The Swimming and the Writing Viruses – Kindred Species

Forget the Rottnest and English Channels, Galway Bay, Watson’s Bay and the rest of them, Surfmuppet’s big goal this year is to get a novel done and dusted, ready to go out into the world for better or worse.

Yes. A novel.

That’s the reason surfmuppet took up this swimming obsession three and a half years ago – to run away from a novel he had spent over five years working on and totally fucked up in the end.

So in keeping with the spirit of 2014 – The Year of the Novel, the muppet went out and bought himself a brand, spanking new MacBook Pro, with the Retina thingy, downloaded Scrivener, and set a goal of 1,000 words a day.

The technology decision is important. For years muppetman wrung his hands about writing in longhand, on the computer, in Word, in Notepad, in Evernote, in IA Writer and a plethora of God knows what other means.

Fuck the lot of them. Went out and spent a bundle on the Mac and bought a GoPro for good measure, which he persuaded his wife to give him as a birthday gift on the 2nd of Jan.

Like Barack Obama, Princess Diana and Julia Guillard, children of the transition year of 1961, caught between Baby Boomer and Gen-X, the muppet just turned 53. And if it’s going to happen, it’s got to happen now.

Around the turn of the year, in decision mode as to whether to pack in Vladswim and use the 6am to 8am slot every morning to fire up the Mac and get cracking on the word count.

Problem is, learn too much from Vlad, Charm and their funny bunch of swimming obsessives to just walk away.

Take Deano.

He’s training like a demon and is odds on to rip through the water at Rottnest for a  cracking time. Paid his deposit last week for the English Channel pilot and boat for his crossing in early August 2015.

A deliberate man.

Surfmuppet has watched other deliberate men this year step up to the plate and cross the channel. Trained with them, in pool and ocean, had coffee and bacon and eggs with them in cafes after, seen the light in the eyes and felt the fire in the heart.

Big John – July 2 in 18:15 hours in 13 degree water

Motorbike Marty – August 27 in 14:39 hours with 3 metre swells along the way

Doctor Jim – Swam with him for 5 hours at Balmoral in 15 degree water when he was doing his six hours Channel qualification swim. Saw the torture he was going through, face to face – but he just kept on going and did the Channel in 15:03 on September 21

Slovakian Pete – 5th July in 11:43

There are other men and women, but saw these four up close and personal in the training and preparation – watched, saw and felt what it takes to prepare to swim that particular stretch of frigid European water.

Reckon there’s a bit to be learned from types like these at the place where long distance swimming meets long distance writing.

At the most basic level, the swimming is all about kilometres done every day, writing about kilowords every day.

Well, there’s a bit more to it than that but what the hell.

Sticking with Vladswim for the moment and trying to slot in the writing around the swimming – but if something has to give, the writing is the priority.

And so to Saturday morning, decision to go to Bondi for the 7am bash with the Vladsters or fire up the Mac and start punching out words.

7am finds our man sitting at his desk and feeling the touch of the keys under his fingers in much the same way as the aquanauts 40km away over the hill in Bondi are feeling the grip of the water as they wade out into the North Bondi rip.

Writes for four hours and blasts out 5,600 words. Along the way, in the eye of the imagination watching the guys and gals chalk up the laps of the Bondi Crescent, feed and hydrate, back into it. Finishes at 11am figuring out that even total diehards like Bondi John, Marty, Cyril and Deano will have packed it in by then.

These words are training words. Surfmuppet is circling his potential themes, characters, plots, dialogues like a great white rabid with hunger after the long swim from South Africa to Australia, circling a pod of seals and sizing them up for the juiciest, fattest, most delicious looking one to rip into to. Once the target is selected then, “Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!” No surrender. No quarter given or asked for.

Plenty of seals swirling about in the muppet cranium. Pondering whether to dig up the corpse of the aborted novel from a few years ago and breathe new life into it, or start with a fresh piece of seal blubber. Only the oracle of the words can tell.

With there still being a chance of doing Rottnest, the muppet cannot afford to back off the training, so headed down to Clovelly Lagoon in the later afternoon for a solo session.

Into the water by quarter to five for a three hour stint, until seven forty five. Getting well dark by that stage. Last of the swimmers and frolickers leaving the water. Fish gathering in schools, getting ready for the night time feeding frenzy. Out by the mouth of the lagoon, in the full tide gap above the underwater murder of seaweed encrusted rocks, the dark water of the open ocean zealously guards her hungry children from the eyes of would be prey.

Crack! Collides into another eejit out swimming in the half light, smash of heads, that feeling of getting punched on the nose. Right calf goes out on strike in sympathy with the bruised head, massive cramp. Muscle bunches up and the pain is…struggles in the water until somehow gets to the wall and massages the muscle back to a state where he can hobble to the ladder and call it a day. Still sore 24 hours later.

Ah well. Time to get the gear ready for training in the morning, iron the shirt and polish the shoes in preparation for the one-on-one with the replacement boss at work. Not for nothing do they call him the wolf of the north, so surfmuppet has to be on his best behaviour.

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Last Session of the Holidays

Not too many in the pool this Friday morning, 3rd January.

Lane one has Jai, Emily and Laurie.
Lane two a few of the fasties including the Dragon and the Ghost.
Lane three, the numbers thicken out and there’s more in Lane four.

It seems theres a direct relationship between strong faster swimmers and the numbers who turn up.
The muppet makes up four in Lane One, the least populated lane.

