Swimming with cobbers at Forster - This one's a Port Jackson shark, about 1.5m off Main Beach on Mondee morn.
Club to Club Swim, Forster
North Steyne Swims... Click here
Shark Island Swim Classic... Click here
Five Bridges River Swim, Hamilton... Click here
Autumn is the best time to swim
Forster Main Beach, Sat'dee, and the Turtles enter the water for their morning frolic.
Longer swims offer something that shorter swims can't: they allow you to work on things. At this point, your mind, if it's like ours – heaven forbid -- might turn immediately to "things" of stroke. Another classification of "thing" is life. Life and all its issues.
This is particularly the case in conditions such as we experienced at Forster. We've done this swim half a dozen times now, or more, but these were the smoothest conditions we'd experienced. It wasn't the lack of swell, for there was some, if ever so slight. It was the combination of the lack of swell with the lack of wind. What this meant was that there was minimal chop and virtually no backwash from the rocks to complicate the chop and to throw out your stroke. This allows the swimmer to focus on their stroke, and we know all of you do.
One Mile Beach.
For our part, we've hardly swum meaningfully since before Xmas. We've done swims at weekends, of course, and occasionally during the week. We've swum in a public lane at Ryde alongside the Sunrise Siblings – they're Sunrise Sisters, but our presence makes them Siblings – but that "training" is slightly less disciplined than under the impressive Coach Lyall at Leichhardt, where we did the only significant session since the departure of Coach David from Crummy Drummy early in the season. That said, we've been working on a few things, mainly grab, pull-through, and finish, involving the positions of our hands, fingers and arms.
We love drills in training. Coach Sandra used to say to us, "Drill is breaking the stroke up into all its parts, practising those parts, then reassembling it". We do that constantly, although without Coach Sandra, the overall effect is limited. The second phase of any session we do unsupervised by a coach is drill: over 500m, say, we'll do a different drill going up the pool, then a form of scull-kick back, so we're working on stroke components and working our hips and legs through kick. We'll start off with catch-up, then single arm, then a push drill, when we focus on stroke finish, then finger trail, then our favourite, "Popov", to finish off: six-kick single arm catch-up with finger trail recovery.
Everyone laughs at us doing this one – although not as much as when we do backstroke Stop-Check-Change, which reduces the Sunrise Siblings to fits of the giggles, egged on by our greatest supporter, Mrs Sparkle – but we love doing it. In a sense, it's all of those drills rolled into one.
Frill-necked Ocean Swimmer. Very Stra'an.
We've long been aware of the deceptions of stroke: you think you're doing it right; it feels like you're doing it right; you're doing it right in your mind's eye; but you ain't. An example is entry cross-over: while we know well that our hands must enter the water in front of our shoulders, often they're coming across and entering in front of our heads. We know this in a swim (race) because we emerge from the water with "stroke defect rash" on the ball or balls of our shoulders, caused by the rubbing of an imperfectly shaved chin as the arms cross over in front of the head. It can smart. The upside, however, is that we can feel it happening, so it's a constant reminder of what we need to think about and to correct.
Cross-over is one of the most common stroke defects. As the arms cross in front of the head, the shoulder drops, the body twists, and the streamline is destroyed. When the shoulder drops and the body rolls, the arms come across ever farther as they pull through, so the grab is happening on the opposite side of the head, and the farther the arm pulls, the wider it extends beyond the body's centreline, and beyond the streamline. Coach Sandra also used to say that the pulling arm should not cross the centreline of the body. But if you start already across, then there is no way you will get it back. Cross-over makes it impossible to rotate, grab and pull through correctly.
You get rotation when you extend your leading arm ahead of your grab: if you enter in front of the shoulder (the shoulder on the same side of the body as the entering hand), then you stretch it out just a little, a tiny delay to the grab as you extend, with an almost imperceptible drop of the hip beneath, giving you enough rotation to roll your head to breathe (you don't need to turn your head deliberately to breathe if you rotate and roll); you grab by dropping the leading pinky; and you pull through with a crooked elbow, so that you're bringing your strongest muscle, your bicep, into play, pulling your hand slightly cupped and below the elbow, and pushing back from the vertical into a finish by your thigh, with a slight flourish, to give run between strokes.
Between strokes, the most common defect is the wide-arm, or round-arm recovery, popular amongst ageing boofheads and surf boat rowers who've been doing it this way all their lives and they're not changing now for anyone. The corollary of this is to swing your shoulders laterally, and your body fishtails, also destroying your streamline. This is what finger-trail aims to correct: to recover with a high elbow, supple wrist, finger tips trailing through the water close to the body.
You can't do any of that if you cross your arms over on entry. It's the complement to wide-arm recovery. Cross-over destroys your streamline. So we must, best through drills, practise better entry, pull through, finish, and recovery. All drill is aimed, after all, at minimising disruption to the streamline position -- the torpedo, as the kids are taught -- so that your stroke can be as efficient, and the least inefficient, that it can be.
