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Thoughts of a long distance flyer: Eli Ball

But why?

It's been just over a year since I started swimming long distance butterfly, and in that time I've covered just over 100 km of it in open water. Yes, all of it butterfly. No, I'm not mad. And I don't intend to stop. There's something very special about butterflying over ever-increasing distances.

ball eli 150924 03I first came across the idea of long distance butterfly in 2013 while preparing for a relay crossing of the English Channel with a group of friends (we all swam freestyle). I stumbled on a story about Vicki Keith, the first person to butterfly across the English Channel. I also spent some time in contact with Julie Bradshaw, Secretary of the Channel Swimming Association, and the second person to achieve that feat. There are others scattered around the globe; a 2010 Wall Street Journal article described long-distance butterfly as the sport "for the athlete who has it all". I thought: why not give it a go?

It certainly has a lot to offer.

ball eli 150924 02To be clear, long distance butterfly is much slower than its pool-based counterpart. I've had to adapt the stroke. I breathe every stroke, and my stroke-rate hovers between the 21 to 25 s.p.m mark with a 1.5 beat dolphin-style kick. One of the more challenging aspects of the stroke is the discipline needed to maintain a steady and consistent stroke without going overboard.

When I'm in a pack at the start of a race, it is very tempting to go as hard as I can to get out into the lead pack, but if I do that then I'm likely to blow-out within the first 500 m. Being able to swim butterfly from an early age has also been a significant advantage for me. I don't think about getting my arms over each stroke: it just happens.

I have a longer-than-usual glide at the end of each stroke, and take full advantage of my natural buoyancy. Sighting is also an inherent part of every breath, so I don't have to worry about it and I get a lovely full view of water-scape in front of me each time. My body is symmetrical; there is no twisting and turning as there is with freestyle. If I was to sum up what it feels like half-way through a 3 or 5 km swim in one word, believe it or not that word would be "relaxing"!

Last season I swam just shy of 60 km, and during the off-season I've been keeping busy with regular swims with the Bold & Beautiful Swim Squad at Manly, and have covered further 50 km with them since June. Never freestyle, and certainly never in wetsuit, of course! My longest single swim has been 5 km (on three occasions), but this coming season I'm hoping to double that at least once. I still get plenty of odd looks too. The number one question I get asked is "Did you swim the whole thing butterfly?" Number two is "Why?" My answers are always that same: "Yes" and "Because it's fun!"


I also butterfly for a cause. I have been raising money for the veterans charity, Mates4Mates. To help out and donate... please click here

If you would like to follow my every growing butterfly antics, you can also check out my Facebook page... Click here

Eli Ball


Swims open for the new season

It's late September, and already we have online entries open to most NSW and Queensland swims leading up the Xmas, which falls this year on December 25. It's a far cry from just a few years back when there were just a handful of swims prior to Xmas, and just a smattering in November. Nowadays, November and December are jam-packed, and even October offers an array.

Swims open for online entry through now include Forresters Beach, Narrabeen, Collaroy, Cronulla, Balmain (Dawny), Coogee, Toowoon Bay, and North Curl Curl in NSW, and Burleigh Heads in Queensland.

Mana online entries close today...

Be aware, online entries to the Mana Fiji SwimFest close today, Friday, September 25, at 3pm. This does not affect those who have booked their accommodation through If you're travelling otherwise, and you need to enter the swims separately... Click here

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The Dawny pool at Balmain. Online entries to Dawny on Sunday, November 22, are open now.

Lies, damned lies, and the fos tallies

What a response there's been to our story in our last newsletter on the fine ocean swimmers tallies (if you haven't seen it... click here ... and scroll down, too, to read the responses in Controversy Corner). Easily, one of the two strongest responses we've had to any issue in the lifetime of, which goes back to Xmas 1999.

We're mulling those responses now, and we will come up with a new way of managing the tallies in season 2015/16 so that they meet our original intent for the tallies and offer incentive to every single punter to swim, swim, swim.

Must get out more

In the meantime, the genius behind the compilation of the tallies, our staff propeller-head, Colin Reyburn, who clearly has not enough to do, has been fooling around with Excel again, and now he's come up with a set of tallies covering the last ten years.

Yes, you heard that right: how far have you swum in formal events over the last ten years? Who's swum the farthest? And perhaps more interesting, who's swum most often?

And the leader is...

jon hainesThe results may surprise you. The farthest distance, with 548.9km over ten years, is.... Jon Haines, a Wessna-Stra'an.

And who's swum most often...

Jenny StarkThis may surprise you, too... Jenny Starke, an Aucklander, who's swum in 225 events over that same period.


With Colin in the engine room running around the inside of the barrel, we've now published on lists of the most desperate ocean swimmers in Stra'a and New Zealand over the last ten years. There are two versions of each list: The leading 5,308, and the leading 1,000 (to make it easier to browse the real distance makers). (We're restricted to the top 5,308 by technical issues. Colin does have other commitments from time to time, such as earning a living, and those technical issues made it too time consuming, and fiddly, to go further at this stage. However, considering the Top 5,308 include, at 5,308, a swimmer who has done 11.3km over 10 years, we figure we're covering pretty well most of those who've swum regularly over that time.

