What a day. What a swim.
Take a look at the WARNING DANGEROUS CURRENT sign, which depicts a neat icon of a swimmer in distress. Today I witnessed (easily) two dozen ocean swimmers assuming this pose (in a more animated and flexible fashion than the stick figure) as two surf lifesavers in a rubber ducky and about half a dozen others in the water with flotation devices successfully returned them to the beach.
|The Babe Watch team raise money for breast cancer (I didn't say a thing!)|
The swimmers in that wave (40-49-year-old males?) had been hammered by breakers rolling in holus-bolus at the northern end of Avalon Beach. I was in the last wave (read: OLDEST) to enter the water and my cohort was held up by the action in the ocean as swimmers too exhausted to make it beyond the relentless sets gave up the fight and raised their arms like white flags.
I wasn't about to surrender. I'd paid $35 and driven for almost an hour in the rain to Avalon on the northern beaches. And I was surrounded by old codgers who couldn't wait to battle it out with Mother Nature. If they could do it, so could I (after all, I'm almost old codgerette material myself but without the beer gut).
They had sized up the logical entry point to the surf, which was off to the left of the start line where there appeared to be less foam and a rip that might help them get out beyond the breakers. The race starter also gave tips on the best way out, though he warned against swimming too far to the left because of the rocks.
|The ocean pool at Avalon. These cheeky grommets were jumping into the ocean at the far end of the pool. The surfers get out to the break this way, too|
As I ran into the surf on the starter gun, I felt like a player on the losing team in a game of rugby league/American football. Every time I picked up the ball and moved forward, some huge bastard picked me up and pushed me backwards. I'd get back up and go through the whole process again. This happened more than a dozen times as I ducked under frothing wave after wave. It was shallow on the way out for at least 50 metres but I couldn't get a foothold as each wave dragged me into a trough. Finally, I got through it and out to the first can about 500 metres from the shore.
It's an incredible feeling to make it to the back of the break. Maybe heaven is like this. You run the gauntlet to get there and when you make it all is calm and peaceful. I had a lovely time on my clockwise journey south around four cans (I think).
Then I had to get back to the beach.
Maybe hell is like this. As I swam in, I was sure I was checking my back. Obviously not. A surf lifesaver screamed at me: "Hey lady, look out for the wave!" I turned and stared into the jaws of death as the lip of the wave snarled at me in a blind rage. I swear to the Great Divine that the monster wave was two metres-plus high (nothing to a big wave surfer, a lot to a small woman).
Just in the nick, I dived under and into the bloody cauldron. I was gobbled up and shaken like a cocktail. As I held my breath and observed the hectic swirl of bubbles, foam and sand before me I thought: "Remain calm and consider which way is up."
I'm lying. I really thought: "Shit, you stupid bitch. This is it. You're a Gary Goner."
Then the wave finished toying with me and I bobbed up for air. I was ready for the next one. Fortunately, it let me off the hook and I managed to make it in and up the beach.
My numbers might be a bit out but over 600 punters turned up for the swim and 525 finished.
I felt euphoric afterwards. I done good, I done well. Mmm... not that well. My time isn't worth sharing but that's not the point. Ocean swimming is like life. It has many challenges that often have to be met head on. Avalon was challenging but also fulfilling.
The next swim is at Mona Vale, also on the northern beaches. I might not make it to that one as I'm heading up the coast to see Miss Hissy sail in a national regatta. You never know...
PS: The first swimmer home was Josh Beard, in the 15-19 age group, in 15 minutes flat. The first woman was the phenomenal 49-year-old Christie Krenkels in 17 minutes and 33 seconds.
Addendum on January 17: Ocean swims http://oceanswims.blogspot.com/2012/01/little-boy-in-turbulent-sea-at-avalon.html#comment-form reports that there were 53 DNFs (Did Not Finish) at Avalon, which comprises 10 per cent of competitors.