Coming down the hill into Bondi 8am on a sleepy post festive season Sunday morning nothing much compares to the sight of the crescent of ocean lolling there half indifferent to the ways of humans, throwing a swell or two up onto the sand and chopping it up a wee bit out the back – not too little as in the lake placid effect, not too much as in the latest in washing machine technology.
Would gladden the heart and sweep the cobwebs of doom and gloom out of the most churlish of heads.
Lots of high temps and howling winds this week, enough to trigger the bush fire escape plan – which is, pack a box with photos of the kids growing up and a few important documents, sling it into the back of the silver bullet and leave under the desk at work. Extra rations for the two mongrel hounds in the back yard and a swimming pool size tub of water for them to frolic and drink up in. Castle von surfmuppet is located in the craggy eastern slopes of the Galston Gorge, so the fire winds (the west/ norwesters) come howling up these bushy, Eucalyptus dense canyons like a Japanese bullet train. Get a bit of fire in there and it’s goodnight. Couple of crispy critter ex-hounds beside a burnt out shell.
Enough of the doomsaying and on with the swims.
Score free parking down the back of Bondi amidst the warren of back streets and clusters of cafes.
Hoof it down to the line of registration tables set up in front of the phoenix of the new North Bondi SLSC rising up from the rubble of the demolished former club house. Lady didn’t want to hand over both rego timer tags but a bit of charm works a treat and so, twin chipped like a wild west double holstered gunslinger, off down to where Spot’s legions are toiling putting up the Bondi Fit Pavilion on the grassy knoll BBQ area right on the northern tip of the beach, behind the kiddies pool.
Donkey leads the construction effort aided and abetted by German Kath and Sunshine Sarah with el Spotto barking out commands.
Soon the crowd is there led by Rumpole of the Bailey, the Journo, Dolphin and Piano Pauls, the Sea Nymph, Iron Dee, Limerick Nikki, Salthill Dave, the Jockey, the Amber Gambler, Coogee Carolynn, Killer Karen, the Flying Barb and a host of others.
Talk amongst the troops is that he lingers broken spirited after a lurking Rumpole bounced at the battle of Cockatoo Island and gazumped him at the last second.
Others say he has been spotted doing secret training sessions at North Sydney pool, getting ready for a triumphant return to quash his tormenters and deep six them to Davy Jones’ locker.
Waiting for the warmup, Rumpole posits whether the argy bargy at the start is worse at Eastern Suburbs beach swims compared to Northern Beaches ones. Reckons the more concentrated population in the East results in a competitive spirit for everything from a parking spot to a restaurant table, and brings out the biff and bash in full technicolour in the starting melee.
Up north, all self assured WASP types with the Mosman tractors full of happy kids and Labradors, less upfront biff more no-you-first-no-you-please,no you–no you and downwards spiral into the biff.
Photos. Warm Up. In. 50 stokes. Stop. Out. Repeat.
Start of the 1km.
The General, doyen of the North Bondi SLSC, marshals the formations of age categories and with the crack of a starting pistol sends them over the top like swarming stromtroopers into the maw of the rising tide.
First can is a white cone about 250m off the beach, bit hard to get a lock on it with the rise and fall of the swell and the chop. Getting pushed north by the current so numerous course adjustments. Rumpole proven wrong in this instance as the melee is surprisingly mild mannered but maybe that’s just in the hallowed confines of the old fart’s wave. Turn south and it’s halfway down the beach for the orange turning can, then norwest to the final can and back into the navy blue triumphal arch of the finish in front of the scaffolding of the new clubhouse.
For a 1k-er, bit of a tough swim, with the chop being a little bit more feisty out the back and a swirling current around the place.
Helped by going stroke for stroke with a shapely looking female swimmer who threatens to pull away every few metres. Keeps the old surfmuppet sharp having another swimmer setting a stretch but achievable pace. About 300 metres out she starts to slacken and fall behind – the torture sessions a la Piano Paul’s “endurance sets” pay off.
Knackered going over the line, get de-tagged and walk the heroes alleyway of plenty, boxes of grapes, bananas, peaches, orange quarters, the lot, washed down with ice cool water and sports drink.
Not bad, North Bondi, not bad at all.
Catch up with the gossip and running commentaries back at the BF pavilion, then it’s reapply sunblock, carb up on loot pilfered from the heroes alleyway of plenty, more photos, warm ups and then ready for the 2km.
All the while the sun lurks behind a thick blanket of cloud. Looks like it will storm at the end of the day (it does) but now it’s not hot and it’s not cold.
For the 2km, the organisers have changed the white cone for a yellow-ish ball but the low profile of this doesn’t help visibility. Same current pushing the punters north so it’s plenty of lift and look to get around this first one.
Now it’s down the bay with the orange cones of the race course silhouetted against the backdrop of the cliffs around Mackenzie’s Point.
Start having trouble with the swim cap coming off – twice. Must be due to all that extra hair after deviating from the standard number 3 sides, 5 top, 8 minute haircut and shorn for a month. Note, visit barber again this week.
Finally stuff the damn thing down the front of the speedos – don’t want to jettison it as there’s a place for another cap in the community of resting swim caps down in a corner of the shed.
Turning the last can at the southern end just off Icebergs and come across the Journo on the starboard stern quarter.
Good sign! She’s been whipping surfmuppet arse up and down the coast all season so it’s mano-a-mano for the schlep north to the finish. Like two WW1 figher pilots, white silk scarfs streaming in the slipstream, wiggle the wings at end other and let fly.
Pull ahead a bit but it’s hard yakka and the combatants finish practically neck and neck so no bragging rights to either the Red Baron or Baroness.
Instead, nosh up in the heroes alleyway of plenty and back to the BF pavilion for the wash up and sharing of war stories.
It’s now high noon in Bondi and the place is buzzing with energy as the beach, the markets, the cafes, bars and restaurants compete for the passing throngs. The ocean waves goodbye as a trio of BFs skedaddle through the masses in search of a decent hit of caffeine in the backstreet cafes.
The Journo holds court sitting on a low wall between Rumpole and the muppet, quaffing said decent coffee and swapping stories of instances from each other lives.
A few years ago strangers passing on the street or in the traffic.
Now bonded by the scourge of salt water and chlorine addiction.
Surfmuppet’s finely tuned apparatus of denial and repression is undone as the conversation inevitably gets down to “A thousand and one tales of sharks, deadly jelly fish and killer thingies”.
But the weather is warm and the living is easy on this midsummer Sunday in January which still messes with the northern hemisphere head even after nearly a quarter of a century on the fatal shore.
Throw the delinquent swimming cap into the pile in the back of the shed and get ready for squad in the morning.