With statistics, you can demonstrate and prove pretty well anything you like. For example, based on distance covered, the tallies lists last year's fine ocean swimmers' tallies "winner", Mike Cochrane, at 8th with 448.3km over 114 swims. But the vast majority of that total came in one season: last season (307.8km from 68 swims), and that because Mike, between jobs, set himself a goal of seeing how much he could tally if he did everything he could.

In contrast, at 9th, one spot after Mike, sits Sydney ferry deckie James "Tacoma Jim" Goins, with 444.47km over 149 swims. But Jim has hardly done a formal swim over the last three years. He's still swimming, turning out regularly but informally with the Frosty Nuts at Manly, but he doesn't often enter the formal events. Neither is more or less valid than the other, of course, but formal events give us the only reliable empirical measure available. We have no idea how far the Frosty Nuts swim each morning or over the course of a season. All we know is that what they get up to is extreme.

Further, while the list is dominated by swimmers from the West and from NZ, as well as from the usual suspects region of NSW, it's influenced by the preponderance of longer swims in the West, and the multiplicity of mid-week events in Auckland.

Haines has done his 548.9km from 157 events with an average 3.5km per event. In 2nd place, Richard Murray, from NSW, has done 534.8km from 176 evnts at 3km, while 3rd, Geoff Carter, from Auckland, has done 522.57km from 222 events at 2.4km.

Wessna-Stra'a has the 19km Rottnest Channel Swim each season, and a series of swims run by WA Swimming that regularly offer 10km and 5km. In most other areas, anything more than 2.5km is uncommon. Many of the Wessna-Stra'an rankings, then, include average distances of 4km to 6km. Last season's 2nd in the fine ocean swimmers' tallies, Caitlyn James, did 152.7km from 20 events, average 7.6km.

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North Curl Curl, the 3 Points Challenge on December 5.

How many?

If you sort the tallies according to the number of events done, which surely is as valid a measure as total distance, the leader is another Aucklander, Jenny Stark, with 225 events, with 483.88km at an average 2.2km. This reflects those two mid-week series in Auckland, which offer sprint distances on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the season. Second is Carter again with his 222, and 3rd is our own Queen, Mrs Sparkle, with 219 events for a total 502.27km at an average 2.3km. Next is quite a ways back at 197 events.

And it all means?

These tallies tell you little reliable about the state of punters' swimming now. They give merely a snapshot of a section of the sport over that 10-year period. And they point to those who, over the past decade, have really put into the formal side of the sport. We're reminded constantly, however, that there are thousands of mug punters out there who swim distance every day, but informally, just with their cobbers or by themselves at the beach.

But we can't get a handle on them, for precisely that reason. They don't clock in, or log off. The fine ocean swimmsers' tallies produce merely a snapshot of one section of the sport.

But they're interesting.

Do you have a comment on this? We'll publish it in Controversy Corner. Have your say... Click here 

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Yes. It is.

The operators of Heron Island Resort are offering deals to swimmers who'd like to spend a few more days on the island than just the weekend of the Great Barrier Reef Swim. Come up early, or stay on a bit. Talk to the resort and find out your options... Check the link below.

Punters ask us often about Heron Island... What's it like? What's the sea life like? Is it as good as people suggest it is? Of course it is. But now we've put together a photo gallery of our favourite pics from the Great Barrier Reef Swim at Heron Island over the past couple of years to give you a better idea of the event... Click here

The Heron Island weekend is much more than a swim. It's a long weekend, with swim activities scheduled on each day from Friday through Sunday. On Friday, there's the open water swim clinics, with sessions in the hall and in the water, run by Coach and Olympian Graeme Brewer, as well as a course tour and "Swim Back" to give you a feel for the water, which is very different from the break on your local beach. On Saturday, we have the 1km swim around the wreck in the Heron Island harbour. Then, on Sunday, it's the 2.9km swim around the island. There's lots of party-like activity surrounding all the swimming and plenty of time to swim and mooch over the reef, and to explore Heron island, which is a national park. It's also turtle laying season, so there's a pretty good chance the waters around the island -- and its beaches -- will be active with turtles laying or preparing to lay. It's a privilege to be amongst this.

Swimming around Heron Island is very different from other swims in Queensland, because the island is right on the Great Barrier Reef. The water is so much better, so much more interesting than swimming inside the reef. It's clearer and cleaner, and teeming with life. It's a cathartic experience.

Travel days are Thursday and Monday, with the weekend running from October 29 through November 2.

We've been approached by a single bloke swimmer who would like to share accommodation on Heron Island with like, because it would be easier on his budget. If anyone is interested in following up this opportunity, email us... Click here

Rooms are filling on Heron Island. More info and to book... Click here

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Our brushes with royalty...

We've posted our report on our first inaugural oceanswimsafari to Tonga -- Our adventures swimming with whales... Check it out now... Click here

Swims open to online entry on

Forresters Beach (Sat, Oct 17)... Click here
Mana Fiji (Thu-Sat, Oct 15-17)... Click here
Burleigh Heads (Sun, Oct 18)... Click here
Narrabeen (Sat, Oct 31)... Click here
Collaroy (Sun, Nov 8)... Click here
Balmain (Dawny) (Sun, Nov 22).... Click here
Cronulla (Sun, Nov 22)... Click here
Coogee (Sun, Nov 29)... Click here
Toowoon Bay (Sat, Nov 28)... Click here
North Curl Curl (Sat, Dec 5)... Click here
Coogee (Sun, Apr 10)... Click here


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