Been reading some material on visualisation over the holidays.
Wasn’t even thinking about this once we had finished the warm up and were into the main set. For the lasties, the main set is as follows:

4 x 100 on 150
3 x 100 on 145
2 x 100 on 140
1 x 100 on 135 or faster


Jai is the boss of the lane and the pool while Vlad and his coaching team on off on holidays.
She explains that today we’re going to go on a 2.15 minute cycle for each 100.
That’s a lot of rest.
But you don’t argue with Jai when she’s on a roll.

According to Jai, the reason we’re all struggling to make the faster sets is that we’re not getting enough rest.
SM is not one to argue when more rest is being offered.
Lane’s two, three and four would howl in indignation and undoubtedly this is why they are in the faster lanes, but Lane one progresses at it’s own, more colonial style pace.

The muppet is put in front by common consent which is bad.
The front means there is nowhere to hide.
There’s no drafting behind others as the leader has to do the breaking of the water.
The leader also has to set the pace – too fast and there’s the ignominy of blowing up and being sent to Coventry behind the slowest swimmers at the back.
Too slow, and the toe tapping starts.

On the turn, well ahead of the others so need to slow down.

Getting to the wall in 1.48 pace which is a touch on the fast side.

Doesn’t matter so much now but bitter experience has shown a few hasty seconds at the beginning of a long set can come back to mega haunt the erstwhile greyhound towards the end as oxygen deprivation kicks in and lactic acid builds up.

The head is going all over the place and in an effort to “go out of mind time”, the muppet inadvertently starts to visualise the face of the Garmin as he pushes the button for the end of each 100.

And something really strange happens – it works.

Visualise 150, and come into the wall right on 150 (well, give or take a few 1/100’s of a second)
Visualise 145 and sure enough, right on the button at the end of the 100.
Works for the 140 and in the horror show of the 135 as well.

Seems like the body is synching up with the mind via the visualisation.
Works a treat.
Might have something to do with the long recovery periods at the end of each lap.
But who’s complaining?

Afterwards, another session with Michael the Masseur and it looks like the back and the lats are coming good but the neck still needs a lot of work.

Last session of the holiday break – back to work next week.
Cue Marlon Brando’s Kurtz in Apolcalyse Now, last words.

“The horror…the horror”

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Happy Birthday, John

Swimming pool in the morning sun.
A line of four men swimming up the second lane from the left.
Going in unison at a fast pace.

First two and the last man are nut brown from the sun.
Third guy is a pale, northwest european hue.
Leader is wearing a white cap – John and today is his 69th birthday.

Last man is Cyril.
He’s 70.
Rivals both for the super master veteran swimming category.

Man two and three are 54 and 52 respectively.
That’s a total of 245 years.
Going up and down the pool.

The four men jump into a time machine and go back 245 years to the year 1768.
They enlist as crew with Captain James Cook and leave Plymouth on 25th of August of that year on board the Endeavour on Cook’s first voyage down under to the South Pacific.

Strange, but true…ish

Birthday Boy...Photo by Sonny E

Birthday Boy…Photo by Sonny E

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Solstice 10Km Swim at Chinamans Beach

Surfmuppet likes to use the summer solstice each year as a benchmark of time and place. Used to be 21st of June. Then moves down to the southern hemisphere and the summer solstice lands on the 21st of December. This year, the 10km qualification swim for Rottnest Island 20km barrel of laughs on 22nd February, two months to the day almost.

Arrives early and parks in a leafy street in the hills above Rosherville Reserve which backs onto Chinaman’s beach. In the past, the 3 HA reserve used to be a market garden and salt pans run by Chinese people, hence the name of the beach.

Walks down the hill via what resembles the Kokoda Trail, a bushland track all rough, rocky and overgrown with trees in their summer finery. Weather is looking good, already a bit of heat in the sun at 7.15.

Vlad’s wife Viktoria and her two boys are on the registration desk with Charm and soon the muppet is gets his race number, 123, indelibly marked on the left deltoid. Next it’s over to where sports dietician Sarah and her elves have set up camp to do a hydration study on swimmers who have signed up for it – at $70 bucks it seems a good deal to check out what’s what with the hydration.

Sarah and her Elves...Photo by Charm

Sarah and her Elves…Photo by Charm

Surfmuppet has progressed from drinking pure water to adding Enduro electrolyte mix to it but isn’t sure if what’s the correct dosage – just slaps in a few ladle loads and hopes for the best. Never a one to get bogged down reading the instructions. Hand in two pee samples, one from the previous morning and one from race morning. SM forgets to do it first thing yesterday morning so has to leap about the bathroom to squeeze out a few pathetic drops once he remembered. Leaves all his paperwork at home so elf Erika helps him fill out the forms in the preparation area.

The Cobra turns up with his kayak and the pair drag it across the reserve and into the water which is almost still, mirror like, and warmish. Doesn’t last however. A southerly is starting to pick up and once the race is on, it has kicked up a fair amount of chop which hits once the competitors swing around the first headland and head south.

Charm lays down the law...Photo by Marty F

Charm lays down the law…Photo by Marty F

In the meantime, the rest of the punters have shown up and preparations are in full swing. Red hats for the 10km lot, white hats for the 5km gang. Vlad, Charm, Martin, Viktoria, the two boys, Marty (on feeding station duty), Sarah and her Elves are like sheepdogs driving a herd of water buffalo through the whole registration, weigh in (for the hydration testees), prepping, briefing, photo’s, get-in-the-water-and-swim process.

