Urge to swim
By Paddy Hintz
The urge to swim comes in waves. Twice for me it has been a tidal wave, wiping out most other things. Trying to make it at an elite level for obsessive behavior requires that kind of commitment. Swimming these days is back in my life, but at a more natural rhythm, if 4:30am starts four to five times a week fits your idea of the natural order of things.
If I didn’t know about the enormous social and fitness benefits of being in a squad, I would say those who restrict their swimming to pools are slightly insane. It’s in the ocean – where consistency of effort builds strength and courage – that swimming day in and day out makes most sense to me.
The ocean can be a frightening place, where we dread being swept off our feet and losing control, where things unseen pull at our imagination and make us shut our eyes to the beauty around us. The first ocean swim with others can be a terrifying time for many and really not that enjoyable. How we all got to this point may be different for everyone. I think we are all there because of something missing.
For the first few times, the sound of your heart pumping and the concentration required to fight rising panic and a desire to turn back can detract from the experience. But getting into a rhythm way out beyond where you ever imagined you would be in the company of other frightened souls can be a truly exhilarating experience.
There will be good days and bad, especially when squeezed between a pack of masochistic males mid-ocean fighting to overcome their career shortcomings in the 50-60 year age bracket of the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Race. But it feels so great when it stops, even if the highlight was conquering a bunch of bad-mannered men. Each swim brings with it an analysis of what the current was doing, what the sea threw up, questions about how to handle the conditions better and always, how to get faster.
Because swimming, the hard taskmaster that it is, always offers the opportunity to get better.
If you miss a day, a week or a month for whatever reason, you will go backwards against your friends. Swimming is like that. It is unforgiving on the no shows. But each lapse brings opportunity to get better and faster than the day before, to buoy the spirits when life might be crumbling at work or at home, and to just relax and enjoy the scenery.
Swimming needs consistency of effort. But it also needs friends. They provide drag in the pool, in the swell and in life. Swimming friends can be tough but fair. They help you stay on course when a tsunami of grief threatens to overwhelm you by making you lead when you don’t want to and taking you out for beer after.
I have been back at it six years now and I have learnt much. Turning up again and again to the ocean, I have learnt to relax first, enjoy second, and go like the clappers third. I know now that sometimes you can just be swimming in the same spot and be going nowhere, but that’s ok, you will eventually get there. Sometimes you may get hit by a sudden dumper, but that’s ok, you will survive. I have swum ocean channels and coastlines both here and overseas. I know I can handle most conditions. What I cannot handle is going without some sort of regular salt water immersion therapy or the people who pull me out beyond the break and back again, every time. For me the ocean and the people I swim with are Alka Seltzer for the soul.
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