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November 24, 2016

mana fiji swimmer 1610
Mana Island, Fiji

Swims this weekend...

Swim or...

Some years ago, we ran the website for an event in San Francisco, the Alcatraz Challenge, the tagline for which was, Swim or Die, inspired, no doubt, by the many fruitless attempts to escape from Alcatraz. Many tried to escape from Alcatraz, but only one may have succeeded: he was never found.

The tagline was a bit of fun on the part of the awgies, who also stipulated, perhaps unkindly, "No anal triathletes".

The only problem was that, one day in the Alcatraz Challenge, someone did die.

The first we knew was when we received an urgent email asking us to take down the tagline from the website: "Get it down, quick", they said. No more "Swim or die".

In those days, prior to content management systems for websites, the master pages for this site were stored on our 'puter at home, whereas we were at our real job elsewhere. So we were at distance from the pages and it was not possible for us to simply take down the tagline. We had to call Mrs Sparkle, at home at the time, and guide her through it over the telephone, much like Steve McCroskey talking Ted Striker through his landing in Flying High.

The tagline was in the form of a graphic, not text. So we had to guide her, over the phone, through the folders in the back-end of the Alcatraz Challenge website till she found the offending graphic, then deleted it. This left a hole in most of the site's pages, but it was better than continuing the offence of leaving the tagline live after someone had actually died during the swim.

This is not to trivialise that swimmer's death. Rather, it highlights that life, with all its responsibilities and activities, goes on despite death.

Coogee: the season's first classic, this Sundee.

That'd be good

We had another friend, a well-known swimmer from Sydney's north side, who was epileptic, who had a seizure during a swim and died in the water. He wasn't found until quite some time later, by which time it was way too late. At his wake, this chap's doctor, in a eulogy, told how the fellow had suffered an earlier seizure during a squad session at a local pool. As it happened, the doctor himself had been following the fellow in the lane, got to him quickly, helped him out of the pool and looked after him so that he survived.

Afterwards, the doctor said, he gave his patient and friend a good talking to. "I said to him, 'If you're not careful, the next time this happens you and I won't be sitting here talking about it. Instead, there'll be a bunch of us standing around talking about what a good bloke you were'.

"And he said, 'That'd be good!'."

And that's exactly what happened.

We heard of another fellow suffering a seizure and passing away during an informal morning swim at Manly earlier this year.


These things happen, of course. Death is part of life. Given the median age of ocean swimmers, especially, perhaps the only reason why it doesn't happen more often is that we are, as a cohort, reasonably active and relatively fit and healthy.

But it's inevitable that incidents will occur.

smith bruce 02As one did again last Saturday at Mt Maunganui during Race 1 of the NZ Ocean Swim Series. This time, it was Bruce Smith, another swimmer whom we knew. Bruce appears to have suffered a seizure part way through the 2.6km main swim at Mt Maunganui. When he was found, attempts were made to revive him but they were unsuccessful.

Bruce Smith, in front.

Bruce won the inaugural NZ fine ocean swimmers' series in 2015. His prize was a trip to take part in the Mana Fiji SwimFest in October last year. With him to Fiji, Bruce brought his wife, Carol, his son, Adrian, and his grandson, Jasper. So we knew not just Bruce, but we also know a good part of his family. You can meet an individual and you can get to know something about them reasonably quickly. But you get to know a lot more about them, about their character, when you meet them with their family. You see more of their dimensions, even if briefly, but it builds a more complete picture of them than the single dimensional impression you develop on meeting someone individually.

We learnt enough about Bruce, who was 68 when he died, to discern that he was a salt-of-the-earth type of person, an extremely experienced swimmer – he'd been doing it all his life – and a pretty good swimmer, too. You don't get to win the fine ocean swimmers' series unless you are a handy swimmer, and a more than regular swimmer.
Bruce was a fixture in NZ ocean and Masters swimming. From Auckland, our cobber, Wayne Annan, says Bruce Smith was "matsmith bruce 01e to most of the swimming community in Auckland, both ocean and pool...

"Bruce was a regular place-getter or winner of his age group, giving many young bucks a lesson in how to swim fast.