Giddy Up!...Photo by Charm

Giddy Up!…Photo by Charm

And they're off....Photo by Martin V

And they’re off….Photo by Martin V

The course consists of a loop from Chinaman’s south to the Island (really a rocky promontory) in the middle of the Balmoral strand and back again, a 2.5km loop. Twice for the 5km’ers, and four times for the 10km’ers. How hard can it be?

Well…the muppet is not feeling all that crash hot this morning. Yesterday morning after squad, has his first session with Michael the muscle mangling masseur, who has a wee treatment nook tucked into the corridor between the ladies and men’s dressing rooms at the ABC pool. Five minutes into it, says Michael
“Have you ever broken your neck?”
Muppet (after a momentary pause and in a hesitant voice)
“Ah,no…not that I’m aware of…Why?”
“It’s just that I’ve never seen a neck like yours before”
Muppet (slight hint of alarm in voice)
“Why, what’s wrong with it?”
“This is amazing. It’s completely f*#$ed” (or words to that effect as recorded through muppet voice recording memory technology – patent pending but don’t hold your breath on that one).
“ooh…kay. Well, can you elaborate. Should we be calling the ambulance now?”
Turns out that the muppet neck is encased in a fascia of muscle fibre and collagen, in Michael’s words a fortress built by the body to protect a part that has been badly injured.
Michael on the rest of the muppet musculature.
“when was the last time you had a massage?”
Muppet, thinking
“maybe…nine months ago”
“Really.That’s too long.I’d recommend every two weeks for the amount of training you’re doing. Your muscles are all knotted up. I hope you’re not planning anything too strenuous this weekend?”
“nah…only a little swim tomorrow”
Not a great idea to have a long overdue massage the day before a big race, the muppet learns through his best learning modality…pain and torture.

Today is the second run for the muppet and the cobra team. Instead of stopping off at Marty’s highway feeding station at the end of each loop, the plan is to use the kayak to feed/ hydrate every 30 minutes. Using an energy gel type which the muppet hasn’t used before but which was on special at Coles the night before. And to complete the trifecta, heard the “you need electrolyte” message so piled the Endura powder into the water bottle so it has the sodium and potassium concentration of a bottle of the Dead Sea’s best mixed with the salt mines of outer Mongolia.

3 hours, 45 minutes and 50 odd seconds after the 8am starters gun, team muppet hauls it’s sorry arse out of the water and back onto the beach. Some swims the torture commences for the first K or so but eases off after that. Other swims start off nice and gentle and the torture kicks in around the closing stages. This was wall to wall, would-you-like-to-upgrade-to-a-large-fries-and coke-with-that torture.

Newsflash!! Attack of the Ocean Zombie at Chinamans...Photo by Martin V

Newsflash!! Attack of the Ocean Zombie at Chinamans…Photo by Martin V

Overall, it’s a great day despite the whinging of the muppet.

Marty’s Cafe of Dreams does a roaring trade with thirsty, hungry 5 and 10k-ers zipping in and out all morning loading up on the carbs and getting fluids down necks. Blackdog is roving around the place is his inflatable and Marty’s other half Sonny is out on the course encouraging the aquanauts along on their way.

Solstice 10K Marty's Cafe of Dreams

Marty’s Cafe of Dreams, Photo by Martin V

As the morning progresses, the southerly picks up and it’s heavy work beating a way south to Balmoral but the upside is coming back up north with the wind and swell assisting from behind.

Some near misses along the way and the muppet has almost a romantic interlude with a female swimmer when the pair stop just millimetres from a head on collision, looking deep into each others eyes – very intimate.

Timing technology is a yellow post it note from Charm then hoof it back to the registration table where Viktoria marks down the time.

Post swim weigh in reveals the muppet has lost 1.5kg during the swim – must be all that Endura powder in the Dead Sea hydration mix.

somebody's not by Martin V

somebody’s not amused…photo by Martin V

All the squadites sitting around on picnic blankets hoeing into the food and drink brought there for the occasion. This close to Christmas lots of festive cheer and well wishing. Squad closing down for a couple of weeks over the break and arrangements being made to knuckle down under the tutelage of unofficial coach Jai in the interim.

Picnic...Photo by Charm

Picnic…Photo by Charm

The solstice hovers, turns, and slowly the light shortens by a couple of seconds each day.

Hi Sailor...Photo by Charm

Hi Sailor…Photo by Charm

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Summertime and the Livin’ is Easy

Friday 20th December

6pm on the last day of the working week and the corporate world is now on leave until early January for the Christmas break. Walking around the floors and not a sinner to be seen. A day of groups gorging on comfort food and goodwill and everyone now dispersed to their various abodes to frolic in seasonal cheer. 41 degrees outside and as the building air conditioning shuts down, the heat starts to seep in through the windows and the concrete walls.

Tis the season to be jolly, tra la la la la…la la…la la

Said goodbye to the Boss today as he exited stage left. Like the ocean, the corporate world has its cycles of life, death, rebirth. More than a few going down the same road. But the surfmuppet lives to fight another year in the trenches of the information wars of the early 21st century.

Ah…Summertime in Sydney…breakfast by the car boot in the domain, driving up Macquarie Street, the world seems full of beautiful women in summer dresses and dudes in fine fettle after chasing said damsels all around the town over the weekend.

School holidays means the roads are less manic as Sydney slowly winds down and gets into holiday mood.

Summertime and the livin’ in easy
fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
Your daddy’s rich and your mama good lookin’
so hush little baby don’t you cry. (Porgy and Bess)

Finished reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens over the weekend – the original unabridged version with some drawings. Going back to the classics for a literary cool southerly change. Next in line is Gulliver’s Travels.

