Q&A: Three swimmers joining Bondi To Bronte’s 21st birthday celebrations

With the Bondi to Bronte ocean swim about to celebrate its 21st birthday on Sunday, 20 March 2022, we caught up with three ocean swimmers who have been there every stroke of the way. 

The event was established in 2001 to help raise funds for the Bronte Surf Lifesaving Club to send a team to the World Lifesaving Championships in Daytona, Florida, USA. 

Back then, Graeme Bell, Leonardo Gentin and Rozanne Green signed up and they have done so every year since.

Why do you like the Bondi to Bronte so much that you have done it every year? 

Graeme Bell (GB): It stems from the fact that you swim around the headland. Which is really fantastic because I always stop and have a quick look taking in the stunning views when I get out there.

It also feels like you are in the deep blue ocean, in the middle of nowhere and then there is this great big headland right next to you. 

I think the swim is really iconic being able to go around a headland and the sights are beautiful no matter how many times you do the swim. 

I think the best way to describe the Bondi to Bronte ocean swim is iconic and as a cracker of a swim. 

Leonardo Gentin (LG): In laughter, Leonardo says doing every Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim is his claim to fame. 

I do love doing the ocean swim each year because it is a destination swim and Bondi is such an amazing beach to leave from plus I am a member of the North Bondi Surf Club so it’s like I’m on home ground. 

I just love swimming around Mackenzie’s Point and looking up and just seeing that magic view. I mean how often can you swim around a headland. I am not that brave to swim around by myself so if it wasn’t for the event I wouldn’t do it. 

Rozanne Green (RG): I love doing the Bondi to Bronte swim each year because the Bondi to Bronte was my first ever ocean swim. I was not a swimmer but a runner back then in 2001 when it first started. 

The very first Bondi to Bronte I just hopped in the water and swam breaststroke and finished. I did it in memory of a runner friend who was a triathlete and died at Bronte in a bicycle accident and she would have done this first Bondi to Bronte swim. 

Over the years Spot Anderson has fixed up my swimming and I know I do freestyle in all my ocean swims but I must say that breaststroke does help when you can’t see buoys. The Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim can be a tough swim with the conditions but it is always run with the best volunteers and safety support so I love doing it year after year.

What has been your favourite memory from the swim?

GB: I remember there was a year where it was dead flat and we were just belting along pretty quick, which is great but I like the rough water rather than calm, so I remember that year quite fondly. 

Then the following year it was a two-metre swell coming from the South Coast and it was an awesome swim. I remember not being able to see any of the buoys or markers, the water was that rough. 

We swam out to the headland that year and then went out to what felt like New Zealand to try and find the buoy. We couldn’t see it but we knew it was somewhere there. 

I also remember another year, I think it was either the third or fourth year where the buoy washed across to the Bronte reef and a lot of people, I think about 150 swimmers went around the buoy to the reef and had to get rescued because they got all chopped up by the reef. 

I was lucky that year and I didn’t go to the buoy because I knew it was in the wrong position being so close to the reef. I just went straight up against the rip to finish and it turned out to be the right decision because I didn’t get caught up on the reef. 

LG: To be honest I have loved all of them. But I do love the calmer ones much more than the ones where we are getting dumped. 

I can remember two swims that have been pretty horrific. One was where it was really rough and most people had to get pulled out. That specific swim took me way over an hour to finish because it took me and a lot of other swimmers about half an hour just to get out of Bondi. 

The other one was when we all got dumped coming into Bronte and that was a terrible finish. After that swim I swore to myself I would never do it again but I just couldn’t help myself and kept going back for more. Other than that I have loved them all and they have all been fantastic. 

RG: All the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swims have been my favourites. The swim in 2006 was a real tough one and a great accomplishment as there were so many rescues. They cancel swims nowadays with conditions that are like the ones that we had on that day. 

It really is amazing how your time can vary by so much under different conditions and that’s another thing that I love about ocean swimming, every swim is different. 

