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South Curl Curl-Freshwater Swim, April 26
Head2Head Swim, Black Head, April 19

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Glistening Dave was at South Curly, although he didn't realise gun-up was 9am, so he missed the start.

Runouts

Some swims are known for their run-outs. Avalon, North Bondi, Manly, Bronte come readily to mind. South Curly's is a ripper (pun unintentional, but it fits). In his briefing, the swim awgie warned punters: You have two choices: start to the right (in the run-out), or straight out, which would cause you grief. Straight out, he warned, took you over a bank, through a break and put you into a northerly sweep. Starting to the right put you into the run-out by the pool.

Looking at it from the surf club, which offers an expansive, picture-window view of the break, it looked to be over rocks: you could see the swirling as the swells swooshed over them. Well, it wasn't really over rocks. We worked our way out over a shallow bank until it suddenly deepened, where we dived in, and whoosh!

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Into the run-out. They listened to the briefing.

Diving into a run-out induces a surreal sensation: you're heading somewhere fast without trying to: the current does the work; you just lie back, enjoy it, take in your surrounds, and the current does the work. It's like weeds. We always reckon the definition of a weed is something that grows without you trying to make it do. You bob along through the run-out, for the water is always bumpy in a rip. But it's benign, because you usually float through a break that doesn't break, or breaks more gently, because the water is deeper than on the banks around it. A run-out actually is a rip, but it's by a rock-shelf or some artificial structure, in this case the South Curl Curl pool.

A run-out, like a conventional rip, is the fastest way to sea. If it's there, use it.

South Curly pool

The network of ocean pools in NSW, many of them built during the Depression, are an unsung, positive element of community infrastructure. There used to be a NSW gummint web page devoted to the ocean pools along the coast that listed them sequentially, with a pic, often one that looked as if it had been taken by a public servant who'd been asked to take it but had done so without bothering to get out of the car.

We couldn't find this page when we looked for it just now. We did find a privately-operated site, nswoceanbaths.com, which does much the same thing, only better. Its operator is working her way along the coast swimming 1,000m in each pool. In some of them, you wouldn't do this without a drink or lunch or something in between, because it could mean a lot of laps.
Along the coast, the ocean pools form the nucleus of sub-communities within their communities: morning swimmers; daytime swimmers; tea-baggers; swimming clubs; learn-to-swimmers; curious passers-by. They all have their own history and personalities. Our friend, Fifi la Dobber, who lives above South Curly beach, used to be a regular morning swimmer at the South Curly pool, where regulars are particular about their lanes at their regular times. One day, Fifi told us, a heavy sea washed a shark into the pool. Some were discouraged, but some kept swimming. To get out on such flimsy grounds might cede the lane space to an interloper.

As we arrived at South Curly on swim day, club races were taking place: good, old style club races, with starts on handicaps. The event we saw was well handicapped, with five of the six swimmers finishing abreast.

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Surf clubs in prime positions

South Curl Curl surf club sits atop the promenade above the beach, typifying the prime positions that surf clubs have along the coastline. This is at once a blessing and a curse. Surf clubhouses generally sit on public land, which means that as soon as a club wants to improve its facilities – expansion is right out of consideration – it runs into local objections to the alienation of public land and to surf club members having privileged use of public space. South Curl Curl did up their clubhouse a few years ago, whereupon a fire that broke out overnight destroyed much of the interior.

Surf clubs offer some of the best aspects on beaches. South Curl Curl is a case in point: it has a picture-window view over the beach and the break. Standing at the window prior to swim start, we fell into a chat with Bondi awgie Nick Nezval. There was a nice break out in front, although our judgment was that it was better for boogie boards than for body surfers. Nick disagreed. There were 20 minutes before the briefing, he reckoned, and that was time for a wave. Off he went. We watched him from above heading down onto the sand, fins in hand. That would make a difference, we reckoned. As little blighters, we'd never considered fins for body surfing. We wuz too poor for fins.

A few minutes later, we were drawn back to the picture window by punters exclaiming at the ride of "that bodysurfer": Nick had caught a wave from the back all the way into the inner gutter, and was still doing stuff ("manoeuvres") when he dropped off. That was just the one that we saw. Clever lad having fun.

