Respecting the toothless tiger

Taking on big and rough looking surf conditions at an event can be tough, but you shouldn't be making it harder on yourself by forgetting some of the basics of surf navigation.

Whilst most of the ocean swims around the country over the weekend enjoyed calm ocean swimming conditions, the North Bondi Roughwater truly lived up to its name (again).

Having got to the beach at 5.30am in preparation for one of our clinics, it was obvious that the organisers would have a decision on their hands.

There was a significant south wind swell whipping up large 2-3 foot seas, with a decent (at times 5-foot) south groundswell showing itself at irregular intervals.

For the uninitiated, on first look, the conditions would have resembled a roaring lion – too heavy for an ocean swim, yet the event did go ahead, in what was a good decision by organisers who obviously know how to read conditions – and picking it for a toothless tiger.

You see, whilst down at mid-to-south Bondi, the swell was grading much bigger and pounding on shallow sandbanks, the north end seemed to be ever so slightly protected. This was enough to take much of the energy out of the waves.

The windswell up the north end was also slightly subdued as well, meaning there wasn’t as much surf to deal with between set waves and in the lulls.

The north headland rip was working nicely, and this would have played a role in determining the risk level, and I thought for sure swimmers would take this option. The funny thing was, no one in all the starts I saw took this option.

I would say there was about a third of entrants who were pretty strong swimmers and comfortable in these conditions, and they just took off over the bank after the starter’s gun. These are the swimmers who were able to maintain a streamlined body position, get under the water well before the wave approached and who had a good level of swimming strength and resilience.

The middle third, they backed themselves, followed those in front, and gave it a good crack. Their technique wasn’t flash and swimming ability weaker but they were winging it and it was enough to make it through. With the rip pumping beside them, I wondered why they decided to use so much energy taking on the bank.

The final third, well, they got what was coming and had an insane energy-sapping time on the bank – even though most made it out, they should’ve taken the rip for sure. But, in event conditions, it’s very hard for hesitant, inexperienced swimmers to go against the grain of more experienced swimmers before them, and I’d suggest they were too afraid to look like a fool for heading off to the rip when others before them weren’t.

The organisers made the right call going ahead with a modified swim course, however, whilst the tiger might have been toothless for some swimmers, it still had enough bite that meant everyone else would have benefited from taking a wide berth into the rip, saving energy even if it meant a slightly longer swim.

Experiences in the wild like these are great for self-reflection. Are you making the right decisions under pressure? Do you back your knowledge and skills? or, is it time you developed a little more Tarzan in you?

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