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Coalcliff surf club launches ocean swimming club

The Coalcliff Surf Life Saving Club, located between Sydney and Wollongong, has recently launched its very own ‘Ocean Swimming Club’ and is opening its membership up to community swimmers who can join the club as non-patrolling associates.

This exciting new initiative which gives swim club members an opportunity to enjoy ocean swimming in a safe and friendly environment has been in the works since 2019 when Brigid Collaery joined the club.

“I joined as a patrolling member in the 2019-20 season completing my Bronze Medallion. It was a great experience, and over that same summer, I joined some casual ocean swim sessions at Stanwell Park beach organised by Trevor Kemper, a local GP and director of Equilibrium Healthcare medical practice,” said Ms Collaery.

“After five or so sessions I was hooked and the joy of swimming with a group out the back of the surfers in crystal waters really helped me get over my fear of sharks I’d had since childhood (I put that down to Jaws!).

“I soon realised there was a lack of opportunity for people, especially adults to improve their ocean swimming skills.

“I joined the club committee, tapped into their brains trust and wealth of experience and gained their support to use the club’s resources to facilitate this opportunity for community members to swim together in the ocean in a safe, friendly, and non-competitive environment.

“We were all set to go for the 2020-21 season but then Covid-19 happened and we had to put swim club plans on hold.”

Fast forward to the start of this year and with the pandemic mostly behind us, Ms Collaery got planning again with the help of club captain Rob Deacon and other committee members, and the generous support from Equilibrium Healthcare as their sponsor, they kicked off the Coalcliff Ocean Swimming Club with a first swim on Sunday, 16 October.

“We have had two sessions and so far the weather and conditions have been great, and everyone has loved the experience with roughly 30 swimmers taking part out of our 55 registered members,” said Ms Collaery.

“A wonderful aspect of the swim club is that over 50% of the members are women. Surf clubs tend to be male-dominated so this initiative has proven to be an excellent way to include more women in the club.

“We couldn’t have done it without the help of Dr Trevor Kemper, the founder of Equilibrium Healthcare (EQHC) and Catherine Ryan, EQHC’s project and social media manager, both keen ocean swimmers themselves.

The Coalcliff Ocean Swimming Club about to head out for their first swim session. Photo by Jenelle Williams.

“Participants don’t have to be active patrolling members of the surf club and are associate members instead. For this first year, thanks to a subsidy provided by our sponsor, swim club members have only had to pay a $50 membership fee, instead of what would usually be a $100 fee for the season.

“Equilibrium Healthcare as the sponsor, has a shared vision on this project, to provide a low-cost, safe and welcoming environment for members of the community to go ocean swimming as a group while developing their skills in the ocean and improving their health and fitness.

“The sponsorship has really supported us to set the swim club up with marker buoys, brightly coloured swim caps and the subsidised membership fee, which has been incredible.”

Dr Trevor Kemper shares Ms Collaery’s vision of building a healthier community while increasing people’s ocean skills and love of ocean swimming.

“We know that exercise and social connection are both essential to good physical and mental health, and with our amazing coastline what better way to combine those than an ocean swim club,” said Dr Kemper.

“As a medical and allied health practice, Equilibrium Healthcare certainly has a role in fixing things when they’re broken, but we prefer prevention and strive to help build a happier healthier community through support of activities that foster that.

“We are thrilled to be able to help make the ocean swim club a reality and are enjoying working with the great team at Coalcliff Surf Lifesaving Club.”

Swimmers are encouraged to swim as far as they are comfortable, with no set distance for the sessions and to stick around for a post-session chat.

“For the last two sessions we set up a course of about 500m around 3 buoys and participants can do the course as many times as they like within a 45-minute period,” said Ms Collaery.

“Last Sunday, some swimmers completed three laps or 1.5km, whereas, others like me, only swam one lap as I haven’t done much swimming in the last two years.

“It’s all very relaxed and fun. The serious bit is the safety briefing on the beach before each swim, and last week Trevor gave some tips since he’s a regular ocean swimmer, and then we dive in and swim before hopping out and enjoying a cup of tea or some lunch and have a chat.

“I think the swim club is a great way for people to get together and connect with others in their community, which is really important post covid.”

Not only does the Coalcliff Ocean Swimming Club benefit local ocean swimmers but it also helps active patrolling members refine their skills.

“While we provide excellent water safety for our swimmers there are also benefits for the surf club – it gives our patrolling members regular opportunities to practise their surf lifesaving skills,” said Ms Collaery.

“Coalcliff isn’t a very busy beach, so patrolling members don’t get a huge amount of practice for their surf lifesaving skills.

“But every patrol now, our members are getting the IRB and jetski out in the water, using the rescue boards and working together to do water safety for the swimmers. We also get to practise our flag signals and radio operations. We can also set a buoy out just before the swim club session to enable Nippers to do some swims when the conditions are right.

“Altogether, it’s great capacity-building for the club and our hope is that this new initiative and interest in the club will attract new patrolling members to join what is a very friendly and relaxed surf club.”

Swims are set to take place every fortnight through to April.

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