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Book Six: Patience and passion: A work in progress.

Seven's the lucky number at Lorne.

Have you ever had THAT swim that goes perfectly to plan? The one that, if you had a checklist to tick off all of the elements of what constitutes your dream race, that page would be full of ticks and you'd give yourself an A+ ? My seventh Lorne Pier to Pub was that race.

So why was it THAT good? Was it a podium Aquagirl? No... AquaGirl doesn't chase podiums. She chases experiences that make her heart sing and leave her feeling all warm and fuzzy for days afterwards.

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So here I sit, on the couch the day after Lorne Pier to Pub, with my favourite Queenslander, Mrs @seppo311 catching her second lounge snooze for the day, in between reminiscent laughs about the day before at Lorne. This was Michelle's second Lorne Pier to Pub, after last year's baptism of fire (or should I say ...jump into arctic waters (19 degrees) ) where her first order of business was to arrange a wetsuit to hire, as we'd heard weather conditions were forecast to be unfavourable. Overcast, cool weather, light drizzle, very little heat in the day: not great for a girl from QLD who loves humidity and warm outdoor pools. XOSize came to the rescue and I picked up her neoprene cocoon just before she hit Melbourne. An hour after she'd dumped her bags at Casa de Chestnut, we were jumping off the local pier, diving into the deep blue sea. Ten minutes into her virgin jump off the pier, she was doing back flips. This girl loves living on the edge, literally.

The Lorne Pier to Pub is Victorian open water swimming's version of the Melbourne Cup. It's the ultimate open water swim experience purely because of its size: 5,000 swimmers competing in the 1.2km swim, and a new addition to the race calendar (following the recent trends here in Victoria to offer a longer distance swim), a 5000m event, limited to only 100 swimmers (it's reported by organisers that 900 swimmers were on the waiting list to participate in this inaugural event). Lorne is true open water swimming, in the heart of the Great Ocean Road, snuggled amongst the Otways' green, leafy rainforests. It's picturesque, clear clean aquamarine waters are strong and powerful , yet for the newbie open water swimmer, are achievable and not to be feared.

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Aquagirl avec Seppo... They really shouldn't be allowed out together.

Our team bus trip started at 6:30am and we arrived at 10. Despite the distance from home, it's one race that draws the most Peninsula Pirates, next to the Mount Martha Australia Day Swim. It is all about pushing yourself in the ultimate race; it's about family holidays; it's about camaraderie; it's about celebrations. Lorne's Pier to Pub has it all.

I've never had a bad experience in entering or registering at the Pier to Pub. These guys know their stuff and, of course, they need to. Processing this amount of athletes would be a logistical nightmare if not handled with ultimate precision. This event and the running event the day before, the Mountain to Surf, an 8km run on the Friday, are flanked by countless volunteers who work together to make athletes' experiences stress-free. The ballot for entries goes live in early November for those mere mortals who haven't completed ten or more Piers to Pubs before. After you hit "Sharkbait" status, you still need to enter but you have a place made available to you automatically (incentive to rack up ten P2Ps! Only three to go!) Registration opens at 9am and closes at 12, just before the juniors start their race at 12:30. There are 25 waves in this race, finishing at 3:10, either five or ten minutes apart, depending on numbers in waves and age groups (some age groups are faster than others).

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The Peninsula Pirates always have the same meeting place on the beach; we've been meeting there for years. Our oldest right down to our youngest know the spot, as do our now newest members. And if you're not sure where to meet us, just look for the red shirts and hoodies.

lorne pier pub aquagirl 15 05Now, where does this leg go again...?

The wetsuit dance starts early; everyone has their own techniques; some wear gloves, some put plastic bags on their feet, others need a second set of hands (um... not looking at you, Michelle Massy). I was out of practice and put my right leg into my left leg... yep, that's karma messing with me for even contemplating wearing a wetsuit. Because the deep water start is about a 15-minute walk along the cliff edge to the iconic Lorne Pier, and athletes are asked to assemble at the start line about 20 minutes before their wave start, timing is important. As Michelle has hit the big 40, we were actually swimming together today. With our wave starting at 1:25, we left for the start line about 12.35 so we could also dip into the water on the opposite side of the pier and do a quick warm up swim.

Before you know it, we're herded into the start chute. Conversations are always funny to listen to while you're waiting: "Wonder where my husband is?", "What did you eat before the race?", " This wetsuit is tight but I'm glad I'm wearing it", "God that water's cold", "I'm so rushed to get here to the start line!", I actually found myself with very little to say. I felt super cool and calm. I was excited but not outwardly. Despite this being my 7th, the sheer size of this event still blows my mind.