"He would also join others in social swims and contribute to the banter out at the yellow buoys or white stick. His smile was always welcoming and his willingness to pitch in and give a hand will be specially missed by many of us who enjoyed Bruce's companionship and company on the beach...

"Bruce will live in our memories whenever we enter the water."

Bruce Smith leaves Carol, three kids, three grandchildren, and two siblings.


It's glib to say that Bruce died doing what he loved. He did love his swimming, but it's hardly comparable to set his swimming on a par with life and death. It's also true to say that it's our swimming that helps to keep us alive, and alive in a much more robust way than, er... well, than otherwise might be the manner.

We all have to go sometime, and no time is preferable to another. The tragedy is that any of us have to go, often before we're ready, before we've finished doing whatever it is we do, and cruelly ironic when it's prompted by something that kept us so alive.

fine ocean swimmers' series

Speaking of the fine ocean swimmers series both in NZ and in NSW, we need to tell you that we won't be running either series in season 2016/17. We lost a key sponsor during last season, peremptorily, and it left us with hefty costs to honour prizes to which we were already committed. We hope to bring both series back in subsequent years.

Swims this weekend

One swim in the West this weekend, at Coogee on Sat'dee, and two swims in NSW, Toowoon Bay also on Sat'dee, before the first of the season's classics, the spring Island Challenge, around Wedding Cake Island at Coogee.

Coogee in the West is Round 5 of the WA Swimming Open Water Series. They keep adding more and more rounds to this series each year. We wonder where there's room for non-series swims to breathe.

Buttercups on parade

toowoon lincoln val
Pic: Peter Clark, News Local

In the east, Toowoon Bay is a family-oriented event in what is generally a sheltered, easy bay on the NSW Central Coast. Three distances at Toowoon: 2km, 1km and 400m, including a special division of the 400m for younger kids.

Toowoon Bay is the home of the Buttercups, a posey of laydees who swim in the bay each morning. A senior Buttercup is Val Lincoln, who we first met in 2003 in Vanuatu, where the Buttercups took her for her 80th birthday. Do the maths. Val, now 92, is swimming this Sat'dee. That's Val, above. She still swims with the Buttercups twice a week, and she still does pool training. And, Val is vision and hearing impaired.

More info and enter online by 3pm Friday, Nov 25... Click here

Your piece of Wedding Cake

On Sunday, the first of the season classics, around Wedding Cake Island at Coogee in Sydney's eastern suburbs. We've said this before and we will keep saying it: if you consider yourself an ocean swimmer, then you must do Coogee. The swim around the island is one of the great experiences of this caper. Coogee does it twice a season now, too: also in April, in autumn. They offer a Double-Up entry deal by which you can do these swims for as little as $22.50 per swim (if you do both 1km and 2.4km swims on both days, November and April).

More info and enter online by 3pm Sat'dee, Nov 26... Click here


Some may be wondering where the Tweed River Swim -- the Killer Swim -- is this weekend. It's nowhere. The Murwillumbah Brass Monkeys, who ran this swim to aid the Fingal Heads Surf Life Saving Club, felt unable to continue with the event and withdrew as organisers. Last we heard, no-one had entered the breach.

Also cancelled for this season, the Fingal Mile at Fingal Beach by Port Stephens, just north of Newcastle. With so many storms in recent times, so many beaches in Newcastle have lost much of their sand that the Hunter Branch of Surf Life Saving has relocated six surf carnivals to Fingal between January and March. The Fingal awgies felt they could not burden their volunteers with another event, so the Fingal Mile is "deferred" for season 2016/17. We look forward to its return, if only because we wish to catch up with our old cobber, Mick Mad Eyes, formerly of Randwick, Clovelly and Bronte, who we've learnt lives now at Shoal Bay, next to Fingal Beach.

Also gone is the Australia Day Swim on Sydney Harbour, from Man o' War Steps. This event changed ownership about a year ago, and the new owners say they have not been able to find new sponsors.

Similar story for The Bloody Big Swim, between Frankston and Mornington in Victoria. They need awgies and, in their absence, this swim, too, is cancelled for this season.

Inuit snow gogglesMurray Cox on gogs...

Apparently "goggle" is from the Middle English "gogelen", meaning "to squint", and it was the Inuits who first made goggles out of "caribou antler, wood, and shell... cord of caribou sinew... long thin slit to see through".