Another one of my favourite Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swims was when my son did it for his first time in 2014. There was also one that was very cold and that was quite a memorable one. I was wise and wore a wetsuit that year because it was recommended and I was definitely happy with my decision. 

I also loved the 2020 virtual swims because they were so much fun. I got to do the Bondi to Bronte a few times because I tried to do it at a few different beaches with different swim communities. 

How has the event changed over the years?

GB: The event has obviously gotten much bigger and is well run still. 

I think they have become more cautious in calling the event off with conditions though. In the early days, they used to run it in all surf but now I think they have become a bit more cautious with making the decision to call it off if conditions are bad. 

Which I understand because if the surf is too big at Bronte there will be carnage with the reef but I do like the rough water so I wouldn’t mind if they still ran it.

LG: The Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim has changed very much to a positive over the years. It has become a swim that most ocean swimmers want to do and they have it on their ocean swim bucket list. 

It is great how it has become such an organised event from its first year and that they now take your bags over to Bronte which is great. 

It has also become more popular over the years to have a nice picnic at the park in Bronte after you swim. For the last couple of years I have had a picnic with my friends and family in Bronte Park after the swim and then walk back to the car at Bondi.

RG: The swim really hasn’t changed too much over the years apart from growing in numbers. There are more people doing the swim now and that also means more safety.

(Stephen) Ford is a great race director and that hasn’t changed as well as the great swimming community and camaraderie that comes with the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim each year.

Have you made any sacrifices to ensure you could be at every event?

GB: I have been very lucky so far that nothing has clashed apart from this year. 

I had a good friend’s 60th birthday party for that day and I said that there is one day I won’t miss and that is the Bondi to Bronte ocean swim. 

Because I know that not too many other people have done all the swims and I always said that I would do every one if I was fit and healthy enough too. So one birthday is all I’ve had to miss so far. 

I would skip just about anything to make sure I could do the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim each year. I even did the virtual swim last year, even though I hate virtual swims but I did it so I could make sure I did every one. 

LG: I have sacrificed quite a few things to make sure that I have done every Bondi to Bronte. Not so much missing out on events or anything but more so sacrificing my health. 

On 24 November 2009, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. The swim was on the first weekend of December and I had been scheduled to have my major cancer surgery on 8 December 2009. I was told that I shouldn’t do the swim because of my health and I would be impacting that and be too exhausted after the swim. 

I ended up doing the swim because I was determined to, it wasn’t the outcome that I wanted but I still did the swim and then had the surgery on the Tuesday after the swim. 

Over the next year, I had three more major surgeries and only had my last big operation in August of 2010 but I was still determined to do the Bondi to Bronte that year and I did. I did a lot of swims that year with an ileostomy and a vest over the top.

Then in 2020, when they had the virtual swim I was in Byron Bay on holiday and had plans to do the virtual one but then fell off my bike and fractured my whole femur. I had to have major surgery and that was on the 13 November. I was determined to do the swim so I went with my daughter to a pool and did the 2.4km. It was a long and painful swim but I did it. 

So I guess you could say that I made a few sacrifices over the years with my health and recovery to ensure I have done all the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swims. My wife and doctors thought I was crazy doing the swims after major surgeries but I didn’t want to miss one so I just sucked it up and did it. 

I must say I am really looking forward to doing it again this year. 

RG: I really feel that I have never missed out on or sacrificed anything to do the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim each year because I diarise the swim and it really is a non-negotiable that I do it. 

I’m really looking forward to doing the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim twice in 2022 with the one in March and then December. I hope to continue doing Bondi to Bronte each year and never miss one. 

To join Graeme Bell, Leonardo Gentin and Rozanne Green at the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim on Sunday, 20 March 2022, head to the Macquarie Bondi to Bronte Ocean Swim listing to enter. Entries close at 5 pm, Friday 18 March. 

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