Tag Archive: wildlife


Saturday training was another glorious day. After extending our swims around the south end over the last couple of weeks, Coach Zoe decided it was time to take it to the natural conclusions and swim from Bondi, around to Tamarama and back.

Brilliant! It’s been about a year since I last did this swim, and I have come a long way with my swimming since then. Last time I did it, I kind of struggled, ended up swimming by myself most of the way, and was so tired by the time I got there I hopped out and walked back along the path to Bondi.

Here was my chance….

Except not. Unfortunately, although I rarely make to many plans for Saturdays around swim time, I had a birthday lunch to get to. I’d figured it would be OK, since I needed to start tapering on my training anyway before next weekend’s big swim. Anyway, it takes longer than the standard hour (for me at least) to swim there and back, so today was not going to be my day. Ah well, there’s always another day…I’m sure my chance will come around again.

Not that it meant there was no swimming fun to be had. I swam out with the group to the point where we regrouped. I then headed in with some of the newer swimmers who weren’t yet feeling up for such a long swim, and we stuck together as a group and swam in towards the South end of Bondi.

Proving that the ocean always offers something different, we swam over a massive school of fish. I don’t mean a lot of fish swimming around, but literally a horizontal wall of medium sized grey fish, clumped together and stretched out for metres and metres. I managed one snap…it’s not a great one, sorry, but you can kind of see just the sort of density of wildlife I’m talking about.

After the initial puzzlement of trying to figure out what was going on, we all stopped just to have a look at the mass of life below the surface. They seemed completely unperturbed by us, and soon enough we set off towards the beach, and the school of fish continued on to wherever they were headed.

I love that the ocean can still floor me with awe and wonder, even after nearly 3 years of swimming in it as much as I can. It feels more like an adventure than a sport, sometimes, and that’s one of the many reasons I love it.

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Wow, I do tend towards the complimentary on here, I admit it. I love this whole ocean-swimming kit and caboodle, and I tend to get a bit excited.

This Saturday, though, It was a touch overcast, and I was tempted to stay in bed, but I try to think particularly of the Saturday ocean sessions as my non-negotiable staples.

So I got out of bed and I did the Saturday double. And I’m so glad I did. Even if I was to exaggerate it wouldn’t be enough to explain just how mind-bogglingly amazing it was out there.

The first session was a swim safari around the south end to McKenzies. Not the point, the inlet around they way. It’s about half way to Tamarama without the difficult an and/or out. There were plenty of fish around and lots to see, but the real highlight was this guy:

Object larger than it appears in this photo!

Object larger than it appears in this photo!

He swam directly underneath me, and he was pretty damn big. Because of his size I originally thought he was an eagle ray, but a bit of research seems to indicate he was probably a big common sting ray. Regardless, he was amazing. So graceful and quicker than you would think!

As the second session began, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. Perfect for a journey swim to the North end! How lucky am I to get to do both swims in the same day?

Well, if I thought the massive ray and all the fish were spectacular, the north end was something else agin. The water was literally swarming with all manner of fish. It almost felt like swimming with the schools. There were so many of them and they were all moving so fast that they were impossible to photograph properly, but this horrible picture gives at least some concept of how many little fishies were letting us share their space.

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Glorious!

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Despite my best intentions, the ongoing home renovation saga and the inevitable post-public holiday workload, I missed training all week this week.

Thanks god for Saturday mornings, and training this week did not disappoint!

The water temperature at the moment is so stunning. It really makes swimming such a pleasure.

The session was my second favourite thing (after body surfing!) to do…a swim safari!

Today we headed to the South end, which we do less commonly than the North. I think it’s a little more technically challenging (Wikipedia just told me that ” While the northern end has been rated a gentle 4 (with 10 as the most hazardous), the southern side is rated as a 7″), and the south end is where the surfers tend to be, and that can be a challenge for us (nobody wants to get hit in the head by a surfboard).

Like the North end, there is a famous rip that can give you a sweet ride out if you know what you’re doing. It’s known as the “backpacker express” because of the Backpacker’s hostel across the road. Or the numbers unwary backpackers who have taken a ride on it! If you look closely at the first picture of us getting our briefing on the beach below, you can see the “Dangerous Currents” sign in the background…and if you look even harder at the second picture you can actually see the rip itself…the deceptively calm looking spot where the waves aren’t breaking.

The joy of a rip, though , for ocean swimming, is that if it’s going in the same direction you are, it gives you a significant boost in speed. And if you know not to swim against the rip, when you’re coming back in, that’s a significant gain.