Olympic swimmers were not wear goggles until 1976. They still weren't common in 1980 but everyone was wearing them by 1984.

Controversy Corner...

But what do you reckon? Send us your thoughts and we'll publish them... Click here

Glistening Dave's ocean swims calendar 2017

Order now for Xmas

calendar dhd 17 banner 250Xmas is looming, and so is 2017. So it’s time to order your ocean swims calendar for the New Year from our staff snapper, Glistening Dave.

The calendar includes every swim date we can find in Strãa, New Zealand and the Sarth Pacific, and a few more besides that we deem worthwhile. Pin it on your notice board at work, behind the door in the loo, on the wall in the kitchen, in your home office, your men's shed out the back, your sewing and knitting room, the wall in your hallway, so that you can check swim dates each time you leave home or return. Stick it on your garage door to remind you where you're going when you get in the car. Or get multiples and mount one in each of those places, so that you're constantly surrounded by images of ocean swimming. Or Dave's perceptions of them, anyway.

Your friends would like them for Xmas, too. They would love you even more if you gave them an ocean swims calendar from Glistening Dave.

Order yours now for Xmas (delivery in December)... Click here

Our Xmas special!

Selenes go fully sick

view selene mirror 05We've beem deluged with orders for our Xmas Special.

Mrs Sparkle’s fave goggle, the View Selene, has been reinvented with mirrored lenses. They’re very groovy and offer an extra mirror protection from the sun’s glare.

The Selene is the most comfortable gog you will ever wear, and the best all-round gog we’ve ever come across, and we’ve worn a few gogs in our time: it’s made with a soft, wide, silicone seal that doesn’t leave rocky-raccoon marks around your eyes, and it offers a wide field of view and a low profile.

Designed originally for laydees, we probably sell more to blokes these days. We’ve long loved the View Fully Sicks, which also offer a mirrored lens, and now the same look and glare protection is available in the Selenes.

They come in three colour combinations – Pearl Black/Blue, Aquamarine Ice Blue/Yellow (with a glitter frame), and Lavender/Pink.

How are we celebrating? It’s our 2016 Xmas Special: order a pair of View Selene Mirrored gogs and get a pair of Selene non-mirrored gogs for $9 off: that’s almost 30 per cent off the non-mirrored pair. Total $63 + p/h.

Order yours now... Click here

Re-Cap at swims this season

Cap Amnesty at Coogee

dawny balmain recapRe-Cap will be at Coogee on Sunday to collect your unwanted swim caps. Look for them near the tent on the beach.

At a rough estimate, around 20,000 swimming caps are handed out at NSW ocean swims each summer. Some may be reused, but the overwhelming majority are used only once, kept in the bottom of a swimming bag for the summer, then thrown out. This seems like a needless waste, as well as creating unnecessary landfill.

Novacastrian quasi-royalty, Michael Fox, travelled all the way to Balmain last Sundee to deposit his life's story in old swim caps with Re-Cap. You could jettison your past life, too, by donating at Coogee this Sunday.

Accordingly, Re-cap aims to find sources for reusing and repurposing swimming caps, and will be collecting over summer at Sydney ocean swims. The first beneficiary is Swim Viet Nam, a charity based in Central Viet Nam which provides free swimming and water safety lessons to children and trains local adults as swimming teachers.

We're talking to some other charities and beneficiaries at the moment, and in the past have given to artists and local pools, so stay tuned!

If you would like to receive some caps, or if you have a whole stack that you would like to give away, get in touch!

There is currently no way to recycle caps (that I -- Marc West -- know of) hence the focus on reuse and repurpose. However, maybe it is not too far away - wetsuit recycling is now available in various places (, and you can recycle all sorts of plastics and rubber if you are willing to make the effort - there's a gap in the market for an entrepreneurial ocean swimmer...

Marc West

Spot opens up for Tonga

Oceanswimsafaris 2017

We've had a cancellation on our first oceanswimsafari to Tonga from July 25-August 2, 2017, which means there now are two spots available on that tour, as well as one spot remaining on our second Tonga trip from August 1-9.