On the swimming front, the Cobra and surfmuppet headed out for a 6km session last Saturday morning at 7am from Shelly Beach. Cobra is only getting back into Kayaking so it was a good workout for the pair. Over and back a few times across Cabbage Tree Bay, dodging the pink plague of the Bold and the Beautiful along the way. Then loop around and down along the Manly beachfront towards Queenscliff. Ocean begins to build up once the pair move out of the wind shadow offered by the Shelly Beach Headland and a strong southerly is pushing a lot of chop around the place. Turn back at North Steyne SLSC and just as well as it’s a long slog back against the wind and a bit of a current. The Cobra falls behind as it’s hard work now on the kayak. Make it back to Shelly eventually.

Lots of sea life around. Spot a large Port Jackson shark just off Shelly, chillin on the bottom a couple of metres away from a large stringray which is doing the same. Plenty of other fish, some in groups of two and three, others in large schools.

Deano at squad provided the following article by Tim Winton on sharks, and how humans are the predators, not the other way round. Interesting read.

Last squad session of the year this morning and it’s high jinks in the pool. End up in a series of relay races with a comic theme, orchestrated by Charm. Teams may up of a cross section from each lane. SM ends up with a gang of fasties from Lane 4, including visiting royalty in the person of a woman who’s swam the English Channel both ways. Win the day, hoorah!

All set for tomorrow’s Rottnest Channel 10km qualifier at Chinamans Beach at 8am. Vlad and kids put together a montage of the course which he put on show for the troops at the pool this morning. Should be a great day. Weather forecasted for low 40s so it’s time to slap on the sunblock.

Vlad and Chinamans Beach 10km Swim Montage 201213

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First Week of Summer

Summer kicks off in Sydney with the annual Bondi to Bronte 2.5kM swim.

By 9am the sun is high, the ocean benign and the 2,000 odd swimmers, in waves of age and gender, melee around the southern end of the Bondi Pavillion, signing on, collecting coloured caps and timing chips, packing the gear and stowing it on one of the several minibuses taking down to the finish line for collection at Bronte at the end of the jaunt.

Bananaboat ( has a tent set up populated by a squad of lovelies armed to the teeth with spray on sunblock doing full body spray jobs on anyone who wants one. All the guys are lining up and loving it. The girls are loving it just as much. Surfmuppet is in there in the thick of it…loving it. With a moon tan which is the bane of the ocean front, the muppet always suffers the dilemma of getting the sunblock on that part of the back where you can’t reach around to. So today, a lovely is doing it for him.


Conditions couldn’t be better, especially compared to the last few years when it was howling a southerly and the ocean was boiling with 3 metre swells and strings of bluebottles stinging everything in sight. Not a bar of it this year.

It’s a fast swim and the timings reflect what looks like a slightly shortened course, with various Garmins coming up with 2.1km or thereabouts. All the usual suspects hovering about and when SM crosses the line who’s waiting there grinning only Rumpole, gloating with revenge for being pipped at the post at Coogee.

Walk back to Bondi afterwards with Deano and feast on breakfast at 38 South while admiring the torrents of the beautiful people walking up and down a packed Bondi foreshore.

Do a couple of 5km plus sessions at squad during the week and one at 3.4km following a tangle with the alarm on the iPhone, going back to sleep and then leaping from the bed and out the door seriously late for the pool.

Team meeting after squad on Friday for the Rottnest Island swim – Charm gives it to everyone about having all the logistics for the swim finished by now, including flights, hotels, boats, kayaks, transportation, return trip from Rottnest booked etc etc. Everyone nods sagely and watches while Vlad takes over and gives a pep talk about upping the training now – minimum 20-25km a week from now on.

Surfmuppet hoes into breakfast and nods with the rest of them but nurses a deadly secret – nothing, but nothing organized at all. Drat! The Cobra, his erstwhile kayaker, is laid up with a relapse of an infection from a deadly spider bite of last month when he had to be hospitalized and pumped full of antibiotics through a drip due to his leg having swollen to double its size. The medicos are not sure if it was a spider or a paralysis tick which layed the Cobra low, but the post bite infection is the one doing the damage.

He’s a tough dude, the Cobra, and will come good. About eight years ago surfmuppet was in the corner for the Cobra when he won the NSW Light Heavyweight boxing title, so it will take more than a pesky critter bite to put a halt to his gallop. Good man to have as a kayaking wingman in the giant sardine infested seas off Western Australia.

So on to Saturday’s swim at Balmoral, without kayaker.

Again a beautiful summer’s morning and over a hundred swimmers taking part in the Balmoral Beach Club’s memorial swim for Erik Mather ( who passed away from melanoma a few years ago. There’s a choice of one, two or three loops of Balmoral and Hunters Bay, respectively 2, 4 and 6km. Most of the Vladsters have signed up for the 6km, the blue hats. 2km are in yellow and 4km in green. Charm is in the club officiating, taking names, getting waivers signed and collecting the voluntary $50 bucks donation to the skin cancer charity. More than $10,000 is finally collected for the swim.

Race briefing in front of the beach club followed by a team photograph, in the front of which is an oaf with a moon tan requiring some serious hours under the full moon each month. Whitest man in Sydney some would say.

