Lord Howe Island Swim

Lord Howe Island Swim


There’s an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It speaks to the very nature of Open Water swimming.

Now, at the off-set, you would not consider swimming to be a team sport, images of a solo swimmer, sleek in cozzie and streamlined cap and goggles following a black line in a single lane of a calm, still water pool is what the sport of swimming is commonly associated with. Ocean or Open Water Swimming is the most dynamic, team sport you will come across. Yes, it comes down to the grit and mental fortitude of the individual gliding (or thrashing, depending on how you’re going) through the ever-changing waters. What few knew of this treasured sport, up until the midst of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, is that open water swimming is a collaborative sport, best enjoyed amongst others. ‘Caring is sharing’, as my mum always says.

I have had the privilege of being an open water swimming enthusiast for almost ten, glorious years. The waters, the ocean in big swell being my favourite flavour, bring energy, camaraderie and pure elated joy to my life. I try to medicate on it daily. My biggest lessons and the metaphors for life can be found in the ocean: ‘Just focus on what’s right in front of you’ (or you might be pummelled by a wave); ‘Don’t look back, keeping moving forward’ (or a wave might roll you and the same can be said for boyfriends, as coach, Spot Anderson, always shouted at us), ‘When all is in turmoil, go deep to find the calm’ (in 12 ft, raging swell, the quietest place in the entire world at that point is lying low on the bottom of a sea bed).

‘Just focus on what’s right in front of you’ (or you might be pummelled by a wave)

Whilst, yes, one can go for a lap of a beach bay solo, but, you would think twice about going on a solo, adventure swim all the way along the cliffs of Sydney, because, of sharks. Squeals of joy and shared experiences when swimming with dolphins, and curses during collaborative detangling of blue-bottle stings can help dampen the pain. The deep security and calming knowledge, when all the world seems against you, a comforting sight is a coloured cozzie of a fellow swimmer, rolling their arms and looking weird breathing in odd goggles next to you and someone trying to smile at you. The mutually stopping to name a resident Albatross, or gasp out the back at Ben Buckler at the most incredible sunrise. These moments are only made greater when shared. The post-swim coffee delights and communion are at the centre of any open-water swimmer world.

In 2021, I completed an adventurous swim, circumnavigating Lord Howe Island. Whilst I achieved world record status, to my name, it was not without an entire team on the boats and on the land. I could not have done it myself. I really wish my team could have been included in this. Unless you’ve swum the English Channel, completed the Ocean’s 7’s or the Australian Triple Crown or any swim beyond 5km, will might not realise the amount of teamwork needed to get a swimmer in the water, let alone the finish. To elaborate on some of the key team people:

Coaches, nutritionist and doctors are frequently part of the action. Without their science, expertise and advice, foresight is lost. Anything can happen when you’re out on the water on the day. If you have had these professionals in your corner, having done all you could with them, the swim is a success already.
Observers, recording every last detail of what is occurring: in, above, and around and of the swimmer is necessary. They are the people swimmers rely on to communicate to the world, that you legitimately are swimming. Plus, they make the best cheer squad!

Nutrition and or Feeders, carefully coordinating the prescribed combination of food and energies to support the swimmer is key. Having completed over four hours of a 14-hour swim with a carbohydrate-sugar imbalance these people are key. They are also the ones who ensure your vegemite sandwich comes to you not soggy!

Navigators, boat captains and paddlers are vital in steering and supporting swimmers and the team on these ventures. These people of the ocean, generally the quietest, know. They know what is happening and what is coming up. If it wasn’t for Jim the captain of the boat taking me around Lord Howe Island, I would be a tasty, albeit greasy snack, for a Tiger shark: he said little to me the entire trip around the island, the one time he did: ‘Look down’ and pointed to my chest.

The incredible, supportive humans on land, as well as the naysayers, provide all the energy to swimmers. I know people might not agree on the ways of the universe, but the positive thoughts and energies, cheers and shouting whilst following at a tiny dot on a tracker reach swimmers. And when things are hard, you always fight harder, knowing that old mate ‘Dan’, said you couldn’t swim.

It is the training buddies, the fellow swimmers you meet along the way they get you through all kinds of swim adventures and challenges. In completing a swim around Lord Howe Island, I had the privilege of swimming with a number of swimming groups, many becoming long-term close friends and confidants. Training swims for 6 hours and more is incredibly hard to do yourself. When training for an ‘adventure’ swim, the knowledge that there are multiple swimming groups you can join, where you are accepted and can smash out three hours, before carrying on by yourself for another 3 hours is a key ingredient to swimming pleasure.

The Open Water Swimming community is a small one, yet vast and expands all continents. The history of the sport is broad and well-documented. There are groups and associations who work incredibly hard to ensure the integrity of the sport: just a cap, google and lycra swimming cozzie/togs/bathers/costume (depending on which country you’re in). Clubs are a great way to meet fellow swimmers and COVID-19 did wonders for the development of our sport and the growth of more clubs. When I started, my original club, Bondi Salties, there were about 10 of us, post COVID, just the WhatsApp group alone is up to 596 people. The friendships I have gathered from around the world of people, of all generations and life stations, who just love to swim and get salty are incredibly heartwarming and relationships I treasure most sincerely. These Thalassophilia aren’t just worried about swimming and finding a swimming buddy, we are a community who genuinely are interested in and care for each other: work problems have been solved, recipes shared, marriages have been arranged and genuine human connections developed after a swim in the open water.

In Victorian times, in England, people were sent in droves to Bath or Brighton to take in the waters, as well as convalesce. The physicians of the time were onto something then, and it seems, it should be prescribed heavily, again.