Many punters think they are separating their hands at entry, but the reality is that they're crossing over. Along with boofheads' recovery, it's the most common stroke defect. The response to correct cross-over initially is to exaggerate the separation. Coach Lyall says put your hands in at 11 and 1. Coach Charm, on the other hand, says 10 and 2. We figure if we aim at 10:30 and 1:30 we'll get it about right.
So, in training, we're thinking of hand entry at 10:30 and 1:30; grab and pull through, flourish, and recovery. All those things that, considered individually, makes you realise that swimming, when broken down, can be more complicated than golf. But if you're going to improve, you need to practise all its components, and practise them repeatedly, continually. As much as strength and fitness, this is what a coach should be all about. A coach who ignores technique is not a coach; they are a time server.
One, two, three, GO!
And this is what Forster is all about on a day with little swell and almost imperceptible breeze. You can practise all this stuff in the pool til the cows come home, but it means nowt when you get into a rolling ocean. You need to work on it in the sea.
The official distance of the main swim at Forster, the Club to Club Swim -- because it starts at Cape Hawke surf club at One Mile Beach, and finishes at Forster surf club, on Main Beach – is 3.8km. Observant swimmers, especially those with some concept of pace, and/or with a GPS watch, will notice that it is longer, generally in the early 4kms. Correct. So on a day like today, you have just over 4km to practise all that stuff we've been talking about above.
And that's what we did: 4.4kms of entry, reach, rotation, grab, pull-through, flourish, recovery... Goodness gracious, we loved it. If you think about it along the way, you have plenty of time to practise all those elements. How many strokes in a 4.4km swim? And how different can each of those strokes be? If you know how many strokes you take, you'll know how many variations there can be.
Another drill is to count your strokes over a given distance, say the length of a pool. Then try to reduce that count by emphasising different aspects of your stroke. We've never been much good at this. Really good swimmers can get into the 20s and low 30s for a 50m lap, whilst most of us in the rank and file can hope for the high 30s, perhaps, or the low 40s at best. But if you're doing, say 42 strokes per 50m in a pool, then 4.4km requires 3,696 strokes, other things equal. That's a lot of opportunity to practise your stroke.
Remember, though, most pools are freshwater. The ocean, on the other hand, is salt water. Salt water is denser, so you generally swim faster with greater buoyancy, more power, pull and push, and fewer strokes.
Isn't this fascinating!
Southern Eagle Ray, we think. Mondee morn off Forster Main Beach. There were lots of them.
These are the kinds of things you can think about in a swim such as Forster's.
We're out in the country, too. We love this time of year, when we get to visit places such as Forster. We missed South West Rocks the previous weekend, but we're hoping to get to both Culburra on Easter Sat'dee and Pacific Palms on Easter Sundee. We'll miss Mollymook and Shellharbour the weekend after Easter, but we're planning to attend Black Head, just north of Forster, the weekend after that, and we're booked for Byron on the first weekend in May.
This is the best time of year to swim. It's autumn. Gone are the oppressive, sharp summer heat, the prevailing nor'-easterlies, the constant threat of blueys, but the water still is warm. There's a good chance of a gentle offshore breeze, which calms the sea, and the water settles. You can get the clearest water you will swim in all season, particularly at a country swim. And you swim with buddies. There are myriad rays around Forster. Last time we swam here, two years back, we swam over a school of rays, about 100 of them, cow nose rays, we think, swimming in flock. This time, several punters reckon they swam over a Port Jackson shark, and a small grey nurse, just by the reef off the finish at Main Beach. We swam on Mondee morning, too, and we certainly swam with a Port Jackson and several Southern Eagle Rays.
Granny Sparkle. Thanks to budgysmuggler.com.au
Places like Forster, too, offer fringe benefits, such as oysters from Wallis Lake, fish from the local co-op, diverse waterways – the beach and sea on one side, and the lake and estuarine waterways on the other – making them paradise for diverse water sports, everything from surfing and ocean swimming to SUPing, kayaking, etc. And there are pubs where you can sit in the TAB all afternoon and play the gee gees. Paradise.
And we noticed another thing, too, that made this such a lovely swim: on the way around the course, we had pleasant chats with three water safety laddies. The thing that struck us was that they all were mature age gents with experience in local conditions. Were they all the same bloke? Possibly. When you've been going through the kind of thought processes as we described above, for 4.4km, you can't ever be sure. They all blend into one after a while; they all look the same. But all the water safety crew we saw were mature-age surf life savers, the kind of characters who've been swimming in this water all their lives. It makes such a change from swims that fill their water safety roster with kids barely out of Nippers who lack the experience, the gravitas, the judgment of the mature surf life saver. It's terrific that the kids can help out, but they must be balanced with experience. Mind you, we used to row surf boats. What would we know?
All done. Time for a snooze.
David Sawyer was there...
Angela van Boxtel swam at Cronulla... Click here
We had a team swim for us down the river at Hamilton - (l-r) Jenny Stark, Brent Foster (event winner), Andrew Stevens, and Bruce Smith.
Team Furseals (l-r) Wayne Annan, Pauline Mills, Roger Soulsby and Linda Collard, all contenders in the fos series NZ.