The pier was laden with towel bearers, oozing with interested onlookers. The shotgun was loaded and ready to go. We were let down the chute slowly (which all athletes MUST walk over to activate their transponders). Dodge the slippery rocks, polo out to the line of start buoys, and tread water while you contemplate your start line position. In the assembly, Michelle and I lost each other, despite the fact she was the only one wearing a wonder woman coloured wetsuit, how fitting as we all know this Lady is not afraid to stand out from the crowd! One life guard floating on his board called out the girls hugging the inside line, "This is an ocean swimming race, not a distance race. Don't hug the buoys. You'll get the wash off the rocks. Move to the other side like the fast swimmers." One girl's instant reaction was to fret and to ask her friend, "Is he joking or is that true?"

I washed off their anxiety. I jostled into my middle of the start line position and waited for that iconic BOOM! As usual, it was on for young and old (so to speak): arms, legs, arms and legs. It's a wonderful frenzy. I found my mind in a space of nothingness. No counting. No negative talk. No frustration. No oxygen deprivation despite a very raised heartbeat. Gentle rolling waves lifted my legs and shooed me along. No muscles ached. The sand below me was being pulled backwards slightly then being propelled forward like a gentle puff of smoke. I did the same. I spotted the buoys to my left, noticed the iconic cliffs with their colourful ants marching to the same spot I'd just begun from, and the ever-crowded beach ahead that seemed to shuffle and surge as these waves were beginning to, the closer I got to the shore line. Nineteen yellow numbered conical buoys hugged the jagged coast line, and yet, below, nothing to be seen. No sea life, no rocks, no sea kelp that lined the starting chute, just the odd white cap that had drifted to the bottom from hot heads; a grave yard of discarded swim caps littering the ocean floor. I'd lost myself in the most hypnotic swimming slumber of contentment, inner happiness and peace despite the absolute chaos that was surrounding me.

Helicopters flew over, rubber duckies ripped past, paddlers surged, arms and legs, arms and legs, cliffs groaning with onlookers and a beach sandwiched full of cheering family members, welcoming you home in a collective warm hug. It felt like I had taken in the largest breath of oxygen to fill my lungs, pursed my lips together and held onto it for as long as I could, and then slowly, slowly, let it out to inhale again as I approached the beach.

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Mother Nature woke me up with a roar in my ear. The waves were breaking into shore and she was determined for me to remember this moment. I had absolutely powered on, was working super hard but today it just felt effortless. She wanted me to fight just a little. Raging behind me was a superb rolling wave, and as it crested behind me I felt her suck me backwards and lift my feet. Stroking hard, I rode on top and rolled along, stroking, fighting, stroking and fighting for more air. Woken by an adrenalin kick, I was dumped into the sand and slapped about with a dose of reality. She was angry. Kicking strongly, I fought as she dragged me back. She wasn't letting me go.

Looking up, the crowd willed me forward in our own special game of tug of war, and I slowly clawed forward. I loved this fight. Lastly, I popped up, lifted my knees as high as I could, and finished off this near perfect race. I stopped my Garmin as I hit the finish line and checked on the distance covered: 1.2 exactly. I've officially died and gone to heaven. Even Garmin confirmed that I'd finally got this ocean swimming caper down pat. Nothing would better this moment. I'd raced myself and won.

I looked for Michelle. She'd had a great race and, surprisingly, wasn't crying, although she did have a panic attack on the finish line and clawed to get her wetsuit off. That damn blue cocoon was just a little too restricting. It did, however, give her a warm hug and kept the cold factor well off her mind. We cooled down with some fun body surfing and frivolity and then got to business with smashing a hamburger to eat for Australia. Beef never tasted so good.

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Our bus trip home is part of the event for us, and it seems our reputation has begun to precede us, as a few people gathered about to look at the spectacle emerge from the bus. One by one, the theme of "Halloween and Horror Movies" emerged with the Exorcist, Morticia, Lurch, Uncle Fester, Edward Scissor-hands, Black Swan and Jason from Friday the 13th starting the party. This tradition of dressing up for the looonnnggg trip home is the source of much negotiation and conversation for months before and is a highlight of the trip. For other groups of friends travelling from as far as we do, consider adding to your Pier to Pub experience and celebrating further with a theme just for fun. It's brought a new perspective to our Melbourne Cup of swimming experiences, minus the fascinators and high heels, add in the face paint and alter-egos.

The rest is a load of laughs and more laughs. Friends dissect their own races, metre by metre, share names of their nemeses, make plans for the next race, and revel in this one. This day is all that we expected from it and more. There's no doubt in my mind that this race is one for the bucket list. It's worth its $65 entry fee just for the spectacle that it is.

