Monday, 29 April 2013

Cronulla Shark Island Swim Challenge 2013: Ms Fivestar takes a trip back to her youth in The Shire

The pond at South Cronulla.

Ms Fivestar used to hyperventilate whenever she returned to her birthplace, The Shire.

But time has healed many wounds and she can now visit the family home (not far from Miranda Fair shopping centre) without experiencing the feeling of dread that used to descend upon her every time she drove across the border - over the Captain Cook Bridge.

The Shire evokes strong emotions in people.  

Those who love The Shire really LOVE it.

It is GOD'S OWN COUNTRY. They live there because it's a great place to bring up kids; it has wonderful beaches and the peaceful Port Hacking estuary with its numerous bays.

It offers the quintessential Aussie lifestyle to those who can afford it.

People move to The Shire to live the dream. It's bursting at the seams with tradies and builders who've "done good". It's suburban and bronzed and blond(e) with lots of filler.

Snags on the barbie. A cold one in one hand and "cardonnay" in the other.

There's nothing wrong with that...  

Then there are those like Ms Fivestar, who choose to move on out. She split as soon as she started earning a wage and vowed never to return. Too much history. 

Call me perverse, but I thought it was appropriate that I do my first ever Cronulla swim around Shark Island and take Ms Fivestar along for the ride.

She was more than happy to drive us to the southern beaches suburb of Cronulla, the location of the Shark Island Swim Challenge 2013.

After we arrived at South Cronulla Beach at 9.45am, Ms Fivestar pointed out one of her teenage drinking haunts, the Cronulla RSL which is up the road from the beach and Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club. In the photo (above) it's the building covered in scaffolding.

From the age of 15 she used a fake licence to get into the "rissole", where her drink of choice was Curacao and lemonade at 40 cents a pop.

I suggest you read Puberty Blues or watch the excellent TV series adapted from that short novel to get the idea.

By the time I registered, the 1km swim that started at 9.30am was almost over. I usually enter both swims but I've been sick with an awful chesty cough for the past two weeks so I decided to give it a miss and conserve my energy for the 2.3km event at 10.30am.

The day was a confection of perfection. A sky so blue you could dive into it, water so clear you could see right to the bottom.

There was no surf to speak of, though, like a fortnight ago at Coogee, the occasional shore dump made an appearance. By the time the main swim got underway, even that had disappeared.

As with Coogee's Wedding Cake Island, Shark Island is not an island but a rocky offshore reef.

Unlike Wedding Cake, Shark is located around the corner from the main beach. You can't see it from the beach but there is a fantastic coastal pedestrian path, The Esplanade, that meanders all the way along (what I guess is) the Port Hacking Estuary 'headland' that separates Cronulla from the National Park. You get a great view of Shark Island along the walk. And there are tiny swimming beaches all the way round to Bass and Flinders Point.

Have a look at the map:

There were 510 participants in the main swim.

Two buoys were set out on the course near the corner of land where we were to turn right.
I couldn't see the rest of the course, but it was well marked with big beach balls also laid out as guides.

From the beach we could see two buoys. The start-line organiser warned us not to swim out to the closer orange buoy but to the yellow buoy, which was just beyond it.

The wave of swimmers before us hadn't listened to his instructions, and most headed for the orange buoy located more to the right of the course. Those swimmers who went to it first then had to veer left and cut across to the yellow buoy. Precious moments lost.

The orange buoy was the one we needed to sight on the way back in.

What's with all the big watches?

The men and women in my 50+ age group started together and, as usual when men and women go in together, it was a melee. Arms and legs floundering all over the place. What can I say about 50+ men? They're as bad as their younger counterparts. You think they'd learn but they bash and thrash and any vestige of etiquette flies out the window as they race against time.

Good grief. Whaddya want? A medal?  

I wasn't feeling the best so it seemed to take forever to get to the first buoy, which had initially looked rather close. Maybe it was a little over 300 metres from the shore? Maybe further.

The water temp was a pleasant 21 degrees (my guess) as I turned right at the first can and followed the other orange caps. For a long while, I felt like we were in the shallows. The ocean floor seemed close - an easy dive down to touch the sand.

This swim was a visual treat. Lots to look at - rocky reefs, swaying reeds (50 shades of green) and schools of tiny fish having their Sunday disrupted by an unruly bunch of eejits out to prove they still had it.

That was the good bit. The bad bit was the argy bargy. And the massive watches some of the blokes wear. During the Coogee swim, one caught me on the arm and I started bleeding.

What's wrong with relying on the electronic timing devices we all wear on our ankles? I would've thought they were accurate 99.9 per cent of the time.

I think it's on par with the cycling craze. Middle-aged male cyclists flaunt their prowess by gearing up in fluoro gear and flash headwear and ride mega-expensive carbon fibre bikes.

In the ocean swimming caper it's harder to show off. An expensive pair of Italian goggles and nice budgy smugglers isn't enough (and you can't wear flashy swimmers because you don't want your mates thinking you're some sort of namby-pamby whoosy boy). That's why the big watch has become popular. It's another way for the male of the species to assert himself. Look at moi. I'm fast. Like really.

Enough rant.

Lots of swimmers seemed to be coming at me on an angle and I got trapped between quite a few males wearing big watches. It doesn't make for a pleasant outing when someone is crawling over the top of you.

Later on Mr Smith of the Smiths of Taree said he was forced to give a 'diagonal swimmer' the elbow. It gave him great pleasure.

The swim back to the finish line was pretty straightforward. Because of a lack of swell, there was no push back in so tired swimmers, like myself, lost momentum.

One of the lovely things about ocean swimming is that anyone can do it. At Cronulla, the oldest competitor was an 85-year-old woman.

Afterwards, Ms Fivestar and I went to a cafe called The Nun's Pool, which has a view of the ocean from the front verandah.

We then walked along The Esplanade and sat down under a shady tree near a beach called The Oaks. This was where Ms Fivestar's family used to come on a Friday night and eat the freshly cooked prawns her dad had bought from the local fish and chip shop.

Growing up in The Shire was a painful experience for Ms Fivestar but she does have some good memories. And time has softened the harder edges of those grainy old memory snaps.

We had a fun day out in Cronulla 2013. And then we left The Shire via The Captain Cook Bridge.

The Oaks.

Shark Island is somewhere to the left, covered by a high tide.


Anonymous said...

So when are you writing Puberty Blues the next generation?
If I had known Mr Smith was doing Cronulla I would have joined you all there.

Shayne said...

Oh dear. The next generation is a sad tale of misspent adulthood, unrequited love and broken dreams. Pretty run of the mill.

If you'd hung out with us you would have heard a lot more of Ms Fivestar's stories.

Therese said...

Laughed out loud at Mr Smith of Taree being forced to give a 'diagonal swimmer' the elbow and loved all your observations of male swimmers with big watches!

Shayne said...

Thanks Therese. Mr Smith is no nonsense sort of bloke. Those big watches are dangerous.