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Scravely, into the dump of death.

Aquagirl at Bonbeach... Click here
A 60+ laydee surveys her season... Click here
Jim Donaldson's South West Rocks dotpoints... Click here
Jane Whitread does Rangitoto... Click here

Stanwell Park: Only the scravely

At the start of the Stanwell Park swim, there were some seriously scrave faces on the beach at Coalcliff. Stanwell is a wide-open beach that becomes difficult immediately the weather forecaster on the telly foreshadows rising swell, particularly on a low tide. But, depending on the direction of the swell, much of this event's problems can be attributed to one factor: Coalcliff.

Coacliff is the start of this swim. It's a ruggedly beautiful beach tucked between the toes of the Illawarra Escarpment, a steep hill rising sharply from the sand, the escarpment towering above that to what is, in effect, the Great Dividing Range meeting the sea. Coalcliff has a rock shelf at its southern end – into which is built the obligatory Depression-era ocean pool – and a rocky headland at the northern end. The entire beach is barely 100m long. The rock shelf can protect from the south, but if the swell comes from the north or the east, then the corner inside the shelf becomes an agitating washing machine. At once, spectacular, frightening, ugly, and awesomely beautiful.

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The swell was from slightly north of east on swim day. In the cyclical nature of beaches, there was hardly anything of it at Coalcliff. Recent seas had washed away much of the sand and, like a miner's pan at Eureka, the beach had been left more pebbles and smooth stones than sand, and steep, so steep that entering the water was to dive from a starting block into a pool: you stood on the edge of the beach and simply dived (the Americans would say "dove") into the gutter. The beach was like a sandbar suddenly rearing up from the depths, and as the swell approached, it surged, it sucked out, then reared up, snarled, spat, and vomited projectilisibly onto the beach. Anyone in the way was thrown asunder, discarded like a cigarette butt in a drain on a stormy day in Pitt St Mall. Arms and legs akimbo.

To enter the water at Coalcliff, you had to stand as close to the edge as was safe, wait for the break in sets, then dive into the oncoming waves, timing it just so, so that you dived through the face of the wave, not under it, and you certainly couldn't dive over it. With guns setting off the starting waves at intervals determined by times, not by breaks between sets, many punters found themselves diving onto little more than the stones under the chundering dumps than into any water. Plenty were thrown about, and plenty more must have felt the full weight of the dumping break on their backs, with no give beneath such as you normally get from being in water. At times like that, you fear for spinal injuries.

So the starting waves were lines of screwed up faces staring scravely at the pummelling break. Scrave indeed. Scrave?

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A swimming friend, a CanTooer by the name of Parfait l'Amour, invented the descriptor, "scrave", as she was heading into her target swim at North Bondi a couple of years ago. It described her feelings: scared and brave. It's a handy term, for it saves two words, maybe two of three syllables, perhaps a syllable and a few consonants – what does one call a sound created by the merger or combination of two or more consonants, as a diphthong is for vowels? – thus it can save a breath, and certainly a bit of time if you're looking doom in the face and you have limited time to tell someone.

The guns cracked at Coalcliff, ricocheting around the escarpment and the gully that runs back up into it behind the beach, like Echo Echo Point Point. And one by one, wave by wave, the lines of fusiliers threw themselves scravely into the crushing shorebreak; into the dump of death, the 234 hurled themselves defiantly, for Queen and country, shouting, "Elizabeth!" and "Tony!" as the break chewed them up, gargled them around its throat, and spat them back onto the rocky shore, arms and legs akimbo...

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Stanwell awgie, Andrew Perrin, considers the legal implications of Sundee's shore dump.

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That said, the gnarly part of this swim was that initial two metres. Once through that shorebreak, it was easy. The sea was up a little, but it was rolling and rocking, not sharp and choppy. Despite appearances, it was a doddle. A slight breeze wasn't enough to chop the surface, or to elevate the sideways roll into anything more than a gentle, lulling undulation. You could have fallen asleep out there.

At one point, about a third of the way along the course (for us, perhaps farther for most others), a squall blew through, obscuring our target, Bald Hill, blurring our goggles, and cooling the air. But that was momentary. The water was warm, as it often is when the air temp drops. All things are relative, after all.

Mind you, laying oneself down on Sundee night, we commented to our Queen, Mrs Sparkle, that our arms and shoulders were sore. We wonder whether an undulating sea leads to soreness because the unstable surface means one is constantly adjusting and readjusting one's stroke, pulling through on a wave that suddenly isn't there any more, or pulling too deep when the wave for which you had measured your grab and pull suddenly is a foot deeper, and heavier.

