Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Isn't there another way ... sharkbait, hoo ha ha!"

If you want to be "sharkbait" at Lorne's annual blue water classic - the Pier to Pub - then there is "no other way" except to complete the 1.2km event ten times. And this year I managed to do that. Not consecutive though, far from it, with my first go being all the way back in 1990. So it's been a long time coming; but something I'm quite proud of as I consider myself a reluctant swimmer!

This year the 'Surrey Street & Friends Crew' was back and had added a new member. Bec joined last year's P2P novice Shelby with seasoned pro's John and Mark back for their third tilts at the race. The road trip to Lorne now commanded a people-mover to get us all down there and thankfully John was able to oblige. (Soon we'll need a mini-bus!) But some things don't change and the stop at Winchelsea for a coffee and donut went down well (at least for the coffee drinking, donut eating team members).

As is to be expected, on a 150km road-trip before a big event, there's plenty of time to trot out the excuses for why we won't finish; will be slow; be worse than last year, etc etc and most of those heard on this journey sounded pretty well practised. (I'm sure some will claim these were not excuses, but what sort of a story would that make?) From memory, they went a bit like this:

  • Bec: I only took up swimming recently; I've never swum this far [my comment: actually pretty fair as far as excuses go; understandable if she has a heavy dose of nerves]
  • Mark: I have tennis elbow - which he got from smacking people around at karate [sounds reasonable but I'm not falling for it; has been in the pool for a month or two now and is swimming ok]
  • Shelby: after last year I hadn't decided if I wanted to do this again; only came down because Paul is doing number ten; only started swimming again last month [lovely sentiment; but it's hard to believe excuses from an ex-superfish swimmer]
  • John: never in doubt really as he swims all year round in the bay, but complained something about a 'hurty finger' [nothing less than a strong finish expected from our team 'quiet achiever']
  • Paul: delved deep into the suitcase of excuses and could come out with nothing better than a dislike of jellyfish and other critters [looking independently at this one, it is weak; I've never seen anything more threatening than seaweed in the water at Lorne]
By the time we reached Lorne we were all pretty nervous, really. No time for lunch, just onto preparations as we registered for the event and walked casually up the beach to the start line at the Pier. It's on this walk every year that I think "gee, this is a long bloody way" and wonder why I'd choose to swim it; especially as you get the finisher's shirt before you start!

Unlike a couple of years ago in the late swim start incident which is routinely mentioned about a dozen times each year since (!) we had plenty of time and were able to prepare serenely in the marshalling area prior to our wave start. Not that there's much to do except zip up the wetsuit. And if you're John or Mark (ie, hard men of the ocean) not even that as they swim sans-rubber. We were able to view a wave start from the Pier and could definitely notice that there was a bit of a current in action as the start buoys were clearly pulling on their moorings as the tide receded (like my hairline). So it would not be a fast year.

Photography sidebar: As my regular half a dozen or so blog readers would know, my speciality is getting pictures during an event. This is a relative doddle when it comes to cycling and running; but not so easy when it comes to a swimming race. This year I set myself the task of working out how I could safely carry my camera through a swim - having it accessible to take photos, but not get in the way when I was swimming. I came up with an over the shoulder strap arrangement, complete with buckle and floating camera handstrap. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to test it out before race day so I really just hoped it would do the trick. In short, it was sensational and worked a treat and meant that for the first time I could get pics of this great event.

Shelby and Bec started - and finished - their swim before us "Masters" men got wet. (Which amounts to a great head start for them at the bar!!) Unfortunately the event organiser managed to split Mark, John and myself up, meaning I took to the water one wave in front of them. That first step into the cool (ok, cold-ish) water never gets any easier and I had to catch my breath as I swam the 50m out to the start line. Treading water at the start the Herald-Sun newspaper photographer got me and some other blokes to pose for a pic. I thought it only fair to take his photo in return which I think surprised him a bit! Within another minute we were off.

The yellow swim-can at the start has a number "20" on it and they count down every 60m with another until the finish. This makes it rather easy to get a sense of how far you've gone, or have to go, which can be motivating and deflating all at the same time. I soon settled into a rhythm, only interrupted by my sporadic stopping for photo opportunities. Unlike the bike or run it is a bit harder to "plan" where you'll get good shots from, but it certainly gave me something to think about other than the race.

Once I got to half way the distance just seemed to disappear and before I knew it I was around the final buoy and heading to shore. As the tide was almost fully out this year it was a long wade and run up the sand to the finish line, where I crossed in 25m40s. A long way from my fastest time and a couple of minutes slower than last year. (Time to practice my excuse for the pub ...)

A short while later the team regrouped in the Lorne Hotel to begin a long afternoon of drinking and story telling; interrupted only by my brief visit to the awards ceremony to collect my shark bait medallion. Best comments from the arvo:
  • Bec: (time 32m43s) "I think I might be hooked ... even though I was completely terrified! At least I will know what to expect now!" [my comment: will definitely be quicker next year now that she knows the course]
  • Mark: (28m12s) "a great time too despite much angst leading up to the day about my general lack of conditioning and overall motivation.  Nothing like that cold water around the nether regions going out from the ramp to snap you out of your slumber!!" [a great result given the dodgy elbow; and, like me, needs to find a way to stop the times continuing a downward trend!]
  • Shelby: (24m05s) "I'm just so incredibly stoked to know that I beat Tony Abbott - next year I'm going to try and beat Baillieu as well!" [absolutely smoked the course this year; personally I'm hoping she doesn't decide to actually train for this event!]
  • John: (45m32s) "even though I smashed my previous record by a good 5 minutes, I'm bringing along an outboard motor next year, that way I get to be first to get a table at the pub, and also no need for search parties to see if Jack isn't being winched to hospital by search and rescue helicopter." [proved once again that slow and steady might not win the race, but will have a lot of fun!]
  • Paul: (25m40s) I think some friends captured it well with these comments: "your commitment to reporting is impressive" but from another "stop taking photos and swim!" [kind of sums it up really]
I'm not exactly sure what time we left the pub, but it was well into the evening by the time we made it home. I cannot claim to have been our fastest swimmer or the most inebriated at the bar; but I can say that I had the most fun. Ten swims complete - and plenty more ahead!

Shark bait. Hoo ha ha! (And for those unfamiliar with the 'Finding Nemo' reference, here's a clip from You Tube to explain.)

My career record at Lorne now looks like this (not getting any faster, but certainly having more fun!):
2012 - 25.40
2011 - 23.20
2010 - 19.27
2004 - 23.02
2003 - 18.42
1998 - 19.37
1993 - 23.30
1992 - 17.54
1991 - 20.50
1990 - 20.37

A full photoset is on Flickr.


  1. Good one Paul! That's a big span of years to rack up 10 events. Bet you missed out every year there was a re-run of Jaws the previous month.

    Impressed with the pics. Good shark's eye view ;)

  2. Great stuff PB. I'm not sure which to be more impressed by - your commitment to swimming the event, or your commitment to reporting. Given that thousands swim the event, and many of them are repeat offenders, and yet only a handful would do so with a camera, I think I'll reserve the lion's share of my respect for your reportage.
    Great photos. Great story.
    Well done.
    (Actually, I'm also a tad in awe of your ability to walk on water that is deep enough that other have to swim, as displayed in the photo at the top of your blog. If nothing else I imagine walking up there above the action must make for easy photography. )


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