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Every ocean swim course explained

Explore the range of swim courses available at ocean swim events.

Thousands of ocean swimmers participate in ocean swim events around the coastline of Australia each year.

Perhaps one of the greatest attractions of organised ocean swims is the variety of swim courses you get to experience, from the classic around the buoys format to journey swims that take you from one beach to another.

Here we look at the different types of ocean swim courses and what you can look forward to on your next ocean swim.

Around the buoys

This is your classic ocean swim that nearly every ocean swimmer from beginner to seasoned ocean swimmer has completed at least once. 

An around the buoys ocean swim course is usually pretty straightforward and easy to follow. Ocean swimmers will start on the beach and then swim around a set of buoys before heading back to shore for the finish.

The shape of the course may vary, with different versions of a square and rectangle being the most common. Another popular shape is the champagne glass.

This type of course is enjoyed by beginners and speedsters alike because it’s an easy course to follow and complete successfully. 

Although the downside is it can get quite repetitive, even if visiting new beaches. (Tip: feel free to stop every now and again during the swim to take in the surrounding environment).

If you’re after an ‘around the buoys’ ocean swim try out the Narrabeen Beach Challenge

The Cook Community Classic course heads out around the buoys in Cronulla

Point to point

A point to point ocean swim, or journey swim, is pretty self-explanatory, you swim from one point to another point (and sometimes back again).

When completing a point to point ocean swim, swimmers will swim from beach to beach, rounding headlands and often crossing multiple beaches on the journey. In some cases the course might traverse a river, swimming from beach to wharf, or from wharf to wharf.

A point to point ocean swim is a great way to take in the beautiful scenery and landscapes surrounding you while swimming.

This type of ocean swim is loved among ocean swimmers because the natural environment tends to act as natures swim buoys, meaning less argy bargy (usually occurring around the buoys), a greater range of scenery and a more challenging swim. 

If you’re after a ‘point to point’ ocean swim try out the Big Swim: Palm To Whale Beach or the Australia Day Newcastle Harbour Swim.

At the Australia Day Newcastle Harbour Swim you can swim from one side of the river to the other (and back)

Around a feature

An around a feature ocean swim is the perfect ocean swim to throw in a bit of adventure into what can usually be a plain ocean swim with limited sights.

An around a feature, ocean swim is usually swum around a well-known landmark such as an island, jetty or wharf.

This type of ocean swim is loved by ocean swimmers because it gives them the opportunity to swim a course that they wouldn’t otherwise have attempted without water safety and take in the beautiful landscapes surrounding them such as waves lapping against a rocky reef or green scenery on an island.

If you want to try an ‘around a feature’ ocean swim be sure to try out the breathtaking Cronulla Shark Island Swim where you swim around Shark Island taking in the amazing sights.

The Coogee Island Challenge course takes swimmers out and around Wedding Cake Island

Along the beach

The along the beach ocean swim course is a popular one among ocean swimmers, although there don’t tend to be many on the calendar.

A variation on the around the buoys and point to point courses, this type of ocean swim starts at one point of the beach and either heads along the coastline to the finish line at the opposite end of the beach or returns to finish where it began.

Ocean swimmers love this type of ocean swim because they can take in the diversity along the coast, both under the water and along the beach. 

If you’re after an ‘along the beach’ ocean swim try out the North Steyne Ocean Swim.

Dash for cash

Who doesn’t love a dash for cash ocean swim? A dash for cash ocean swim is when ocean swimmers start on the shoreline or out behind the break and race to get the money.

Usually, the dash for cash starts behind the break and swimmers will sprint back to shore, with the first male and female swimmer to hit the shore winning the race and the much sought after cash.

This type of ocean swim is loved by speedsters because who doesn’t love winning some money after putting in all those training laps in the pool!

If you’re after a ‘dash for cash’ ocean swim use the course type filter on our events search page as the dash for cash events come and go.

A Dash for Cash with a twist – The ‘Duck Dash’ is the Bondi Splash N Dash equivalent

Run swim run (or Aquathon)

A run-swim-run ocean swim is exactly what it sounds like: a run followed by a swim followed by a run. It’s not a traditional ‘ocean swim’ in the sense it does include running.

The classic course includes one swim, but there are more variants out there now adding multiple swim and run legs.

This type of ocean swim course isn’t for just any ocean swimmer, it’s for those that want to push their fitness and combine their land and water abilities. 

One of the bonuses of a run-swim-run is that you get to enjoy the local environment and sights both above and below the water.

If you’re after a ‘run-swim-run’ course try out the North Curl Curl 3 Points Challenge and check out this article by OceanFit on how to prepare for a run-swim-run event.

The North Curl Curl 3 Points Challenge is a run-swim-run of epic proportions


SwimRun events might be relatively new to Australia, but they’re a big deal over in Sweden where they originated in 2006 after a drunken bet between two Swedes to swim and run across more than 20 islands in Stockholm’s archipelago.

Unlike traditional aquathlons, which combine swimming and running in a (usually) two-stage event, swimrun involves teams of two completing the course with multiple legs of each discipline, swimming and running in the same gear and carrying everything you need for the race from start to finish.

Participants tend to wear wetsuits, swim buoys and hand paddles and in some events are tethered together to maintain the legal maximum distance they’re allowed to be during the race.

Read this review of the inaugural Swimrun Australia by Andre Slade and this review of two buddies taking on the Bay of Island Swimrun.

Competitors in the inaugural Swimrun Australia take on the Rose Bay to Watsons Bay course
  • Written by Ocean Swims on 25 October 2021
  • (Updated on 4 August 2023)

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