Balmoral Swim 081213

Water is lovely although a bit cloudy but not too much. Visibility is still good enough to see anything that wants to eat you for breakfast but as it turns out all return safe to the beach. SM spots Fearless Fi and Jai up ahead and shadows them by about 20 metres for most of the swim but cannot close the gap. Gives up the ghost on the third lap, stops to have a gel , the gap opens up to about 100 metres. And so the muppet swims the last lap by himself – gets the heebee geebees a bit in the middle but pushes through it and starts to get stronger towards the end. This has happened more than a few times – don’t know whether it’s the training or just a case of the horse sensing his stable (fresh hay and oats) is close by and sprints for the finish.

Last few hundred metres Scott from the squad appears to the left and Elaine in a kayak to the right – apparently the muppet is weaving all over the place and heading back out to sea so needs a few pilot fish to pace and shepherd him back on course and into the finish.

Get to use the club showers afterwards and then all retire down the road to a café for coffee and breakfast.

Change of stage for Saturday night and it’s the world premier of “The Telling Bones” by Keili Shillington. Keili wrote the play based on a newspaper article she read in 2010 about the mummified remains of two babies being found in a truck by workers renovating an old apartment block in Los Angeles.

The babies were wrapped in newspaper featuring the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932 plus some letters and a ticket to the Olympics. A cold case probably too long in the tooth to be solved. So Keili puts pen to paper and three years later gathers a small troupe to read the play, in character, in front of a small audience in the Pennant Hills Arts and Leisure Centre.

Surfmuppet gets to play the villain Yourgen. The troupe rehearses over four weeks of Monday nights, directed by Keili, with technical assistance from her husband Tony. It’s a dark, dark story and the troupe brings it together and dishes it out on the night. A great success.

And as Keili says to her troupe prior to the audience arriving, maybe they’d be joined on the night by the spirits of the babies who didn’t have a chance to experience life in the real world, but perhaps would get a taste of it through the medium of a small band of thespians, in a small out-of-the-way hall, in Australia, eighty years after their demise.

Roll on summer.

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Awesome day in the sun at Coogee

Stroke for stroke with Rumpole goes Surfmuppet out to sea in the 2.4km at Coogee last Sunday. Eyeball to eyeball. Mano a Mano. Mexican standoff with Rumpole forcing the pace and the muppet keeping up with him. Squad mates once with the legendary seadog Spot, Rumpole always had the edge and is indeed the faster swimmer. With the muppet trying to quell the competitive urge in favour of pacing over the longer distance, this was not the race plan in mind on this glorious day in late Spring when the swimming masses congregate in Coogee for the 800m, 1km and 2.4km festival of surf swimming.

The great white arrives up the hill from the beach just after 8am that morning. Snags a decent park under the trees on Melody Street, just as the Journo rounds the corner into what turns out to be her favourite parking street. She gets one up 50 metres up the street and it’s time for a good yarn heading down to the beach where the ocean is behaving itself with a bit of chop. Turns out looks are deceptive and the chop presents a few technical challenges on the way out.

Blackdog has already registered and is dishing out his wisdom to all. More yarning as the usual crowd gathers. Not too many seem to be doing the double so the muppet gets ready for the 1km with a solitary warmup. Ocean is 20 degrees plus so no plunge shock, mild shore break, bit of seaweed hanging around the northern end of Coogee Bay where both swims start.

Out to sea, Wedding Cake Island lurks in the foreground. Lots of ocean breaking on the far side of it so it promises to be a bumpy ride in the circumnavigation.

Goggle technical glitch on the way out in the 1km – trusty pair of Aqua Sphere Kaiman, worn in the all the training for Galway Bay and in the swim itself, and the training since – hence of sentimental value – playing up. Left google filling up. Have to stop three times to clear it, eventually the seal works. Happened in training last week also. Getting passed by heaps but not overly concerned as the 1km is more of the entree to the main course.

Other than this technicality, clear visibility, plenty of sea life around the rocks as the pack heads out to sea, turns to starboard, hounds down the course, then rounds a couple of buoys on the southern end of the course and back into the beach. Chop going out hard to breathe both left and right so it’s a matter of switching sides a lot until it eases off after the southerly turn. Working on pacing, long stroke, catch etc etc.

Intermission – between swims the crowd swells and it’s the usual Wedding Cake Island carnival atmosphere. Lots of stands selling goodies, from T-shirt and hoodies, to…all kinds of things. Buy a pair of View V820S goggles off Miss Sparkle on the Oceanswims stand. She swears by them as do a lot of others, including the Taxman. He did a double at Toowoon Bay the day before so sits out the 1km, waiting to “at my command, unleash hell” in the 2.4km.

50-54 age wave is packed…so much so the organisers decide to separate the boys from the girls. All that mid-life-crisis testosterone making the boys a bit toey, bull elephant seals out to piss all over each other to see who’s boss. The ladies, delicate sea blossoms that they are, sashay to the back en mass and the bulls face the ocean and let rip on “Go”.

Large section head about 40 metres north up the beach where there’s a rip and the muppet follows. A few bigger sets brush off the duck diving skills but soon the pack has cleared the surf and it’s the long slog out the back, due east towards California.

And this is when Rumpole pops up on the port side. It the Olympic scouts were out looking for aging males for the synchronised swimming team for the Rio 2016 Olympics, then the pair would be a shoe-in. Stroke for stroke, eyeball for eyeball, breath for breath.

The pace is too fast for SM, so backs off while bearing down on the turning buoy lining up the island. Lots of water safety out trying to marshall the punters away from the rocks where the seas are breaking against the wedding cake. It’s busy. There’s jet skis, paddle boards, zodiacs zipping about, a chopper somewhere off in the distance, and lots of jelly blubbers under the water. Lots. SM doesn’t mind the old jelly blubbers. Kinda like benign space creatures out of Star Trek. Other swimmers profess to hate them…get slimed out by the sensation of the beasts sliding over their skin. Preferred to bluebottles any day of the week for the muppet.

