Here is a story from one of my best friends and a “true LOSTie”. A really good athlete… and fun-lovin’, crazy… and always up for a great adventure! Almost makes him sound like his an Aussie, doesn’t it! Nice one Darren.
Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Sydney Australia for the swim of a lifetime. On my Australian To Do List was, in order of priority, get drunk with some Aussies, swim across Bondi Bay, surf at Bondi beach and run across Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was there for work and only had two days to myself; time to get busy. Day one consisted of a run across Sydney Harbour Bridge and an afternoon of surfing at Bondi Beach. The evening of the first night I attended a work related reception where I met up with a couple of Aussie colleagues (now BFFs) to get good and drunk. At the end of the first day I was able to check most things off my list.
- get drunk check
- run the bridge check
- surf Bondi check
- swim Bondi tba
I thought my accomplishments on day one were pretty good considering I was going on 4 hours sleep from a 23 hour overnight flight from Toronto to Sydney. That translates to four hours sleep over 51 hours. Needless to say, at the end of my first day in Sydney I was tired and I crashed pretty hard. Just before my trip, Madhu lined up an entree for me with Alan Gow from Icebergs Swim Club via his buddy Joe at the South End Rowing Club. Icebergs Swim Club has the number one rated public pool in the world. The club is located on Bondi beach where the members regularly swim across the Bay. I woke up Saturday morning and saw an email invitation from Alan to swim across Bondi. My excitement turned sour when I when I saw Madhu’s subsequent email urging me “get down there and not to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity.” That was when I noticed the invitation was for a 9:30 am swim and it was already 10 am. I passed on my regrets to my host Alan who was nice enough to invite me for a beer later that afternoon and show me around the club. I went for a long run in the morning and met Alan later in the afternoon at the club. In stereotypical Australian fashion, one beer turned into four or five and we had a great time. I told Alan that I was lecturing the next day and could swim the bay either early in the morning or during a 4 hour gap between my lectures. He said the early morning swim was out because the bay was, “kind of sharky in the morning.” Even though he was involved in their weekly swim meet the next day, he said he would arrange to get a few people together to swim me across the bay during the break in my lectures.
I wrapped up my morning lecture in record time and ducked out of the room to catch a cab for Bondi. The moderator of my lecture asked if I was sticking around formorning tea and I evasively told him I had other plans. He asked where I was going. “Here’s the deal,” I said, “I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t want to worry anyone but I am going to whip out to Bondi Beach and swim across Bondi Bay.” He was visibly rattled. I assured him I would be back in time for my next lecture and bolted.
Thirty minutes later I was standing on the observation deck at the Icebergs pool at Bondi Beach – still in my blue suit, bowtie and Florshiems. There was a swim meet going on so there was over a hundred swimmers milling around. I was pretty easy to spot considering I was the only guy in suit and tie. Actually I think I was the only guy in pants. I found a few guys I had met in the bar the day before and they helped me find my host Alan who was just getting ready to swim a timed relay. He told me that he had arranged three young ladies to accompany us across the bay in just a few minutes. He said he would meet up with me after he finished his race. I changed into my swimsuit, met up with the rest of the gang and headed down to the water.
The entrance to ocean is at the back of the Icebergs pool where the waves were crashing against the sea wall. There is a small stair case that takes you down to a shallow rock ledge where you wait for a break in the waves and swim out. Alan instructed me to dive into a wave, swim out 100 meters past the breakers and wait for the rest of the gang. The girls said the water was clearer than it had been in weeks and just before I dove in I heard one of them joke, “that means you can see the shark coming from a mile away.” As I was diving into a wave I kicked what I think was a grouper that was hanging around the rock shelf. I thought, “what a great start to a monumental swim.”
The water was so clear you could see 90 meters out and the image of the white sand bottom 4 meters down was so sharp you could have read a book off it. After a 100 meters out we all regrouped and Alan pointed out the sights around the bay. What a great perspective. The famous Bondi Icebergs swim club was on one side and as I panned around I saw dozens of surfers waiting for their waves, the iconic beach (birthplace of Speedo), the concessions and the condos rising up the hill. Probably one of the best perspectives I have ever experienced.
The bay is 800 meters across and Alan suggested we all regroup again in the middle. The water was a very comfortable 19 degrees and the low rolling waves moved you around enough to make it interesting. I swam beside Alan and at one point we drifted about 10 meters apart. I glanced over to spot him and the water was so clear he looked like he was flying through the air. The bottom of the bay is nothing but drifting white sand. My wife asked me to bring her back a shell from Bondi Beach but there were none. Bondi has nothing but pure white sand, water and waves.
Alan and I stopped in the middle of the bay and waited for the girls to catch up. I was please with myself for being able to keep up with the host this far into the swim and was complimenting myself for swimming faster than the girls. When they caught up with us they apologized for taking so long; they had stopped for a watch a sand shark.
We continued across and the wind picked up a bit and made the water a bit choppy. Just before we got to the other side of the bay, Alan pointed out a Manta Ray swimming off to our right. We swam up to a rock ledge and I could see thousands of tiny fish swim around us playfully. After a short regroup we headed back. Thewind was stronger on that side of the bay and the water was a little choppier than when we started. Cold water started to drift in and I started to get a bit of a chill. I cranked up my stroke rate to get warm and really enjoyed the second half of the swim. Alan stayed right with me the whole way back so I worried less about sighting our landmark and had a great opportunity to enjoy the sights below the water. The white sand was drifting lazily below me and I thought, this has got to be the greatest swim of my life. My favourite thing about swimming in open water that you can really appreciate openness of a body of water. In a pool you can enjoy your swim, but you have to be mindful of your lane, the wall, other people and just when you get going, the wall is right there. With this swim, the “end” was so far away you could focus on the mundane aspect of your stroke and relax the rest of your mind.
After the swim, we warmed up with a hot shower and a sauna then it was off to the bar for a quick beer. Where else but Icebergs pool could you get all that in one place. I can see why it is ranked the best public pool in the world. Three hours later I was back in my lecture wearing my blue suit, tie, Florshiems and this big smile that just would not go away.
Thanks Alan for the friendship, the swag and one of the most memorable swims in my life.
Madhu and Joe, thanks for the in. What a great swimming community we have.