Sea swims are a 'different beast' these days

Reuben Peterson training for the Coast to Coast race by running up the Centre of New Zealand.
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

Reuben Peterson training for the Coast to Coast race by running up the Centre of New Zealand.

The Port Nelson Sea Summer Swim Series got underway this week.

Nearly 30 years ago, Peter Owen of Eyebright put a notice in the Nelson Evening Mail asking for people interested in swim races in the sea to meet up at Tahuna Beach.

Six of us arrived. I didn't know any of them, but I know now that Peter Owen was one and Phil Howes was another. We splashed around in the surf and in the fullness of time the Eyebright Swims got underway on a regular Thursday night basis.

Peter Owen organised the swims for 20 years. I took it over after that, put it under the umbrella of the Nelson Triathlon Club and looked after it for six years.

Dick Bennison, president of the club, took over after that. He's been the boss for two years and steps up to the plate again this year.

It's a far different beast these days. From a dozen or two swimmers, numbers are stretching up towards 200 every Thursday now.

No longer is it a one-person operation to organise - there's a vast network of volunteers and services required to make it work now.

Over the past few years the event has contracted out the kayak support to maintain the ratio of one kayaker per 25 swimmers.

This summer, the club has purchased half a dozen ride-on kayaks and will run its own roster of paddlers.

Over the years, there have been no major incidents, with kayakers only required to occasionally give support and a resting place for tired swimmers, summoning an inflatable if a swimmer needs to be assisted to shore.

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The ride-on kayaks mean the paddler can easily slip into the water to aid a swimmer should that be required.

When we floated the idea of buying the kayaks, Chris West of Kayak HQ immediately offered to help out, supplying six boats at a reduced price, then showing up with them on a trailer for our training night, giving a short lesson in handling the boats.

I'd been meaning to talk to Chris for some time.

As I mentioned in earlier columns, my stepson Blake Mackie and his friend Reuben Peterson hatched a plot some years ago to compete in the Coast to Coast - the year after they turned 40.

Neither had a suitable kayak at the time, but Chris has helped Reuben get into a boat and has had river sessions with him aiming at a grade two kayak qualification - one of the requirements for Coast to Coast entry.

The situation is slightly more complicated for Blake, who lives in Switzerland and won't arrive in Nelson until January 30 next year.

Chris has stepped into the breach again, sorting a rental kayak. He'll take Blake out on the river as soon as he arrives here in Nelson - less than a fortnight before the event.

The two young men have been ramping up their training, with three months remaining before the event.

Reuben's getting over a knee problem: "I've been focussing on rough trail running, mainly because I find running on footpaths boring as hell, but also it hurts the knee.  

"I'm most of the way through my grade 2 certificate course with Chris at Kayak HQ.  He has been great and I have learnt a lot.  

"I'm also reluctantly getting off the mountainbike and on to a road bike, but definitely enjoying the speed.

"All in all feeling pretty good, just got to find more time for longer runs, rides and kayaks plus stringing a few of them together to practice moving from one activity to another."

Blake's also grappling with injury, but more about that next week.

 - Stuff

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