coach David, but that's so that Coach David can't remonstrate with us and get us to stop for a good telling off if he reckons we're doing the wrong thing. We don't like eyeballing the coach whilst we're swimming.)
But, the important thing is that we do breathe bilaterally, so in situations such as we witnessed at Billie on Sundee, we then have the choice whether to breathe into the wind and the chop - thus to risk the gobsful of water with each stroke - or to breathe away from the wind and the chop, allowing us clearer air.
It wasn't always so. We traditionally were left breathers. It wasn't until we were in our late 30s that we taught ourselves also to breathe right. It took some time, but we managed it. Indeed, every thing you try to do better and differently takes time, particularly when you're an old fart. You must simply persist. Us old farts are supposed to have a better perspective on life because we've been around longer, so we should be able to apply that longer term perspective to things such as stroke changes. Not to do so simply is lazy, physically and intellectually.
"I said, NO PRESS!"
So how do we learn to breathe to an unfamiliar, unnatural side? Now, there's the question.
Some advice, we can give. When you swim to train, you have the opportunity to work on your streamline. One of the good ways to do this - apart from doing torpedoes out from the wall - is to swim catch-up, or three-quarter catch-up, at least. It's not hard. It's all in the mind. Most people hate catch-up because they think they're going to sink. That's why they pull through early. But try this: when you're swimming along, no pressure, just you in the pool, try to swim as absolutely slowly as you can. And leave that leading arm (the one that's out in front waiting to pull through) out there just that little bit longer. One way to do that is to that is to stretch it out, deliberately, rather than pulling through as you normally would. Keep your head and neck loose, too, so that they follow the natural movement of the body. As you stretch your leading arm, a natural function also is to allow your corresponding hip - right arm leading, right hip - to drop just that little bit. Almost imperceptibly. That hip drop, however, is a key part of your rotation. As you drop your hip, your body, from the hips, will rotate, also almost imperceptibly. That rotation will bring your head around, very slightly, but enough to allow you, with your forward momentum, to take a breath. Breathing should not be a matter of throwing your head around - throwing your head around destroys your streamline - rather it should be a matter of your head rolling naturally with your body. Have a look at the good swimmers: when they breathe, their mouths actually are below the water line, but their forward momentum means the water rushes past their mouth, not into it, allowing them to breathe whilst not disrupting their streamline.
This will be easier on your natural breathing side. But stay relaxed; leave your body as loose and as supple as it can be; try very hard to swim as slowly as you can. And try that with your non-natural breathing side, too. Leave the leading hand out there, drop the hip, ever so slightly, as you stretch, allow the head to roll as your hip drops and your body rotates, and suck in that air from your unnatural side, just as you did on your dominant side. Try it with fins, if you really can't get your head around it at the start, then gradually lose the fins.
You'll have to keep at it until it starts to feel natural. But you can teach yourself to breathe bilaterally, and breathing bilaterally will help you to escape that horrible curse of the monolateral breather.
Spare a thought for this lady. She is Glistening Dave's sister. Yet, still she smiles.
Chris Ivin borrowed oceanswims.com's camera at Billie...
Click on Thumbs For larger size shots and Click on Page Number For more shots
Pics by Glistening Dave, Aquagirl, Angela van Boxtel, and Chris Ivin.
oceanswims.com uses Olympus cameras, this time the Tough TG-1 and PEN E-P1.
Our thanks to our favourite ocean swimming brewer, Chuck Hahn, for the
James Squire Award.
Follow us on Twitter - @Aquagirl72, @glistenrr, @KAOSVIC, @sparkleocean, @CoffeeMumSwims, @TacomaJim, @1worldimages, and @oceanswims
Have your say and tell us what you thought of these and other swims on the oceanswims blob... click here
Tweet this page...
You're not already receiving updates from oceanswims.com? Sign up for regular bulletins...