Once we were out in the rip, we did a swimming tour of the reef along the edge of Bondi Icebergs. There were loads of fish around. Schools of surface-swimming silvery garfish parting around the swimmers, tiny stripy things darting around, a massive blue groper darting out from under a rock to give me a bit of a start, and all manner of speckled and coloured fishies sharing the warm waters. Glorious! (I tried taking photos, but the sky was a bit overcast and they were moving pretty fast…not sure my blurry shots add anything so I’ve left them off).

We did our swim, into the “boot” (a boot-shaped rock), and out and around to the point, back again, and then were faced with two options…

First option was to swim out to the other side of the rip to get back in. Benefits: Safe, flatter swim, chance of catching a wave in. Risks: Surfers!

Second option was to shave along the very edge of the reef inside the rip. Benefits: Shorter distance, lots of fish, more to see. Risks: Running into rocks.

The group split. I had a think about the high tide and caught a flash of Zoe’s orange rashie heading down along the reef, and decided on that option. And it was completely worth it.

I swam with Fiona (I think everyone else took the surf option) and we skirted the reef pretty easily most of the way, surrounded by fish. There is one kind of hairy bit, it’s a narrow channel between two shallow rocks, where we had to swim in single file. It was pretty fun, though, as coming out the other side there was a massive school of fish right underneath you.

The risky option paid off, as well, as we were back on the beach well before all but the fastest swimmers who took the other option.

Ah, such a good session. Good for the soul!

Never let it be said that I don’t do things wholeheartedly.

After the decision on Friday to call a personal end to the travel, bad weather, general laziness and minor illnesses that have kept me from training (and racing) as much as I’d like, I have been back to training. 3 times in 24 hours. As you do.

After a very odd Friday swim, I made it for the double dose on Saturday morning. The water was still definitely on the chilly side, but didn’t seem quite as bad as the night before.

The first session was a lovely point to point…just what you need when the water is flat and you need to keep moving to stay warm. It was crystal clear and the water was a beautiful emerald green…nicely offsetting my hands as they got wrinklier and whiter in the cold!

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On the beach it was lovely, though…sun shining as we finally got some decent weather on a weekend.

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Something our coaches took full advantage of…

4SEASons Conference Rooms....best meeting centre location ever!

4SEASons Conference Rooms….best meeting centre location ever!

 

 

 

 

 

Plenty of these guys around….always is. Polarised goggles are the key to being able to spot all the interesting things down on the bottom and swimming around.

 

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All in all a particularly lovely (if chilly) day to return to the my Saturday double ups.

It also helped that the first session was a point to point, and then by the second session some helpful person had put out a couple of cans.

Since you should never pass up the opportunity to train with a real marker to swim around, we did circuits out and around. Nice to have something different for the second session!

Cowabunga!

Oh my. I think my eyes are a bit leaky. Must totally be an allergy or something. It couldn’t be this:

27th version of these. Someone cared enough to go through 26 different attempts at helping another living creature who needed it. And didn’t give up after one, or two, or 7 or 15 or 20, or 25….

In the immortal and eternally universally truthful words of Dory…Just keep swimming.

I came across this article online. It really resonated with how I’ve experienced people react to learning about the sort of swimming I do.

The bulk of the article goes like this:

When open water swimmers tell others what they do, they often are the recipient of the following question:

Why?

Non-swimmers want to know why another human would subject themselves to swimming marathon distances, or in the cold water, or with sharks, or subject themselves to jellyfish stings, currents, and waves. Or why someone would willingly swim at night or without a wetsuit?

Why do you do that? Why would you do that? Why you?

And many times, swimmers cannot eloquently articulate why they swim in the open water. They know instinctively why, but it is hard to explain their motivations succinctly and clearly to non-swimmers. Tell another marathon swimmer that you are doing the English Channel and they say, “Great! When? Who is your pilot?” They don’t ask why. They instinctively know why.

In contrast, tell a non-swimmer that you are going to swim 20 miles in the cold ocean at night with sharks and jellyfish and they ask, “Why?” But even with a reply, non-swimmers remain puzzled. They often continue their inquiry of you, “Aren’t you scared? Worried? Won’t you be tired? Cold? Stung? Eaten?” In general, the risk-oriented response from non-swimmers is completely different from the approach of encouragement, support and wonder from swimmers. Instead of facing questions of why, swimmers face statements grounded in optimism from other swimmers whether the planned swim is 1 mile or 20.

I loved this. There’s a great video on there looking at the more philosophical general concept of “why”, but this article inspired me to think about why I do this sport.

I’ve gone into detail about the how and what the process was of finding myself in this sport, so here’s a list of my top 10 reasons why I do this crazy thing.

