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Personal reflection: Butterflies over the water

Words by Nicole Holyer. A journalist and writer by trade, Nicole posts very irregularly on her blog, and for us.

The sun’s out and there are butterflies over the water at Umina.

The 6:30 am crew are debriefing below the deck of the Umina Beach Surf Life Saving Club after a meandering swim from ‘Scarlett’ to Ocean Beach and back.

Scarlett is the name for the first of four buoys pegged in a rectangle out front of the surf club, which marks the course for the Peninsula Ocean Swimmers (POS). Each of the buoys has a name – Scarlett, Wilson, Intrepid and Maui, making the mnemonic, SWIM.

Seven times out of ten, we’ll swim variations of ‘the box’. Other days, we’ll wander.

We’re positively basking after the picture-perfect swim; glassy surface, a friendly current, chats at the buoys, an easy swell at the shore and, of course, those butterflies.

“How lucky are we?” one swimmer asks. After months of rain and floods we know if doesn’t get better than this.

I first started swimming at Umina in the spring of 2020. As it was for so many at that time, I was living through a period of immense change. I was a new mum — giving birth to my son three months beforehand. My family (partner, two stepsons, and son) and I had uprooted ourselves from a busy life in Sydney against the backdrop of the pandemic. I have a photo of my first visit to Umina. I’m holding my newborn, my face puffy from lack of sleep, his little blue hood slipped over his eyes, Lion Island looming over my shoulder. It felt right, and I knew there was something special for us here.

Since then, I’ve been a regular at Umina, slowly building my strength back up, swimming through the haze of postpartum fatigue, working up to much longer adventure swims, dreamed up during the long winter lockdown of 2021, when there wasn’t much else to do.

One of my favourites is the Umina to Pearly return, a 4.5km round trip to the south end of Pearl Beach and back. It’s the swimming equivalent of a bushwalk – gliding past the cliffs of Mount Ettalong, something new to see at every stage of the journey.

Then there’s the Lion Island swim. It’s a true adventure swim circumnavigating the island in an 8.5km loop – and it’s not for the faint of heart, demanding careful preparation, training, and support.

A handful of Umina and Terrigal regulars (including yours truly) attempted a marathon 23km swim earlier this year, entering at Terrigal, passing the bays and cliffs of Bouddi National Park to end up at Umina. Some of us made the distance, others didn’t. If there was a lesson to be taken from that attempt, it’s never underestimate mother nature.

Whatever your speed, however far you like to swim, come say hello. We head out at 6:30 am, and 7 am, and 7:15 am, or 8 am, sometimes midday, sometimes 4pm. You’ll find us near the Umina Beach Surf Life Saving Club. And while I can’t guarantee butterflies, you’ll be sure to find a friendly crew who will happily take you for a spin around the cans, a stunning stretch of beach, and a post-swim coffee and chat.

On Saturday, 19 November you will be able to share this special part of the world with us. The Take 3 for the Sea Umina Ocean Swim (Umina’s first community-based open water swim event) will be held, the event will be supported by the Umina SLSC and Co-engineer and will host a 400m family swim, 1km and 2km swim distance.

Hope to see you there.

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