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Yours in Salt: The Story of the Bondi Salties

Original ‘Saltie’, Henry Meagher, looks back on 10 years of the small social swim group that grew and grew and grew.

Bondi ocean swimming group, the Bondi Salties, celebrated 10 years of swims in 2023.

What started as just a group of ocean-loving friends in 2013 has grown into a group of over 500 ocean-obsessed ocean swimming enthusiasts 10 years later.

Suzie Ryan caught up with original member, Henry Meagher, to find out how it all started, what the ‘Bondi Salties way’ is and why he continues to lead the Salties into the future.

The beginning of something big

In 2013 a group of five friends got together for a soft sand run and an ocean swim at Bondi Beach, and, according to Mr Meagher, it was a friend, Alistair Dalzell, who called the group together.

“Lots of people think that I started the Bondi Salties but it was actually founded by my mate Alistair,” says Mr Meagher.

“Alistair had spent a few years in the UK and came back to Sydney and that time away had made the heart grow fonder of the ocean.

“He wanted to start a ritual that surrounded the beach so he locked in the ritual of a 1km soft sand run followed by an ocean swim once a week at Bondi Beach. We kicked it off on a Friday, at 6:15 am.

“It originally started with just five of us and we showed up rain, hail or shine, every Friday. Then it grew to about twenty when friends started bringing friends, so it is crazy to look at it now 10 years later and see the group grow to over 500 of us.”

Original Saltie Henry Meagher (centre) with some of the original Salties post Saltie Friday swim.

It wasn’t until two years of meeting up as a group that Mr Meagher took over the reins and has continued to steer the group towards what it is today.

“When Alistair originally started the group it was just a group of mates and one of my favourite things was he would always shoot an email out to a few of us each week,” said Mr Meagher.

“It was about two years into the group showing up every Friday and I took over and managed the weekly email for Alistair because he had just had his second child and life was getting busier and busier for him.

“He then went on to have his third kid and eventually moved out of Bondi, but I continued to foster the Bondi Salties.

“Even after starting my own family and having two kids myself, I’ve remained in Bondi and the Friday morning Salties session is sort of written into my marriage as a non-negotiable with my wife.

“The Bondi Salties has remained a continuous part of my life for the past 10 years and I absolutely love it.

“Alistair always says that he started the Salties but I really created it, with the way that I fostered it over the years and I love that.”

The growth of the Salties through Covid

While the Bondi Salties were steadily growing pre-Covid, when the pandemic hit in 2020 many Sydneysiders looked for a way to get out in nature, and they found the Salties, causing a huge increase in numbers.

“Covid put a massive accelerator on the growth of the Bondi Salties and while we were continually growing before the pandemic, it helped us grow to the number of members we have today and I think that is for a couple of reasons,” said Mr Meagher.

“There are a few fundamental things that are important to your life; your friends, family and your career, and when Covid hit, people’s careers disappeared and they started realising how important their local community is and that’s when they found the Bondi Salties.

“It gave people a way to connect to others when we were all so isolated and gave many a sense of belonging within the community and an opportunity to create their own community within the larger Bondi community and I love that we were able to contribute to that.

“I think people were also drawn to the Salties because they wanted a way to disconnect to reconnect through those challenging years of the pandemic and the Salties was just that. We essentially give people a way to connect with other people, connect with the ocean and have a sense of belonging and pride in their achievements.

“These are all things that we were doing before the pandemic and continue to do after the pandemic. The pandemic just helped us grow our community bigger.”

The Bondi Salties today after their accelerated growth throughout Covid

A Salties tradition

Like many ocean swimming groups, the Bondi Salties have their own traditions, and while simple, the Salties traditions are a core part of the group.

“We love the simple things at the Bondi Salties and we like to celebrate the little things,” said Mr Meagher.”

“It’s little things like our old tradition of getting a yellow Bondi Salties cap after your first swim with us.

“This tradition all started with our original group of five friends and is something we’ve just continued on for years now.

“When the group started to grow years ago I ordered 500 caps being optimistic that we’d reach that number some day and now all these years later, I probably only have less than 50 caps left which is kind of scary but also impressive to see how we have grown the group.

“I like to think that this tradition is another way to welcome people to the group while showing them that sense of connection and belonging that the Salties are all about.

More than an ocean swimming group

The Bondi Salties like to think of themselves as not just an ocean swimming group but rather a community that supports each other through everything in life while getting salty. In fact, some members who met in the group, are now married.

“Our mantras are ‘we love to get salty’ and ‘all welcome,’ and I think that demonstrates what a welcoming, open and inclusive group we are,” said Mr Meagher.

“We have all bonded over our love of the ocean and that unique swimmer’s high you get from completing a challenging ocean swim. It has brought us all together over the years and I love watching the sense of achievement that people get from swimming with us.

“And there are all these different types of achievement. You see people beam with pride after a swim with us, but my favourite is probably when they successfully navigate the surf and conditions they never thought they would be able to, and then when they swim up and back across Bondi Beach – which is roughly 1.3km – and while that’s not far for some it is a huge distance for many.

“It is amazing to see the sense of pride at the end of the swim among the Salties and seeing many putting up their photos on social media saying ‘I just swam with the Salties and did this’ or ‘I just got given my cap’. It’s pretty unique and special to see the group we have made turn from just a group of mates into this massive group of people who some never even knew each other but are now great friends away from the group and are often doing things together outside of the beach.”

The future of the Bondi Salties

So, what does the future of the Bondi Salties look like?

“It’s funny you ask because I get a lot of people asking me that and wondering if I am going to start monetising it,” said Mr Meagher.

“I always tell people that the purest form of the Salties is just showing up every Friday at 6:15 am rain, hail or shine and doing a soft sand run and swim followed by a coffee and chat.

“And if in 10 or 20 years I can bring my daughter down to show her what I helped create and get her to experience what I experienced 10-20 years earlier, that is just beautiful to me and really the ultimate goal.

“So, my answer would be, that I hope the Bondi Salties continue to stay the same in the future and that more people get to experience the beauty and simplicity of the Salties.”

  • Written by Suzie Ryan on 8 January 2024
  • (Updated on 30 January 2024)



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