Sunday, 3 April 2011

Stanwell Park Ocean Challenge 10th Anniversary Swim: battered and crumbed

At Coalcliff before the swim
 Let's get this straight. In surfing terms, one metre high is the measurement from the top to the bottom of the wave, not from the ocean floor to the top of the wave. 

Today at Coalcliff and Stanwell Park, the swell was more than one-metre high and both beaches experienced strong north-running currents. 

If you're not familiar with the location, Stanwell Park is on the NSW south coast, 55.95 kilometres from Central Station in Sydney. It is supposedly a northern suburb of Wollongong though, by the looks of some of the architect-designed houses that dot the coastline, it is more of a weekend-getaway destination for well-heeled Sydneysiders.

Stanwell Park: pretty as a picture

My brother-in-law Davo and I arrived at Stanwell Park nice and early and caught a shuttle bus south to Coalcliff, the start of the swim. The surf at both beaches looked formidable. The 434 registered swimmers all looked faster, fitter and stronger than Davo* and I.

Like, there was one chick there, I swear she was 50-something, wearing a two-piece 'Cronulla' cossie that showed off her tanned, washboard torso and pierced belly button. 

But, as I said to Davo, we are outstanding in other ways. We are into music, good food, culture, wine and other stuff - like more wine/beer. We don't have the time to waste on honing our bodies into finely-tuned swimming machines. Like, some people have nothing better to do.

Off my rant and back to the swim. It got off to a dubious start when a light plane flew over and the swim's commentator announced that the area was officially "shark free". The shark plane did another fly-by and gave another thumbs up. Collective sigh of relief.

Then, on the start line, waiting for our 50+ wave to enter the surf, we noticed two things: 
1. Most swimmers in the three earlier waves struggled to get out through the breakers. The waves were rolling in with little respite, forcing swimmers back to the shore.

2. At the starter gun, several swimmers from each wave peeled off to the far right and ran into the surf near the ocean pool and rocks. We noticed the breakers weren't as relentless at the far end of the beach and those swimmers got beyond them quicker than their struggling peers. The only disadvantage was that the clever swimmers then had to swim diagonally out to the first buoy. 

A local standing next to Davo and I said he was going to take the far-right route because it wouldn't be as tiring as battling the surf. We decided not to follow his lead and moved further to the left, almost direcly opposite the buoy. For me, this was a bad choice. 

It took me ages to get past the relentless breakers that surged forward like an army to stop me from reaching the first orange buoy. I finally got there and chucked a left. This took me on a journey past the magnificent cliff face, though I had little time to enjoy it. I was too busy looking up to see where the buoys were. 

I don't  care what the diehards say, there should have been more buoys marking the course. Before the swim, the commentator said there were "several" buoys as guides for the swimmers. I'm sure I missed seeing at least one. Also, when I swam past the cliffs I noticed a lot of people turning the corner to swim into the beach at Stanwell Park when they should have kept going straight ahead (I wonder if many people accidentally cheated or whether the support crews caught them out). This just goes to show there should have been buoys closer together so swimmers could see that they had to keep swimming north. 

When I finally came around the final buoy I swam towards the beach, lulled into a false sense of security by the gentle push of the swell. 

Closer to the beach, I turned around to see a massive wave breaking behind me. I ducked under but it was so powerful that I lost control as it dragged me down. All I could see was white foam. I scrambled up for air to see another wave bearing down on me. I went under again and was held down.

Up for air a third time. I'd almost had enough. "F..." and under I went again. When I came up, without my goggles or swim cap, I could feel the firm sand under my toes. 

A swimmer closeby who'd also been tossed like a salad, said: "Are you OK?"
I answered: "I'm alive." 


I followed in my swimming friend and ran along the beach to the finish line feeling like a champion.

I finished in the bottom 100 placegetters - again. 

But I have lived to tell the tale. And that's what counts.  

Davo finished a little after me, looking worse for wear. Later on, when we were showered, comfy and feeling like heroes, he said: "I'm glad I did it."

An ocean swim like this one today is always better after you've done it.

*At least Davo has an excuse for a less than impressive time. He has just returned to ocean swimming after a three month break - literally. He fractured his wrist in January and has been on the piss since February!      


Anita Joy said...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - you are crazy :)

Shayne said...

Thanks Anita.

Richard said...

That was a tough swim, Big surf at both start and finish beaches. Well done to finish.
I used the rip near the rocks at Coalcliff to get out quickly, but it was a little scary - waves were breaking in shallow water over a rocky bottom on that side of the beach.

Shayne said...

That's the way the locals went. But I'm not a local and not used to swimming as many tough swims as you.