As the island slides by there’s a nice rhythm going and no sign of Rumpole. Turning west at the bottom of the island, the 50+ ladies catch up in the shape of a train of three or four of them, drafting on each other’s toes. SM tries to hook up onto the back of the train but only lasts half a minute or so.

Soon it’s the run-in to the beach and the hunt for a wave to catch along the way. Always enjoy this swim. Sun is beaming down and the sea is blue and foamy. Over the line and having a drink, turn around when…surprise, surprise…a few seconds behind comes in one legal eagle Olympic synchronised swimming candidate. Don’t know what happened but the muppet got the jump on him in the latter stages of the race. Doubtless an anomaly which will be corrected in the Bondi to Bronte on December 1.

And so another Coogee Sunday morning ends…lots of tale swapping with Rumpole, Dolphin Paul, Nic Ola, Leanne, Fearless Fi, Damien, Scott and a whole lot more. Breakfasted with the Dalcassian warrior princess and the Taxman, then back  to Melody Street and away to fight another day.

Postscript – battle of the goggles. Took a while for SM to finally decide on Aqua Sphere Kaiman ( after testing out lots of other makes. The View ( pair are not bad although the field of vision feels more restricted than the Kaiman. Swag of Kaiman purchased on Wiggle ( earlier in the year means the View go into the bag as reserves for a rainy day.

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Dawny Swim around Cockatoo Island

Surfmuppet gets there early through all the lashing rain thinking what kind of disease will be the most prevalent amongst the cadre of swimmers out this dreary November day when the rest of the citizenry of Sydney are coddled up in their lovenests with this nearests and dearests, reading the sunday papers and munching on chocolate croissants.

Well too bad, bludging Sydney burghers, you’re missing out on a 2.5km traipse across murky green harbour soup, complete with jelly fish and other slimey creatures and a pinch of bull shark menace thrown-in.

Buy an event t-shirt for a gay friend who lives in Europe.Soon there’ll be a string of inquiries to the australian tourist board about the new swinging gay holiday resort in the middle of Sydney Harbour, cock-or-two island.

Crowd slowly starts to build past 8am and all sit around watching the warm up of the water gods in the dawn fraser pool.
SM clocks the lap times on the iPhone and the gods are warming up with 35-40 second laps – and they duly lap up the prizes at the prize giving ceremony after the race.
Meet up with the taxman and the journo as the black hat wave, 46-54 year olds move along the pontoon and jump into the water.

Siren goes and the pack is off in an instant.Organisers have the waves going within five minutes of each other due to a strict time window to avoid swimmers being chopped up in the propellers of the harbour ferries. Time for the old slap, bang, crash of the masses jockeying for clear water and crawling all over each other in the melee. Moored yachts slide past as the muppet tries to avoid getting his skull split open by swimming into the sharp end of the hulls.

Soon it’s out into the harbour and belting away towards the silhouette of the big crane on the eastern side of the island. Just as the black hat peleton reaches there, white hats of the young guns wave catch up, mowing down alike the black hats and the backmarkers of the green hat wave .

Up along the side of the island now.
Lots of rocks and concrete to the left.
Harbour vistas to the right.

Next a sharp left just prior to the ferry jetty and the mob is swimming through some type of tunnel. Breathing to the left there’s a bunch of thick power cables running down the wall and under the water. 415V electric eels if the sparkies haven’t done the installation work properly. Up to now the weather has behaved itself but the heavens open up just after the tunnel.

Lashes down.

There’s something great about swimming in the rain, nevermind singing in the rain.
Cue Gene Kelly “Singin in the Rain”, ( in googles and Speedos, bubbling away underwater, step dancing with a set of aluminium flippers.

Some doper must have had his entire crystal meth laboratory washed into the harbour for now the muppet is starting to hallucinate a tad.
The weather takes care of that bit of frippery by whipping up a fair bit of chop as the mob swings around the western tip of the island and it’s “swim for your lives, boys, the black rose she’s a sinking!!!”
Soon it’s the home straight back across the Parramatta River and onto the jetty to be hauled out of the water by willing hands.

Some codger from the 55 plus gang ( yellow hats mixed in with the black hats) decides to take on the muppet about 300 metres out from the finish.
Tries to slide past just when SM is throttling back and taking it steady to the end.
Cheek of the dog!

Fair play to him, he’s giving it his best…but it ain’t good enough…har, har
Muppet matches him stroke for stroke and gradually winds the power up and the hound starts to slip behind. coming up to the pontoon, an extra special burst puts the canine interloper firmly back in his box to lick his wounds…or whatever else.

Speaking of interlopers, surfmuppet had a to-do with the pair of Mynah birds in the Domain on Wednesday morning after squad in the ABC pool.It was a tough session, anaerobic sets to get the heartrate up and the puke a-rumbling in the stomach. Coach Charm whipping and lashing as the time intervals decreased and the tickers were jumping in the chests.Shave, shower, change for work, couple of minutes by the car eating breakfast prepped the night before.

Beady eyed ranger zipping past looking to book anyone who’s parking meter has run out but the glare from the muppet sends him packing.
Pair of Mynah birds arrive and contemplate the breakfast being snaffled.

