Ocean swim comeback set for new year

Timaru's ocean swimming group is looking forward to competing in their own back yard.
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/FAIRFAX NZ

Timaru's ocean swimming group is looking forward to competing in their own back yard.

A casual conversation at CBay was the catalyst for the return of a competitive ocean swim through the Timaru harbour and into Caroline Bay.

Timaru triathlete Gary Fahey and PrimePort Timaru chief executive Phil Melhopt were taking a breather from lane swimming when the idea came up.

The ocean swim will be held in  conjunction with the Timaru triathlon on January 24 and depending on the tide the race distance will be between 2.2km and 2.5km.

Ocean swimming regular Rob Naylor welcomed it as they had a regular core of swimmers who would leap at the opportunity to swim competitively so close to home.

"It should be a great event for spectators as well, with plenty of vantage points around the course for them to watch and cheer on the swimmers."

Naylor said it was brilliant that Melhopt backed the idea.

"The event couldn't have taken place without the support of PrimePort Timaru who have come on board, temporarily closing the port to waterborne traffic for the duration of the race and helping with the costs of promoting and running the event." 

Naylor said the timing of the ocean race would allow those athletes competing in the swim leg of the triathlon teams event an opportunity to have a go in both events if they wished, rather than having to choose between the two. 

"The timing of the event also provides an activity for the triathlete support crews to participate in, either as a competitor or spectator, while their triathletes are out competing on the bike course."

Naylor said it was difficult to estimate swimmer numbers for the event because it is new.

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"Open water swim events continue to grow in popularity around the country."

"We are expecting entries from at least 20-25 local swimmers and with strong masters swimming groups operating in both Dunedin and Christchurch, we would hope to end up with at least double those numbers for the event."

"By using the inner harbour as well the swim course is a little unique and we hope that will encourage entries from those wanting to take the opportunity to give it a go."

Naylor said local open water swimmers were excited by the opportunity to compete in an event in their own backyard as most of the events they train for are held in the North Island. 

Anyone interested in open water swimming was welcome to come and train with their group at Caroline Bay, he said.

"Timaru has developed a core group of committed open water swimmers who regularly train and race together over the summer months."

Naylor said the group includes many pool swimmers who take the opportunity to enjoy the freedom and challenges of open water swimming at least once a week during the warmer summer months.

The group swim every Saturday morning at 9am at Caroline Bay, with numbers ranging from 10-20 swimmers, depending on conditions, he said.

Naylor said from his memory, open water swimming was last held regularly in the 1970s in Timaru.

It was run by the regional swimming association and usually only featured competitive swimmers.

"There were no wetsuits back then; everyone just plastered themselves in Vaseline."

Naylor said they stopped in the early 1980s as swimmer numbers didn't justify the time and effort setting up the course and organising the event.

"Swimmers were also getting used to training and racing in heated swimming pools all the time and open water wasn't really an attractive option.

"We tried lake swims up at Twizel for a couple of years as an alternative, with fresh rather than salt water, but had the same problem with lack of numbers."

Naylor said triathlons had really brought open water swimming back into vogue.

"Wetsuits also make it more pleasant to do the swims and they provide buoyancy for less able swimmers, which allowed them to participate with a level of  confidence they wouldn't have without the suit.

"The general  triathlon psyche of the event, being a personal challenge rather than a race, also crosses over into open water swimming, with probably over 90 per cent of the participants doing an event as a personal challenge rather than being in the event to try and win it."

The course

Swimmers start inside the harbour at the base of the No.1  wharf and head out past the harbour entrance.

They then turn left and swim along the length of the North Mole breakwater, before veering left into the calmer waters of Caroline Bay and heading to the beach.

Energing from the water, it's a short run up to the finish line.

 - Stuff

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