Monday, 2 February 2009

Who's a happy shark then? The Cole Classic goes corporate

Any ocean swimmer worth his or her (sea) salt will be aware of the controversy surrounding the Cole Classic, now run by the Fairfax publishing group, held on Sunday, February 1, 2009.

The main thrust of the debate is that Fairfax is using the Cole as a cynical money-making exercise and that most of the profit goes back into the company's coffers.

The event's entry fee has increased by $10 on last year's. I paid the early-bird fee of $45 x 2 for my eldest daughter and myself to swim in the 2km event and another $45??? (can't remember) for my youngest daughter to swim the 1km event - a minute ago I went to the Cole Classic website to check on the cost of the 1km swim, but as far as I can see all references to entry fees have been removed! Participants who registered after January 9 paid $55.

Fairfax argues that it needs the extra cash to cover costs. It gives $30,000 to Manly Life Saving Club, but I'm not sure what happens to the rest. There are organisational costs and other bits and pieces, but it seems to me that there's also a tidy profit for Fairfax.

What else do you expect from a private equity mob? It's not the sharks in the ocean we poor swimming sods have to worry about, it's the ones on land!

If you want to read more on the Cole controversy/(alleged) coverup I would strongly advise you to go to, which has been bombarded by feedback from disgruntled punters.

My experience on the day was a melange of the good, bad and reasonable. Like last year, the location for the 2km swim was moved from South Steyne with its rough conditions to the sheltered cove of Shelley beach, a 15 minute walk away. This tiny space had to cater to almost 4000 competitors, their friends and family. It was a tight squeeze.

The 1km event ran reasonably smoothly from around 9am, but the 2km was a shemozzle. The media was out in full force and a Channel 9 chopper hovered overhead (helicopters always remind me of Apocalypse Now).

The fun really started when the official explaining the course got it wrong so it looked as though we'd be swimming an extra kilometre! The elite group started late (well after 10am) and during their swim two of the white buoys were spirited away in an inflatable!

For the next 15 minutes or more the inflatable whizzed around dropping the buoys back into the water and then hauling them out again! My main concern was that with the buoys removed I would have no guiding beacons back to the beach.

While all this was going on one wave of starting swimmers collided with another group returning to the beach. At one stage it was absolute chaos.

By the time the start gun went off for my wave, the 45-49 year old women, I was resigned to my fate. Nothing could be worse than my experience at the Big Swim and at least I didn't have to battle the unforgiving surf (I know, I know, some ocean swimmers thrive on a big surf but not moi).

The water was refreshing and amazingly clear considering almost 4000 greasy bodies had swum through it. I spotted some dazed and confused fishies on my way out.

There was chop, for sure, but I found the swell so much easier to cope with than the week before. Probably the most difficult part of the swim was having to swim directly into the wave-like swell. I swallowed a lot of water and for a little while I panicked when I lost sight of my peloton. Once back on track, I ploughed to the shore and came in feeling I'd 'done good'.

Afterwards the volunteers on the barbecue at the Manly Life Saving Club only charged me $2 for a sandwich with two fried eggs. A bargain!

However, I'm not so convinced that I got value for my $45 entry fee. And I'll wait until December to decide whether it's worth it in 2010.

Until then, there are other 'funner' swims to contemplate. This weekend it's the North Bondi Classic. Now that one was a bugger last year, but I reckon ocean swimming is a lot like childbirth. You tend to forget the pain and do it again.

Just keep swimming!

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