One alights on the ground, searching for crumbs fallen from the improvised table of the diner.The other lands on the raised boot of the great white (new car, hybrid, great for sneaking up behind people when running on battery), at eye level with the muppet, about a foot away.

Francis of Assisi moment.

The serenity of the Domain trees, Wooloomooloo Bay, Warship 153 graceful in her moorings across the water from the pool, the endorphins from the training session, the food…all is well with the world.

Mynah number 1 cocks it’s little head and the muppet thinks, “ah, he’s trying to communicate” followed in a flash the projection into a future earning millions as a modern day Doctor Dolittle, talking to the animals, being on Oprah and a star in Hollywood.

Mynah and Muppet eyeball each other in this moment of interspecies harmony…and then the little fucker unleashes a stream of white-grey bird shit down into the boot all over carefully laid out to dry towel, speedos, goggles etc, etc.

Mynah cockroach bird zips away just in time to avoid impalement by breakfast fork.
His crumbs-on-ground hunting buddy proves equally nimble in avoiding a size 11 shoe up the clacker.Couple of lady joggers stand back aghast at the torrent of swearing and bird squashing antics and quickly cross to the other side of the road.

Francis of Assisi moment over.

Triage of the befouled swim gear in the boot.
Fire up the great white and slide silently out of the Domain.
Watching out for Mynahs to run over.

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Bush fire smoke, dead mutton birds and the heebeegeebees

There’s a blue Toyota Yaris with a yellow kayak on top in front of the surfmuppet coming down the hill into olde Manly towne. Should have twigged it is the Vlad meister himself on the way to Shelley beach for the Saturday morning squad swim off into the wild blue yonder.

Behind the Yaris is a motorbike which is sticking to the tail of Vlad like a limpet on a sunken World War 2 German U-Boat. Turns out this is Peter the Lawyer, also of the V squad.

Plenty of parking, paid and free, on Bower Road at 0645 – but some people insist on parking in the paying spots and a few guys are lined up sticking their credit cards into the machine as SM saunters past after parking in one of the scores of free spots 100 metres up the road. Each to their own.

Charm is waiting on the beach with others of the V squad. Greetings all around as the seal team members undress and slap on the Vaso and sunblock, check googles, yarn and slowly continue the waking up process. Jai and a few others getting into their wetsuits. Bondi John his usual chirpy self. Fearless Fi with her two doggies but she’s not swimming today – takes the mutts for a walk instead.

Deano rocks up, getting more tanned by the day and makes a quip about surfmuppet wearing a white wetsuit today? It’s the milky white skin. Fi whispers a delicious waspy counter into the ear of SM who delivers it as if it’s his own – everyone knows it’s not but it’s kinda funny anyway – “Hey, Deano, wearing a hairy wetsuit today?” – like, as in a hairy chest.

You had to be there.

It’s a beautiful morning. An orange sun gleams out of the smoke haze from the bush fires raging on the central coast. Looks like fog – but with the taste and smell of woodsmoke.

As the 7am jump off time arrives, the first of the pink hats of the Bold and the Beautiful appear around Manly Point. There’s hundreds of them in “the pink plague” as Charm daubs them. Plan is to steer north of them and regroup in the ocean in front of a ochre-ish building on the Manly seafront. Water is pleasant – somebody says it’s about 20 degrees. And off the V squad set out from Shelley.

Training ain’t what it should be lately and soon SM is quicly left behind by the lot of them. The last of them, nose-peg guy, SM tries to keep up with but the pace is too fast and the technique starts to go.

And then the heebeegeebees start.

Goes something like this. Just how big will the great white be which takes the left leg off. In the bloom of blood, will you be able to see if both legs are gone or just one. Will you be able to see the triangular teeth coming back through the blood for seconds. Once this shit starts it’s kinda hard to stop.

The sea is placid with a mild swell and visibility is good. Too good for a mind now firmly entrapped in the Nat Geo Channel. Beasts are lining up like punters at a cheeko roll stand at the Easter Show. Bull sharks are jostling Tigers out of the way until a gang of White Pointers push their way to the head of the queue. A Hammerhead tries to slink up the side for a chomp until a Mako lashes it away with a flick of it’s tail. Get back ya bastard!

SM does his best to tell this flotilla of phantom mangling monsters to just fuck off out of his head but it’s no good. They’ve brought an esky full of beer to wash down the saltwater barbequed flesh. By now Nose-peg guy is heading off north and the V squad has long gone at this stage, direction north towards Queenscliff and around the point to Freshwater.

SM is heading straight towards the beach in front of the building we were supposed to rendevous off. That’s it for the day. Forever. Who needs this shite on a fine Saturday morning such as this. Fling the speedos in the bin on the beach and walk naked back to Shelley to pick up the gear and head back home – take up crochet instead.

But no. Won’t be beaten by this. Pull up just short of the break and pause. Thread water and look about. Repeat several times the Vlad mantra – RELAX. The swell is bigger here and so swim slowly back out into deeper water to avoid getting clobbered by a breaking wave. Along the line of sight north towards Queenscliff, three distinct groups of surfers out to catch  the morning break.

Decide to swim to the first one. Nice easy pace. Keeping out from the sandbar to avoid getting smashed. Concentrate on technique. The rogue left arm which Vlad has been banging on about getting the elbow higher in the air in recovery, earlier entry into the water and pushing through in line with the shoulder, good solid catch engaging the lats, strong pull, rotate, complete the stroke. Start to move.