It would be interesting to explore these dynamics. But we fear that's for another time, and for someone else.

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The Opal Girls - All these laydee swimmers now qualify for - and use with gusto -- Seniors Opal cards on NSW public transport.

Dotpoints from the Rocks...

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  • 4.5 hours easy drive from Westleigh via the M1 approx. 430km, turn off at Plummers Lane (north of Clybucca), then 15kms to SWRX
  • While the completion of the Kempsey Bypass (2 years ago) is welcomed, there are 28kms of roadworks (@80kms/hr) to the south of Kempsey.
  • Weather good with showers holding off from event start @ 9am and resuming until after main event. Water warm, clear with no wind or swell. The SWRX SLSC Clubhouse has possibly the best amenities of any club in NSW.
  • A place of surfboats with one outside the Club entry and another surfboat as main bar.
The Event
  • Three swims on offer, delayed start .... 15 minutes only for 700m swim from Horseshoe Bay out to sea then right turn south and into beach between headland and the 'rocks".. More like a local Devils Marbles, if you will.
  • Awgies later owned up that GPS read 850m...
  • 2nd event 200m (Dash for Cash) well supported by parents and kids... enjoying, in some cases, their first ocean swim.
  • The Bay to Boulders (2.6Km) started on time @ 1030am at Horseshoe Bay out and south past the rocks, along Front Beach towards Arakoon, then back up the beach, final turn at the rocks and in to shore.
  • For all events, never more than 200m from shore, water visibility so clear the ripples in the ocean floor sand were visible.
  • All events on a rising tide with Saltwater Creek between the Surf Club and beach presenting a challenge to cross after the main event.
  • Outstanding participants included Ky Kinsela (14) of Coffs Harbour and Larry Brook (64) from Port Macquarie.
  • Ky is recently back from the State SLSC Championships at Ocean Beach and is the 2014 Coffs Ocean Swims Champion in both events (to be held next weekend).
  • Larry has an impressive CV... (Former Bondi swimmer and R&R from that club's Golden Era, we understand: os.c)
  • Life Member of Port Macquarie Surf Life Saving Club (1 of 14), 1974-75 Senior Club Championship winner, Head Coach Wauchope Swim Centre.
  • Larry also coaches Nippers board & swim training at Flynns' Beach, the home of Port Macquarie SLSC.
  • I never had a chance to meet Larry, but one of his mature age pupils pointed him out. I will remember Larry as a tall distinguished gent with a decent head of hair and moustache.
  • Larry if you read this report, I will introduce myself next time.
  • Without opening a can of worms, the Port Macquarie SLSC webpage claims that Port Macquarie made the surf ski... "the first official ski was made 1912-13 by Port Macquarie fisherman, Harry McLaren, who saw it as an easy way for Harry and his brother to get about oyster beds in nearby Lake Inness".
  • Over to you readers... and apologies to the SWR SLSC for my digression... Wonderful day and well organised event.

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

Chapter Eight: Celebrating World Water Day at Bonbeach

How fitting to spend World Water Day by the bluest of bays, almost calm enough to see my reflection in. On a day where we pay attention to the importance of water in everyday life, in industry, in cities, in hygiene and health, as an energy source, as a food and life force, I paid homage to its importance in nature and the ecosystems and to restoring balance in mine.
Bonbeach Open Water Swim is the last official swim on the open water calendar in Melbourne, apart from the official Rip Race, that mere mortals have very little chance of racing in. Also coinciding with the Ironman Asia Pacific Championships, today's conditions could be summed up in one word; glorious... or spectacular... or amazing... or magnificent ... you get the picture.

Barely a breath of air, clear blue skies with wisps of clouds streaking above and a fresh morning temperature of 17 degrees, the water temperature was just on 18 degrees, as Autumn has started to creep in. H E A V E N L Y. Today there was no room for complaints; the same could be said to the neighbouring Ironman competitors; if they complained today then I would surely surmise that they could never, ever be pleased.

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The Bonbeach swim offers three distances, the 2.5km starting earlier in the morning at 8:30am, a Novice swim of 600m starting at 9am, followed by the Classic distance of 1.2km (which the trusty Garmin confirmed was stretched out to 1.48km) finishing up with a short and sharp Dash for Cash, there was a distance for everyone. Clocking close to 300 swimmers, this near perfectly organised swim is well worth marking on the calendar for next year, and the following year, and the year after that. It's worth the autumn wait.

