Sunday, 17 February 2013

Murray Rose Malabar Magic Ocean Swim 2013: that's what friends are for

Malabar holds a special place in my heart because it transports me back to my childhood and card nights at Merle and Vic's place, just across the bay from the sewage treatment plant.

In the early '70s, old Malabar was a bit on the nose. Back in the day there was no underground pipe to carry the waste 3.6 kilometres out to sea.

If the wind blew the wrong way the maladorous fumes would rush up the hill and through the front door of Merle and Vic's tres fashionable red brick home.

Not that my sister and I noticed the smell that much. We were too entranced by Merle and Vic's modern split-level home, especially the lilac bedroom with matching lilac ensuite. I know I wrote about this in my post about this swim last year but it's worth mentioning again.

The plush toilet seat cover, the crochet doll toilet roll holder, the vanity surrounded by Hollywood lights, the lavender-scented cushions, the satin doona. Fifty shades of lilac replete with the lilac room of retro kitsch.

My parents played cards with their old friends Merle and Vic and George and Maree, who lived with their daughter Janmaree in Cronulla.

The nights were always full of carousing, and us kids would harass Vic, George and Dad to form a circle so we could all sing and act out Pickin' up Paw Paws, Put 'Em in Your Pocket.

Later in the evening, after half a dozen too many sorbets, the blokes would sing the traditional New Zealand song Pokarekare Ana. I don't know if I'm getting all sentimental but I'm sure they did it in a three-part harmony. It was always a good indication that they were three sheets to the wind. 

At the time, my family lived on the North Shore. Visiting the southern suburbs was an adventure made even more exciting after my dad had knocked back several beers before moving onto the chateau cardboard.

That we made it home in one piece after card nights is a miracle. My sister and I rolled around seatbeltless on the back seat of the car as Dad somehow managed to find his way, hooning along Anzac Parade with no fear of being pulled over for RBT.

We never thought, "Dad's drunk and he shouldn't be driving", because that's what everyone did back then. Sends shivers along my spine.

Many years ago Merle, Vic, George and Maree moved on to the Great Spirit in the Sky, so my nostalgic ramblings are tinged with sadness.


That brings me to today. I find myself on my annual visit to Malabar for the Malabar Magic Ocean Swim after a night of pouring rain in the Sydney Metropolitan Area. I'd registered for both swims but this morning I woke up feeling like I'd been pushed through a blender. Nothing worked properly and my right arm ached.

I checked the Beachwatch website, which advised against swimming at Malabar because pollution was likely at all southern beaches. This always happens after rain. I'm not sure if it's run-off or 'run-back-in' that causes the problem.

Packing my earplugs in my backpack I drove through town and up Oxford Street, which is gearing up for Sydney Mardi Gras 2013 with banners celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex pride. What's intersex? Not in-to-sex but intersex. Is it when you're into all of the above? Or something to do with intersections? Must Google. And what's the difference between gay and queer? More Googling.

Will I ever get to the bloody swim?

I arrive finally and get the princess parking spot next to Cromwell Park, which leads to Malabar Beach/Long Bay. FYI, down the road a bit is Long Bay Correctional Centre so named after this pretty stretch of water. 

There weren't any shady characters out and about today.

I take that back. I strolled to the beach in time to see Mr Very Big tip toe over the rocks and out of the water at the end of the 1km swim.

Then I scoped the rest of the unlikely lads - Mr Mild Mannered, The Scotsman and another ring-in who apparently has links to Shropshire. The Lawyer was noticeably absent, probably tied to a chair by his disgruntled partner.  Not another bloody ocean swim!

I'd missed the 1km event but was up for the 2.4km distance at 10am. On the way to the starting line Mr Very Big asked The Scotsman to explain the emblem embroidered on the front and back of his budgie smugglers: a gryphon with three stars above it.

Turns out it's The Scotsman's family's coat of arms. Are you serious?  *Shakes head* The people you meet in this swimming caper.

Mr MM, Mr VB and I were on the startline together; the younger Scottish lad with a proud history ("No one famous, all my ancestors are rubbish") went off before us.

I started the swim in no mood for a swim. As usual, I had to put a lid on the head talk. It looked as though all my green-capped peers were dashing ahead.

About 100 or so metres out in a straight line towards the first can the swell picked up. I hadn't noticed any chop from the shore but there was enough to interrupt my stroke. I tried the straight-arm drill that we do in squad but found it tiring.

Instead, I focussed on sighting the first and second cans. The organisers had kindly tied a balloon to the second one so it couldn't be missed. After I chucked a right turn around it, the scene and my mood changed.

The next can ahead of me was on a diagonal, and the swell seemed to be gently heading in that direction. Or maybe the pain killers I popped before the swim were starting to work and everything just seemed easier. I reached that can with relative ease and began to enjoy myself.

The water temperature was 22 degrees and the ocean floor clearly visible. I glimpsed tiny fish dashing around the rocky reef and weed undulating like a hula skirt. I blew out perfect bubbles and sucked in the sky and the headland with every breath.     

The way back in was arrow straight, riding the swell with every surge forward. To be in it, a part of it, was empowering.

With renewed energy I stretched out for the shore. Often I can't see the finish but today I had the white blow-up pergola lined up.

I had total control of my destiny. I charged towards it and then... just inside my line of vision I saw it. Or did I sense it first?

A presence. Larger than life. Mr Very Big.

I couldn't believe it. I identified him by checking out his budgie smugglers. And I'm not talking about the contents. Our squad's name is printed on the back of his scungies. It could be none other than Mr VB. His right royal self pushing me to my limit.

He pumped up the volume and I rose to the challenge. We were neck and neck. No, that's not true. He was a half length ahead of me as we reached the shallows. My stroke rate had increased to a ridiculous rate and I was losing. I considered grabbing his leg but it didn't really matter who crossed the line first - we were that close.

I dragged my body over the small rocks, stood up and tippy toed out of the water. And there he stood. Waiting for me, hand outstretched.

I entertained the thought of running past him.

But it's not every day that Mr VB offers the olive branch. It was a beautiful, chivalrous gesture.

And so it came to pass that we ran across the timer pad together, hands linked in victory.

Now I have to be nice to him - at least for a couple of weeks.

Irish bastard*.

*Backstory: Mr Big said he'd seriously considered participating in the inaugural 900 metre Sydney Skinny Ocean Swim at Cobblers Beach, Middle Head. It started at the same time as Malabar. That would've truly been a sight to behold.

Ranking out of 10: 9.5
This swim raises money for Rainbow Club Australia, a charity that gives children with physical and developmental disabilities the chance to learn to swim or to just experience the amazing theraputic qualities of a watery world. One of the club's most avid supporters Murray Rose was the force behind the Malabar Magic Ocean Swim. Tragically the former Olympic swimmer lost his battle with cancer last year.

The swim is a wonderful and inclusive event in reasonably calm waters.

Yesterday peaches were up for grabs after the swim.   

Any gripes: One of the sponsors was an energy drink company - get rid of plastic and any sort of drink that's the wrong colour. I know, sponsors are hard to come by. Just ask the organisers of the Sydney Harbour Swim that was to take place on March 10 but had to be cancelled because of a lack of sponsorship.


Therese said...

Great story Shayne - love the reminiscing about cards at Merle and Vic's and the drive home. Enjoyed the swim too.

Shayne said...

Thanks Therese. Love that you love to hear about the olden days. Rose coloured glasses methinks!

Anonymous said...

thanks for share...

Shayne said...

No worries.