And we're bound to mention this: Mrs Sparkle caught a wave at the finish, the longest body ride she's ever had on a wave. She ran over a bloke when she caught it, got kicked in her lower body, and passed, she reckons, several other swimmers. "And I even had to take a breath, and I didn't fall off it," she said. And without fins. She puts it all down to her coaching as an urchin by her monoped Uncle Idris at Newcastle's Nobbys beach.

south curl curl swim 150426 02Swimming in autumn

On a good day, it's glorious; on a wet day, you wonder why you got out of bed. That said, no matter the air temp – and South Curly swim day was cool – the water is warm, and feels the warmer, the cooler the air. Further upside is that cool days in autumn and winter usually feature an offshore breeze, which means the sea is smooth, the waves stand up proudly, spray blowing off like the tail of a comet, and the water is clear.

Swim day featured all these things, except the water clarity. The sea is recovering still from the rains earlier in the week. Indeed, we saw a tweet from Beachwatch on Sat'dee morning reporting that both North Curly and South Curly were closed due to "pollution". We called the South Curly awgies for their prognosis; got only a voicemail, so we left a message, which was never returned. Disappointing.

But the break was majestic; there were some good rides out there. And the sea was smooth. It's easy to fall into another world when you're swimming along in water like this. It's an opportunity to work on your stroke, without the disruption of chop, and to sort out some of the thornier issues of life, such as where you might find that new wine you liked, now that your local has sold out of it.

Just a couple of starting moments when we swam over jimbles: little, round stingers with transparent parachutes, with four tentacles dropping from each corner. They can be nasty, but the two we saw along the rockshelf were half a metre down, so out of the way.

Water safety

The pitcher window view over the beach from the South Curly surf club offered a panoramic view of the rescue Malibu boards lined up for water safety staff. Impressive, the number and the organisation. We were impressed, too, by the number of more mature lifesavers who were turning up to claim their boards for water safety duty.

We're often disappointed in swims that fill their water safety rosters with kids. Yes, yes, it's terrific to get the kids involved; to give the younger ones a go. But it's not terrific to rely on them overly. Your water safety staff should be a balance between fitness and maturity. It's not a question of enthusiasm; it's a question of judgment and presence. Enthusiastic kids don't have the gravitas, and often not the judgment, to deal with often bulky, stubborn grown-ups in difficult situations. Attention flags, too. You're more likely to see younger water safety staff clustered in groups having a chat, their minds often not on the desperate punters at hand, than you are with grizzled, older surf lifesavers.

The staff at South Curly seemed balanced. The crew we saw on mals along the route had maturity, while those at the finish, in the break at Freshwater, were younger, inventing new uses for torpedo rescue booees as boogie boards.

We usually hang wide in a swim. For much of the reach along the rockshelf from South Curly to the point off Freshwater, the marker booees were distant specks, we were so far out. But much of the way along, we were shadowed by a water safety chap. He wasn't intrusive; he was just watching us, escorting us, probably on the grounds that we were the farthest out swimmer in the peloton. Eventually, we stopped and explained to him that we usually swim wide and that he shouldn't worry about us too much. We had our markers, and other swimmers deserved closer attention. Full marks for his diligence and his care.

Marker booees

We reckon you can always tell which swims are organised by non-swimmers, non-ocean swimmers, at least, by the marker booees they use. They are the swims marked, say, by conical booees, with the fat bits at the bottom. Or by booees coloured British racing green, or royal blue. And booees that lie over on their side, rather than standing erect and proud. Booees that seem perfectly visible from the surf club window, or from an IRB, often are invisible when you're in the water. It's a very different perspective sticking your head out of the water in a rolling swell disrupted by chop than from standing up in a rubber duck. The important thing about a marker booee is that it should be visible to swimmers. This means, the fat bit, brightly coloured, needs to be at the top, for swimmers can't see the bit at the bottom, particularly in a rolling swell. Conical booees fail in this regard.

The perfect booee is cylindrical, standing bolt upright, coloured fluoro yellow or orange, at least 1.5m tall.

We have no idea of the swimming experience of the South Curl Curl awgies. All the booees we saw at South Curly, were all the perfect shape. But there were British racing green, royal blue, pink, and yellow, all of them on their side, on a grey day on which many of their colours melded into the background.

It's not hard to get a booee to stand up: you just place a weight immediately below it, like a little bucket of concrete, or a length of chain. A booee on its side is much harder to see than a booee standing up. And a booee of a colour that mimics its surroundings – the sea on a grey day – is much harder to see than one of bright fluoro colours. Even pink is hard to see against a grey sky, and white, and light blue. We'll leave British racing green and royal blue to your imaginations.