Let us know quickly if you'd lke to come along with us. We've been inundated with interest for Tonga in 2017, which is why we're running three oceanswimsafaris there this coming year.

We've posted package details for two of our oceanswimsafaris in 2017 on our sibling site, You can find details for both Sulawesi (June 11-19) and for Tonga (three oceanswimsafaris between July 25 and August 16). We have a few spots still available on our Sulawesi tour, and three spots available on Tonga. We've been inundated with interest for both

Dates of our oceanswimsafaris in 2017 –

  • Vanuatu - Port Vila (May 24-29)
  • Vanuatu - Santo (May 31-June 5 Dates TBC)
  • Sulawesi (Indonesia, June 11-19) - 4 spots left
  • Yasawas Fiji - Swim with Manta rays (July 16-23) (New oceanswimsafari!)
  • Tonga 1 - Swim with Whales 1 (July 25-Aug 2) - 2 spots left
  • Tonga 2 - Swim with Whales 2 (Aug 1-9) - 1 spot left
  • Tonga 3 - Swim with Whales 3 (Aug 8-16) - Sold out!
  • San Sebastián (Spain, Aug 23-29)
  • Costa Brava (Spain, Aug 31-Sep 8)
  • Greece's Northern Sporades (Sep 12-21 TBC)
  • Yasawas Fiji (Oct 16-23)
  • Mana Fiji (Oct 24-29)
  • Heron Island (Nov 4-8) 

I ocean swim, therefore...

bs cossies both bothJust the ticket for cutting a fine figure on Heron Island, or anywhere else you swim, for that matter... With the help of our cobbers from, we've released our very own oceanswims cossies. We haven't put commercial markers on them too heavily because we respect your right not to be a walking billboard. But observing punters will be in no doubt about whom you are: An Ocean Swimmer, ie "I ocean swim, therefore I am".

The Laydees model is designed with racing and swimming longer distances in mind. Mrs Sparkle loves this style, with its narrow straps that slide across the back to suit the way you swim. Very comfy, she says, and they keep her "in", whatever that means. They're chlorine-resistant, too, so you can wear them in the pool as well as the ocean.

The Gents model...? There's not much you can do with budgys for boofheads, of course, apart from make them look good, and chlorine-resistant, and the budgysmuggler people have done both of those things.

We love them. And you can buy them now... Click here

Tell us about your swim group

We've had a good many submissions from swim groups for listing on our new swim group guide. We'll be assembling the submissions in the next couple of weeks and launching the guide during December.

The vast bulk of ocean swimming takes place not in formal races on the weekend. It happens in the myriad informal swim groups that meet on beaches, at pools, in lakes, rivers, dams, ponds and billabongs all around Strãa, New Zealand and the South Pacific, every day. Locals know their groups, but what if you're travelling? You're in an unfamiliar place, you'd like a swim, but where? With whom? aims to offer the most comprehensive list of informal swim groups and locations in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Wherever you are, you should never be without a suggestion of where to swim and with whom. We've received already submissions from swim groups from as far afield as Scotland and Hong Kong. We expect to have the first online in the next week or so. lists swim groups free of charge. Just complete the short form we've posted on our website and click the Submit button. You'll get a copy of your info straightbackatcha, and we'll slot it into our listings. Look under Swims on, or... Click here

dawny balmain lizzie simmsLizzi Simms had her own message for the men in grey suits at the Dawny swim at Balmain last Sundee... Check our report... Click here

Get swim ready at Newport

A message from the awgies of the Newport Pool to Peak Swim...

Newport Surf Club will be conducting an ocean swim training session at Newport Beach on Saturday 26 November 2016 from 7.30am in association with our Pool to Peak Ocean Swims which as you know will be on Sunday 8 January 2017.

The ocean swim training session is intended for swimmers who are thinking of trying ocean swimming for the first time as well as those who would like to pick up a few tips.

We will be covering:

  • Training for an ocean swim
  • Preparation for the day of the swim
  • Observing surf conditions before you swim
  • How to get out through the break (Practical if conditions allow)
  • Finishing a swim.

We will be emphasising the fun aspect as well as safety.

More info, contact John Guthrie... Click here

Swims open to online entry...

We have entries online open to a string of new season swims...

Coming soon... Plenty more.


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