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26 Cole Classics, 13 consecutive wins and counting

One of NSW’s first female lifesavers, Denise Elder, has swum all around the world in some of the best and most challenging locations, but it is Sydney’s Cole Classic that has a special place in her heart.

Denise has crossed the English Channel as part of a relay; has swum the Gibraltar Straits, the Dardanelles, off the islands of Stromboli, Corsica and Gozo; and raced across Lake Tahoe. 

But the Cole Classic is one that she keeps coming back to time and time again, having participated in it 26 times, winning her age group category 13 times in a row. 

“My first Cole Classic was in 1986 and they started the race with cannons,” said Ms Elder. 

“It was just such an iconic way to start the race at Bondi Beach and that was my introduction to the Cole Classic. 

“From there I did two more and then went on a hiatus because I had a child and life got in the way but I eventually found my way back to the Cole Classic and got hooked on ocean swimming and I’ve done most of them since.” 

When chatting with Ms Elder she shared the interesting history of how the Cole Classic moved from Bondi to Manly in 2005. 

“My partner at the time was instrumental in taking the Cole Classic from Bondi Beach to Manly,” said Ms Elder. 

“At that stage, we had heard that the Cole Classic was floundering and might be cancelled altogether because they weren’t able to find a suitable venue. 

“So my partner rang a guy named Craig Riddington (surf ironman legend), who was fairly instrumental in Manly and he found a way to bring it to Manly and then we had the first one in Manly on the 6th of February, 2005.”

When asked what her favourite part of the Cole Classic is, Ms Elder’s reply was simple “the camaraderie and how safe it is.” 

“I also love that the swim is only two kilometres so it is the perfect distance. 

“I’ve also had a lot of friends do it with me over the years so there is a lot of camaraderie there. 

“It is also one of the safest swims because it goes out from Shelly Beach and then to Manly, but if it is big swell then they can move the course so it goes from Shelly to Shelly where it is protected. 

“The water safety is phenomenal and there are plenty of Manly SLSC volunteers who are out on their boards and in the water if people need help.” 

Having participated in the Cole Classic 26 times and won her age group for the past 13 years, Ms Elder knows all the tricks to a successful Cole Classic swim. 

“My tips for anyone doing the Cole Classic would be to assess the surf at Manly before you walk over to Shelly and know your limitations,” said Ms Elder. 

“Also, make sure you sight the buoys every twenty to thirty strokes to help keep you in a straight line.” 

To join Ms Elder in the Cole Classic Ocean Swim on Sunday, 6 February 2022, head to the Cole Classic listing to enter.

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