Post-swim

One of the great traditions of ocean swimming is the water and fruit when you come out at the finish. Some swims lay on lavish spreads that make you feel like Nero. Some lay on nothing. South Curly had apples, good, crisp, Pink Ladies; plenty of them. And plenty of water, in free, take-home water bottles supplied by their sponsors, Bendigo Bank, Freshwater franchise. At home, we have about a dozen of these Bendigo Bank water bottles, all at any time topped up and ready to go to the pool or the beach. At times, such as this morning, it seems these water bottles have given birth overnight and are crowding out the wine. But it also seems that utilitarian water bottles are something of which you can't have too many. The Bendigo ones are a soft plastic with a valve at the top. They're good ones. And so were the apples.

south curl curl swim 150426 04

Back to the start

It's a journey swim, so we finish in a different place from the start. This means you have to get back to the start for the preso, the chattings, and all the culchural activities. On as grey, autumn day, we have the choice of our preferred walk over the rockshelf at Freshie, up the stairs above the pool, and around the clifftop. Or, the quicker route, straight up the hill, behind the Diggers, and down the road. We take the latter. We had our towel waiting for us at the finish, but it's cold, and damp.

The longer route is to swim back, as several did, including our friend, Fifi. This is a bit of a tradition at South Curly. Schlepping back along the road, we spotted two groups of returnees avoiding being wet by the rain in this way. The previous organiser, Bryn Russell, used to swim the course himself, then back, before race start, so he would have first hand experience of conditions.

Back at the club

The Big Men of Little Music are playing, The Fukers, which springs from "Freshwater Ukelele Ensemble", led by someone called "King Fuke". Actually, it's not just "someone". King Fuke is Mikey Dobrijevich, a shiftful cove who finds it hard to sit or stand still. He's also one of the only Fukers who doesn't have his own microphone. He snuck up on one once; now we understand why.

The Fukers brighten up the day with their island shirts and their jaunty set. This is a sub-peloton of ageing farts who clearly have a lot of fun with their gigs. Oh, that we can all be having this much fun at this age doing what we really like doing, rather than what we feel we have to do in order to keep going. We're lucky to be a bit like that ourselves.

Value

The smorgashbord Barbie is included in the entry fee: fresh bread, well-barbie-fried eggs, sausos and bacon, with sauce from those squishy squeezy bottles. And seconds when you want it, all for $30 if you entered online, making this one of the best value swims in Sydney. The previous weekend, Black Head awgies gave us a buffet lunch: salad platters, choice of barbied chook and sausos, and rolls, all included in the entry fee, also $30 online, making it, we reckon, the best value swim on the coast.

south curl curl swim 150426 05

Who else was there?

Anglea van Boxtel swam from South Curly to Freshwater... Click here

Bleak day at Black Head

black head swim 150419 600 01

Well, yes, it was a bleak weekend weather-wise, leading into the storms of the subsequent week. But it wasn't a bleak place. Black Head is a beautiful, quiet seaside community. The roll call of local sponsors of random prizes are testimony to the community nature of the event.

Here's how we and General Grumpy saw swim day...

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Jim Donaldson to-the-point...
Logistics
  • 3.5 hours drive from Westleigh via the M1, turn off at Failford Rd, then north towards Hallidays Point and Blackhead.
  • Local humour included an official sign "Holidays Point" on the main road not far from the venue.
Conditions

Local wildlife included ducks camped in a water hazard, to be traversed as a quicker route to the parking area.

Weather was overcast with rain threatening... No issues here for ocean swimmers.

Water conditions good, water temperature low 20s and small swell.

The break had a large body of red weed... Locals confirmed that the red weed (think algae bloom) has been hanging about since late last year.

The Event
  • 700m and 1500m
  • The Event is well supported by local businesses with a great event T-shirt as a memento.
  • Sydney travellers included Clive Dowdell and Richard Murray. Phil Noakes from Coffs attended (we both commuted in similar time to the event).
  • For the mathematicians in the ocean swims fraternity, check these results... Brock Van Kampen(15) dominated both events in the male categories while Carolyn Turnham (51) the ladies.
  • The Forster Turtles social swim group in attendance and their participation acknowledged by the race starter.
  • It was noted that at least two of their tribe are male. Not sure if that's the case with the Sunrise Sisters back in Sydney Town!
  • A free lunch was provided and much appreciated before the trip south.
  • A well organised event.

black head swim 150419 600 02
Where there's a swim, you'll find Turtles.

Controversy Corner

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

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