Bondi to Bronte 4 December 2011

Start at Bondi

I had wanted to swim in the famous Bondi to Bronte swim but had never done so. The swim starts at Bondi Beach and swims south to Bronte a distance of around two and a half km. It is held in early December each year and attracts a large number of competitors. This year there were 1,885 finishers to the race.

My fellow squad members told me that if I could handle the Wedding Cake Island swim at Coogee, then this swim would be no problem. So I entered the race. I was quietly confident as I knew my training had made me stronger, and I had swum most of the course before with my squad.

I arrived at Bondi beach to be greeted by a warm sunny morning and a gentle offshore breeze. The weather forecast was for a strong southerly change with rain and increasing swells expected around lunchtime. As my wave was scheduled to be the last one off the beach at 10.30 am I was hoping the change would be late. But as I did a warm up with the squad we felt the change hit. It instantly got colder, and the ocean started to change from mirror smooth to choppy.

The organisers had advised that as the water temperature was above 18 degrees (18.1 officially), competitors who chose to wear a wet suit would not be eligible for prizes. By this time I had put my gear on the truck to be transported to Bronte, so I could not retrieve my bag. I had no choice but to swim with only my speedos on.

By the time my wave time approached, the wind had increased in strength and the chop increased. I thought about walking to Bronte instead of doing the swim, but I thought it would be warmer in the water. The last two waves were combined due to the deteriorating conditions.

My wave started and I reluctantly went in the water. I told myself to take it easy as I had the strength to make the distance. I was the last swimmer through the marking buoys just off the beach, but I soon started to pass other swimmers. The chop was heavy and we were swimming straight into an increasing wind. This was going to be a test of my swimming stamina.

Part of the course off Bronte

Each stroke was a struggle as the waves and wind pushed me around. This was so much more difficult than swimming in flat open water. I remembered that I had to shorten my stroke to reduce the buffeting from the chop, but it still felt like I was swimming in a washing machine. Every stroke was a struggle to try to keep the body in a straight line and to keep moving forward. At times I could feel the chop pushing my legs away from me. I even found lifting my head high enough to get a breath quite difficult at times.

I approached a buoy off Tamarama Beach and it seemed to take forever to swim around it due to the impact of the swell and wind. I had caught a number of swimmers in earlier waves and I thought that they were struggling big time. I learnt after the race that a large number of people had to be rescued due to the combination of the adverse conditions and cold water. Luckily I was carrying a bit of extra weight so I was insulated to some extent.

I finally turned at the last buoy off Bronte, so there was not far to go. I was worried about the rip at that beach and the impact of the increasing swell on the shore break. Fortunately as I approached the wave zone there was a lull and I even managed to catch a small wave into the beach. I had made it. I saw other competitors wrapped in thermal blankets, and I felt sorry for them and the water safety people. Just after I finished the clouds opened and it started to rain.

The finish at Bronte

I was quite happy that I had completed the swim. Other people I spoke to who had done the swim many times said this was one the toughest swims they had ever done. Usually they advised the swim was beautiful and a joy. Today the joy was in finishing.

My time was slow just over one hour. My nemesis Michael had swum eleven minutes faster, but he made me feel better by saying that I had the very worst of the conditions. My memories of a top ten finish in my age group at Coogee the previous weekend were distant, as I finished 64th out of 112 in my age group  and 1150th overall. Yes I had struggled in the conditions, but I had made it. My stroke despite the conditions was strong the whole way. I now had to work on making adjustments to the conditions, and to try to increase my speed whatever the course presented. I was faster in flat water, but I knew that I would have to expect choppy conditions more often.

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