Keeping a good eye out seaward for dancing beasties, reach the first group of surfer, swim outside them and decide to keep going. More interesting closer to the shore – have to keep watching out for waves, following the line of the sandbars, feel the rips and swim across them, watch the bottom being churned up by the action of the waves. Pretty soon it’s past North Steyne and then it’s only a hop, skim and a jump to under the cliffs off Queenscliff.  Pause there for a moment and watch the surfboat crews rowing out into the bay. Just under 2km, time to go back.

During the week, after some stroke correction work, Vlad bails SM up after the session and explains the difference between thinking and focusing.

Cue Slovakian accent:
“I can see you thinking about left arm. I can see you using energy as you tense up and try to make the correction! All this making you rigid and burning up energy. Instead of thinking, focus instead.”
“What’s the difference Vlad?”
“Thinking is when you are in your head, trying to work the changes into your stroke. You tense up. Use energy. With focus, you don’t think, you feel instead. Feel the changes. The more you focus, the more you feel, the more changes will happen.”

Ethereal  stuff.

SM gets to realising about focusing and the immediacy of the NOW – Doing things NOW – Focusing on the NOW, not thinking about the NOW. Feeling the NOW.

Thinking takes time – you automatically step back from the moment by a portion of time – a millisecond, microsecond, a second if you’re a bit sharp, and five seconds for someone like SM on a bad day.
“Hello SM. How are you?”
Five seconds for processing.
“Fine. And yourself?”
But the person has gone and SM is talking to himself.

Have an 11 year old pug called Elvis who is distracted beyond anything you can imagine. Nothing draws his attention much – except food. Dangle a smacko in front of his popping pug eyes and you can see the electricity arc up in the big black pupils. Maybe in a past life Elvis was a great white.

Something magical happens on the way back. Start to focus on the breathing –  in, then blowing out all the bubbles. Soon, thinking stops and focusing starts. The horror show in the head fades. Get a nice, solid rhythm going. Start to really enjoy the swim. See a big stingray rise up from the ocean floor and flap it’s great wings and glide off into the greyness. A massive school of blue mullet hoon past, a river of fish swimming as if their lives depended on it – not even going there as to what might be chasing them. Couldn’t care less by now.

See Vlad’s yellow kayak off in the distance. Keep swimming. Even stop for a chat with an old boy surfer just off South Steyne.

Swimming over the reef in Cabbage Tree Bay on the way out from Manly and on to Shelley. Tons of marine life darting in and out of the rocks below, hiding in the seaweed, chasing each other around the place.

Then something really strange happens – catch the flash of some other swimmers nearby and a wee bit of resentment surfaces up – SM is enjoying this solitude out in the brine. Doesn’t want company. Happy out just swimming along at a steady pace, focusing on the moment.

The rest of the squad are hanging around on the beach getting changed.
Vlad is washing his kayak out as SM appears and the master confesses they were starting to get worried that something had happened to the muppet along the way. Something had happened all right. Strange things happen when you just keep swimming despite the shit the head can throw at you.

Corpses of three dead Tasmanian mutton birds bobbing around in the water just off the beach.

Looking closer, what looked like clumps of seaweed on the sand turns out to be more dead mutton birds.
One of the guys explains these birds go on a 30,000 km return journey migratory flight from Tasmania to the Bering Sea on the edge of the Arctic circle, finally arriving back in Tasmania to breed.

Those that make it. The long flight, the battering of high winds and storms tire many of them out and they fall down into the ocean with exhaustion and drown. And wash up in scores on beaches up and down the east coast of Australia.

Got to admire the little buggers.
Small bodies with big hearts.
Just keep on going until they can go no more.

There’s a message there somewhere.

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Clovelly Washing Machine

After missing Saturday’s surf swim at Bondi due to a sick wife, SM decides to go to Clovelly on Sunday for a bit of a session. Checks the weather and tides and gets there just after four in the afternoon, an hour after high tide.

The ocean is heaving huge swells past Shark Point and straight into the entrance of Clovelly Lagoon. These swells are smashing against the submerged sea wall and the whole mouth of the lagoon is a maelstrom of white, foaming, angry looking water.

Right says surfmuppet, this is the thing for me.

In this kind of weather, Clovelly is the best value in town for rough water training with minimal risk of getting sucked out to sea and being drowned.

The waves are barrelling up out of the water and streaming across the concrete apron of the lagoon sides. Assorted sea hoons are hollering and leaping into the surges, dicing with the danger of getting smashed on the rocks below if they get the timing of the surge wrong. Families are scurrying away and a couple of forlorn looking lifeguards are looking like they want to be elsewhere. A lone SLSC zodiac rubber ducky is tethered out in the madness, bobbing up and down, around and about.

SM changes, hides the gear bag up high on a yoke-a-ma-jig to avoid it being taken by the waves, goggles up, steps down the ladder and the sea snatches him away.

Very hard to get any rhythm going. Breath to the right – mouthful of sea water. Breath to the left, ditto dad. Waves ricocheting off the walls and bouncing back so the chop is coming from every direction. See the big blue groper down below getting turned upside down and around again but the beastie seems to be enjoying it. Visibility not great in the shallower end, clears up in the middle, then all froth and foam towards the entrance.

Tide is going out at this stage and the pull towards the open ocean increases dramatically as SM comes close to the zodiac. Not too many in the water – the sun has retired for the day and there’s a bit of a bite in the wind.

All up, do a humble 2km in an hour – not much in terms of Ks but good training none the less. Not so much a swim as a cage fight. Drank a lot of the Pacific Ocean, no better brew to tell you that you’re alive and kicking a bit of craic out of the day.

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