  1. Ocean swimmers are nice people. Most people get into it through charity events or programs, and it just doesn’t be the sort of activity that attracts dickheads!
  2. I keep surprising myself with what I can ask of my body and have it actually do.
  3. It’s different every single time you go out there. My attention span isn’t always that good, especially for exercise, and yet I’ve been doing this for 2 and a half years now without a break and I love it more than ever.
  4. Swimming is very meditative. Whether I’m pushing myself for a particular pace in the pool, focussing on a particular part of my technique in a drill, or fighting my way through big surf, swimming is an activity that is by nature very “in the moment”. You really can’t be stressing about the bills or that unfinished piece of work on your desk when you need to concentrate on fundamentals. Like breathing. And not drowning.
  5. As far as exercise goes, one where I don’t have to be hot and sweaty the whole time works pretty well for me.
  6. It keeps me out of the pub. (Most of the time.) I can’t imagine being in surf with a hangover and wold never do it to myself. Since I like swimming more than I like drinking, it’s a pretty simple choice, and one that makes me feel good and doubles the health benefits of the activity.
  7. I feel brave and strong and capable out there. I do something regularly that makes most people at least a little nervous.
  8. I feel a little smug sometimes. Especially in winter and in horrid weather. I don’t back down or hit snooze on the alarm clock. I get up and go to the beach and give it a go. I’ve pretty much never wished I’d stayed in bed, and some of those days have actually turned out to be the most fun and memorable.
  9. There are some pretty amazing things to see out there. A whole world under the water…rays and fish and aquatic plants and rock formations. Even just the light dappling the sand moving around with the water, and the breaking of the waves above you. It’s beautiful.
  10. I just love being in the water. It feels amazing…the weightlessness, the buoyancy, the gliding and the diving. It’s just a little bit like magic.

You know, in case you were wondering.

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Ah, Friday swims…best session of the week in my humble opinion! Last week was definitely no exception. I missed Tuesday training stuck late at work, and then didn’t make my Wednesday Can Too session (booo) as some idiot knocked over my bike where it was parked for the day and broke the clutch lever…making it a little difficult for me to get there. Anyway, a trip to the parts shop, a screwdriver, a shifter and a youtube video later and I’m back on the road and was back in the water. Yay!

I was running quite late getting out of the office so raced across and threw my gear down and literally ran down to the beach to join the group for the swim. We headed out on a swim safari to the boat ramp at North Bondi, then out and around Ben Buckler with a test of nerve to see how far we would swim out as a group!

I love doing this swim, it’s completely amazing to me to see that magical world under the surface, and it’s one of the charms of ocean swimming for me. I remember being so surprised, when I first took up this sport, to find all sorts of sea life flourishing in Bondi. I think because it’s so sandy in the middle, and quite small, and there had always been soooo many people, and I guess never having swum there with goggles and therefore been able to see properly, I had selfish(pun!)ly assumed there wouldn’t really be much in the way of sea life there.

How wrong I was!

Rarely is there a swim where I don’t see all sorts of fish and rays. At the North and South ends there are rocks and seagrass beds which are absolutely bursting with life. On lucky days I’ve seen whales not far off shore, and even luckier had a pod of dolphins come and swim with me, Jules and coach Kingy! On the unlucky days the place is overrun with bluebottles, and there are all sorts of jellyfish out there…luckily most of them seem to be the non-stinging kind.

Even though I’ve snorkeled heaps over the years, swum heaps in the past couple, and taken up diving in the past few months, there’s just something about being right in there checking out this completely different world that I never grow tired of. Luckily for me, I live somewhere where the geography and the climate mean I pretty much never have to!

Ahhh…I made it to Monday training at Clovelly this week and it was completely worth it. It was the end of one of those long summer days when plenty of people are still stretching out their holidays and spending time at the beach, so it was way more crowded than I’ve ever seen before!

It had its benefits, though. The sun was well and truly beaming and getting down into the water so you could see more than usual…and there was plenty to see!

The highlight was a Wobbegong Shark (not usually the bitey kind…unless you pull their tails!) which was unfortunately a bit deep to photograph, and then there were plenty of blue gropers include on big grandaddy one who was enormous!

I have to admit, I may have slacked off on training too hard for a bit as I was seriously tempted by the photo opportunities of all the fishies, and distracted by the sheer joy of being out there swimming in such a beautiful spot on such a gorgeous day!

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Woo hoo, it was an absolute cracker of a weekend, and it all started with one stunning Friday night swim. 

The sun was shining, the air was warm, the water temp was good, and the water clarity was as good as it ever gets. Even the tourists had come out of the backpacker hostels and were down on the beach having a swim.