My last report was for the five kilometre race at Mount Martha on Australia Day, but that's not to say I haven't been swimming. I missed the Club to Club and Cerberus Swims due to a death in the family, that quite frankly took the wind out of my sails and left me veiled in grief that I've never felt before. The Pier to Perignon followed a fortnight after and was my step forward back into the real world, helping to shift a little of the hurt aside, enough to return to something that I missed every minute of every day. Still, grief strips you bare and leeches you of energy, mental stability and clarity. The Pier to Perignon Swim helped to restore some of that balance that had been tipping me way out of kilter and bled me of the last of the negative energy I'd been harbouring, at least enough to create a little shift that allowed for some positivity to return. I didn't have any words for this race, but I did take black and white photos, reflecting my mood, to depict some of the day's events. For me, it was all about taking stock of the small things, and just looking at life objectively.

Created with flickr slideshow.


Last Saturday, I took my Chestnuts to Point Leo to volunteer for the Disabled Surfers Association on the Mornington Peninsula. We'd never been a part of this event before. Funnily enough, the dates had often clashed with open water swims over summer, and well, I'll be honest, swimming won over volunteering each time. Now, with a new outlook, we made this day priority to attend.

With three main aims, "to 'put smiles on dials', that is to provide a safe, and enjoyable surfing experience for people with any disability, to provide disabled members with greater access to beaches year 'round, and to aim to unite the local community, schools, businesses, able and disabled residents with this event". My little family split into two teams. My husband, Paul, and my daughter became land volunteers, and my son and I hit the water to see to the "smiles on dials" part of the plan. Admittedly, Paul and Miss 13 had the hardest job, pushing and pulling participants in wheelchairs up and down sandy hills with their carers. Mr 15 and I formed long corridors of volunteers, who sent disabled participants on the ride of their lives along running waves yelling "More! More!" if they were able to verbalise their excitement.

This was such an amazing experience to share with these wonderful kids and adults, the sheer wonder in their eyes and the responses from them were touching to watch. It was also a beautiful bonding experience for my family and me, and a very humbling occasion that helped heal a little more of the grief we were feeling and help us re-focus on the big picture. I'd encourage any water lovers (or not) to look up the closest association to them and give volunteering a go at least once. Saturday gave 97 beautiful humans a wondrous experience and 243 volunteers, including a handful of (Peninsular) Pirates, a very fulfilling few hours of community service. To find out more about this, visit:

For photos of the event, visit their Facebook page :

Sunday last week I also swam in a very modest open water swim run by the Rotarians Against Malaria (the R.A.M Swim). Literally on my weekly training ground, this swim was also about giving to someone else a little less fortunate. A straight line course of one kilometre, I was lured to the finish line by the smell of bacon and eggs cooking on the bbq for the swimmers, as a thank you for participating. Needless to say, I was completely in my element and felt life was on the up and up for more reason than one after last weekend... and it had nothing to do with bacon.

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Speaking of bacon, if I had to give an award for the best post-race bacon and eggs, I couldn't split it between R.A.M. or the Bonbeach Life Saving Club. There's no doubt in my mind that both were cooked with 110% pure love and there's nothing finer from this "athlete's" point of view, than punctuating a race with one of those bad boys. Life. Is. Good.

Presentations are always swift at Bonbeach, Tomato Timing takes care of that and the raffle is a certain to buy into, with prizes worth fighting for. The beach was abuzz with retrospective conversations about the season that had passed and I was even stopped by a Sydney-sider who recognised me and struck up a conversation. We talked about Vic vs NSW swims and I was "delighted" to hear my new swim friend say that one of the hardest swims he's ever completed was Mentone at the start of the season. Imagine that... a bay swim rougher than say the Palm Beach to Whale Beach swim. "It's constant here; it just keeps on coming at you." he recounted, sighting said race as a comparison. I felt a little relieved, for I've often wondered if AquaGirl may just seem a little soft talking about rough water down here, compared to the dumpers we so often see photos of in NSW.

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Kerry O'Shea was there (@KAOSVIC ) as was her lovely friend Liz, both beaming at the gorgeousness that Mother Nature was bathing us in. We chatted about the "interclub" friendly factions of the different "Iceberger" clubs at Brighton and I learnt something this morning, not realising that three clubs actually exist. The Peninsula Pirates compete against one of these clubs every year, for coveted "Champions of the Bay" bragging rights. As a co-co-co-co-leader of the Peninsula Pirates this year (there are four of us holding the reigns), we're in "all hands on deck" mode, organising our next interclub challenge with the Brighton Icebergers at Mornington in April. Of course there will be bacon.