Next year, the 5km swim is sure to grow, so now's the time to start planning. Look into your accommodation if you want to make a holiday of it, whether it's an apartment or a camp site, and make sure that this one stays on your radar. If you're a newbie, a year is a long time to train and you'd easily be able to whip yourself into shape, provided you take into the consideration the water's cold for most and the surf at the end loves to make the race an honest one.

Next week, the Victorian swim calendar has a trifecta up for grabs: The Bloody Big Swim (straight line course from Frankston to Mornington 11.2km, solos and teams), Portsea (1.5 km tide-assisted, it's always a fast one), and the new look Mornington Swim (1.2 km beginning and starting at Mills Beach in Mornington, in an arrow shaped course). Saturday's a bumped open water swimming day down here. These swims are all very different from each other but all offer challenges. Whether it's distance or speed, it's all covered here in one day.

Till next week,

See you at the beach,

Nicole Chester

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Dressed up, ready for home.


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Aquagirl's photo gallery...

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Angela van Boxtel was at Avalon... Click here

Manly Can Too

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A report from Can Too -

The rain and grey skies did nothing to deter the dedicated swimmers that turned out on Sunday 11th Jan 2015 for the running of the inaugural Manly Can Too Swim!

Despite the rain, the conditions were perfect for a great swim. The water temperature was good, there wasn't too much chop and the waves at Manly big enough to make it a challenge for all, especially for those in the 1.5km who swam in out of the break twice!!!!

The first race was the 800m Sprint from Shelley Beach into Manly. The coveted title of being crowned the King and Queen of Cabbage Tree Bay saw swimmers of all ages enter this event - it was a huge effort from Sean Daly and Ashley Roestorf who crossed the line triumphant!

As usual, many a ray, fish and even a tiny shark were spotted in the beautiful waters of Cabbage Tree Bay, despite the lack of sunshine there was surprisingly good visibility.

The 'Beginner' event was highly populated by Can Too swimmers. Frequently seen in bright orange around the beaches, these men and women are taking part in a 12 week ocean swimming training program to perfect their stroke, breathing, confidence and knowledge of the ocean. Not only conquering the ocean, they are making a difference in the community by fundraising for cancer research. Many were taking part in their very first ocean swim – excitement levels were at an all-time high!!

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The child and parent swim was an initiative to encourage our young swimmers out into the water, with the extra support of an adult by their side. There were some very happy little faces beaming with pride as they ran up the beach completing their very first 800m ocean swim.

The M-shaped course was a first of it's kind for Manly, the introduction of having DOUBLE the entries/exits into the beach as well as a 20 metre beach run thrown into the mix was a challenge for even the seasoned swimmers on the day, but made for a great change from the usual courses ocean swims tend to take. The winners: the 1.5km King and Queen of South Steyne, were Marc Pasques and Lara Jones.

With prizes of $100 gift vouchers from boardshorts brand The Rocks Push for winners in each category and a shiny new medal, competition was fierce. It was unfortunate organisers weren't able to award the winners immediately after the race due to a timing glitch, but rest assured those who were crowned the Kings and Queens of Cabbage Tree Bay and South Steyne wore their crowns proudly!

All round a fun, family event from the Manly Surf Club and Can Too, proof that our ocean swimming community is growing every year, and welcoming swimmers of all experience levels.

More on Can Too...

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Send us your raves on these swims, and we'll post them here as Raveback... Click here

On notice about late notice

Decisions to alter/postpone/cancel oceanswims are difficult, but I feel they should be made and communicated as early as possible, especially when any delay compromises punters' ability to make another swim. I don't envy anyone having to make that decision - but the earlier it is communicated the less wrath organisers will face. No-one really minded about North Bondi yesterday, except those who had to wait two hours in the rain because they'd signed up for both swims and gotten their early. Currently, organisers are punishing the punctuality that makes their lives easier.

Organisers should assume a minimum one hour travel time for swimmers and a minimum 30 minute margin once arrived at the beach. That means all decisions should be communicated at least 1.5 hours before start time. Ideally, two hours to enable late rego at the other swim.

Recent examples -

  • Bilgola 8.12.2013 - 11am start - need to leave 9:30, decision communicated 9am (not early enough for those who cycled there).
  • Stanwell 16.3.2014 - 10am start - need to leave 8:30am, decision promised by 7am, made at 9am, well after people had to leave and compromising ability to make Bilgola at noon
  • Coogee, April 2024, 9:15am: need to leave 7:45am - decision communicated 8am
  • Bilgola 14.12.2014 - 9am start: need to leave 7:30 - decision promised by 7am, communicated 7:30am,
  • Bondi 11.1.2015 - 9:15 start - need to leave 7:45 - decision communicated 8am, after start time of Manly and without time to get up to Avalon for late entry.


Katie Price

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