We did a swim across to the north end, with a trip into the beach and back out halfway. Then it was one of the famous Friday Zoe’s swim safaris out the rip, to the boat ramp, then further out to the head.

It was pretty stunning…with such clear water and good light we had a great view of all the fish and the rays and the sea grass. It still amazes me that even at a beach like Bondi where the are always people around, and where that’s been the case for such a long time, that there is so much wildlife down there. It’s pretty special to be able to be out there interacting with that environment, and in such beautiful conditions it was a real joy to be swimming.

Sometimes it’s tough training, if there’s jellies, or you’re having to choose it over some other activity. But other days, it absolutely feels like something you do for pleasure, and Friday was most definitely one of those days!

 

Urgh, I don’t say it very often, but I really didn’t enjoy training tonight. I’d had a kind of weird day at work, and the weather was crap (really crap) and as much as I’d like to blame it on those things, I think it just came down to the fact that I was just in a bit of a mood. I like to believe it happens to us all. Crickets? ? ??? ??? Just me then? *Sigh*

Anyway, I’ve had the odd day like this before, and usually I know myself well enough to know that if I make myself go to training, all those feeling seem to melt away as I dive under that divine first wave, and the quiet and the challenge and the focus on just keeping swimming take over…and I have never yet had that not work.

Not until tonight.

Well, it was working OK. I was swimming without a wetsuit, as usual at the moment…it’s too much of a hassle getting the thing on and off, the water is warm enough I don’t even miss it, and I have enough trouble carrying around stuff for work, for swimming, and stuff for motorcycle riding (including all the required wet-weather gear for today) that it was the last thing I wanted to pack.

So the training session would have been fine, except for the bluebottles. Yep, the nasty things, good for nothing other than the dubious honour of being turtle-food (and not even terribly good at that) were infesting the beach. Out of the group swimming today (8 of us, I think) Allison was the only one who wasn’t stung, and the ratio of wetsuits to news was 5:3.

I’m a bit lucky, I suppose, in that I don’t actually seem to react too badly to stings from the nasty blue guys. I’ve been stung plenty of times at Bondi, and plenty of times as a kid (perhaps that’s part of it) and it never seems to be too bad after the initial shock of the sting. Tonight, however, I discovered that getting stung in the underarm with the tentacles wrapped down around my arm, over my shoulder, and up around my neck, is a touch more painful than in other places. In fact, it hurts quite a lot!

I pulled the perpetrator off my skin, and I did keep swimming for the rest of the session…which I’m kind of glad to admit didn’t go for the full hour tonight (something about the rain and the recurring jellyfish stings, perhaps?). I can’t honestly tell you that I enjoyed the rest of the session though, The thing is, once you’ve been stung, the rest of the session you do have a bit of a tendency to get a bit jumpy and edgy at every bit of seaweed, and every stray wave that laps at your toes. I know it’s all a bit pathetic compared to some of the full-on marathon ocean swimmers who get stung repeatedly by much nastier creepy crawlies than that, but I’d like to make the disclaimer that I’m saying I didn’t enjoy myself, not that I couldn’t have kept going if I’d really had a good reason to.

Anyway, we did call the session off a bit short, and then everyone pretty much split and headed straight home. I had an equally miserable ride home in the pouring rain and freezing cold, and was feeling more on the verge of a Claire Danes Cry Face than my usual post-swim sense of happiness, joy, wellbeing and elation.

After a hot shower to help with the stings and thaw out, one I was perched on the couch in my dressing gown and slippers I did have a bit of a chance to reflect on the evening. Even though it was one bad session, it doesn’t mean there were no lessons in it. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. It’s interesting to note that even when you love something, it’s never perfect all the time. Helps put in perspective the things that are perfect less of the time.
  2. Ocean swimmers are tough! And brave! We kept going several rounds even after pretty much everyone had been stung and was hurting, and not one person gave up, stopped swimming or opted out til we called the session (admittedly a touch early) at the end.
  3. Tough training days like this help keep things in perspective during races. It may be a little rough or not as nice a weather as I hope or somehow suboptimal, but I’ll still know I’ve survived worse!
  4. Bluebottles are actually kind of interesting creatures when you’re out of reach of their tentacles. My trivia-loving partner had a bit to do with that one when he got home. He knew, for example, off the top of his head that they are actually made up of two different organisms, and that where the bubble part of their bodies (the sail, apparently) joins their tentacles, they can change the orientation to ‘sail’ with the wind. Also, according to the combined efforts of the 4SEASons crew, I now know that they are popular food for turtles (and a few other things).
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