And so, with my best result of year under my belt today (sans wetsuit, too, I might add), I show gratitude for the sport I participate in, for the playground I frolic in, for the friendships that have continued to grow and strengthen, for the elation and for the solace it's encircled me in. It has been my saving grace, my clarity, my balance and my passion for another year.

For photos with returned color (with only a couple of black and whites for contrast) see:[email protected]/sets/72157651427010796/

Created with flickr slideshow.


Till next time,

See you at the beach,

Nicole Chester

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Big Brutal Swim - with a few past English Channel swimmers in the fleet.

60+ laydee surveys her season

I decided to set a goal of 100km of events swum for 2014-15 swimming season. Unfortunately, with the rescheduling of the Dardanelles crossing this year and the postponement of The Bloody Big Swim, I won't make 100km, but will achieve 84 event kilometres, which is not a bad effort for a Victorian where the season is shorter and events not as prolific. Have had to look out for the longer swims (2.5km to 5km) and where possible back to back them with a 1.2km, as well.

A few of the most memorable experiences on this journey have been

  1. Swam the Big Brutal Swim (5km) in Lake Padarn (Snowdonia National Park, Wales) where it was so cold swimmers had to come out and re-enter the water every 45 minutes or so to be checked for hypothermia.
  2. One weekend travelled from Melbourne down to Portsea (bottom of Victoria) to swim the 4.5km Pier to Perignon at midday Saturday, grabbed my gear and drove back to Melbourne and then straight onto Cohuna (Victorian- NSW border) to swim the 8km Bridge to Bridge event at 9:30 Sunday morning. Net result was I travelled from one end of the state to the other and swam 12.5 km in a 24 hour period and such different conditions with so much tidal assistance down south that the 4.5km was over in 45 minutes while the northern river 8km took 2hrs 13mins.
  3. On another weekend, the Cerberus Half Moon Bay swims were on the Saturday followed by an across the bay Port Melbourne to Williamstown swim on the Sunday. Unfortunately, the latter will be etched in our memories as a result of the untimely death of a very much loved, extraordinarily fit and competitive local swimmer.
  4. Last weekend I became a Ripper (crossed the somewhat notorious Rip from Pt Nepean to Pt Lonsdale) on the Saturday and backed up with the 2.5km and 1.2km events at Bonbeach on the Sunday.

For those of us in Victoria there was a degree of sadness as the season drew to a close last Sunday, but at least I have one last event plunge at Noosa in May!

Jacque Ross

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The Rip Swim - an experience of a life time, says Jacque Ross, and the two women here are both now 60+ Rippers!

Rangitoto Swim

This is the swim the Kiwis train hard for and I fortunately happened to be in Auckland on the weekend of the 4.6km Auckland Channel swim. Unfortunately, for me, Auckland is 3 hours ahead of Queensland which meant registration for me was at 2.30am!

However, I was amazed at the number of people who do this swim, there was apparently 500 who registered although I think the number was closer to 300 on the day with 275 completing the swim. There were two categories, non-wetsuit or wetsuit. Of course I went the wetsuit along with 80% but the water temp was around 20-19 degrees so non-wetsuit would have still worked.

We were ferried over to Rangitoto Island (an old Volcano island) at 6.30am local time and at 7.30am were told to jump into the channel off the jetty. There were some spectacular dives! And as we were all just bobbing about the horn went and we all looked at each other and then just began our swim.

I have completed two 3k swims in the past year so this was my longest and without being able to train in a wetsuit back on the Gold Coast I knew I was in for a different swim. I kept time for the first 3k and being taken a little sideways along with a few other swimmers around the 3.5k mark. They had a big can at every kilometre so navigation was easy and there was always another swimmer close by. Water safety were in canoes and if a canoe nudged you that meant you were off course.

The water for the whole swim was jade green and really clean (for a busy harbour).

Personally I wanted to complete my swim in 1 hour 30 minutes. I wear a gps watch so my time ended up at 1 hour, 43 minutes for 4.7km (100 meters longer) so I was pretty chuffed with that given I was in a wetsuit and my shoulders and neck were really starting to hurt around the 4km mark.

The welcome party was small and nobody on microphone which I am not used to. That was the only disappointing part about the whole event. The awards etc was very casual as well.

I ended up 5th out of 10 women in the 40-44 age group. I was pretty happy with that and had a lovely celebration dinner with my husband that night before hitting the pillow big time!!!

Jane Whittred

Controversy Corner

What do you think about your swim this weekend? Let's have a discussion... Click here

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