March 16th, 2014

Quail Island Swim

Quail Island Swim

Quail Island Swim

Quail Island is in Christchurch’s Lyttleton Harbour, directly  out from our jewel of a beach in a Nor East wind; Corsair Bay. As soon as I entered the water I felt the thrill of open water swimming as you swim “straight” across to Quail island; unless of course you swim like me and realise that you may be swimming to South America! I pop my head up and correct my course taking in the scenery which confirms Yes it is beautiful and Yes I am in the middle of a historic volcanic crater. This swim has a special appeal, beyond the usual token orange marker buoys of open water swimming, it’s just one of the many reasons why the Quail Island Crossing (4km) and Quail Island (8km) Circumnavigation are iconic Christchurch swims.  I have recently caught the open water swimming bug and this summer I have now completed four Quail Island swims.

The circumnavigation

On the 8th of March, RealSwim Adventure guides Dan & Meg took a group of seven of us out for the 8km around Quail island adventure. Earlier in the week Christchurch had been hit reasonably hard by a storm, luckily with the Harbour Masters ‘OK’ we were all on the beach at 8am a little cold, nervous , yet excited and ready to start our swim.  After a safety briefing and some ‘dry’ humour from Dan to put everyone at ease, we were ready to swim.    The water was noticeably cooler than the Wednesday night Sports Canterbury swim series had been,  my mild icecream headache quickly faded and we were off to the left side of the island for a clockwise loop. Once we made it across the harbour it was time for a drink stop – the casual, relaxed pace of the swim means that drinks, lollies, encouragement and humour from the boat are in plentiful supply. As we swum  out to the island the wind-blown chop increased slightly  and there were patches of cooler water, presumably stirred up from the mid-week storm. Around the back of the island, you swim wide around a buoy marking a reef and then around past a white sandy beach with a grassy hill sloping up to the top of Quail island behind it. The view from the back of the island really could be anywhere in the world; yet this is right in my backyard. After a relaxing swim around the back of the island you can stop for a few good photo opportunities ; facebook link to some of ours : and to soak up the landscape. We round the final edge of Quail Island  which is home to a ship wreck, the guides provide a number of entertaining yet unlikely stories as to how they ended up there. The most technical part of the swim is the final leg– slightly more challenging than I anticipated. From Quail Island looking back, Cass Bay & Corsair Bay look very similar making identifying landmarks and sighting  most, as is an awareness of the tides so as not to not end up in the marina or once again on track to South America. Once you get closer, the boats in the harbour are recognisable and before you know it you are back inside the familiar 5 knot marker buoys. As you hit the sand of Corsair bay, you know there will be a big high 5 from Dan, more lollies, chocolate or fruit and an opportunity to share your experience with the others in the group.

Before undertaking my first Quail Island swim in December 5km was my longest open water swim; with the scenery and encouragement and without any race pressure, the distance and time passes quickly and if you happen to be swimming with local swim legends Kerry and Sue, you may just be lucky enough to be joined by some local hectors dolphins.

Thank you to Dan & Meg for the coaching tips, encouragement and most importantly the lollies. I will definitely be back for more swimming in Lyttleton Harbour I would recommend these swims to anyone, it is not a race, there is no pressure and you will potentially come away from the expereince having realised you can swim much further than you thought. You may also come away with “attractive” cap & goggle tan lines …. But these like your official ‘Swim around Quail Island’ certificate are just another cool sign you are an open water swimmer.

Thank you to Holly Cassin for the above article. The Quail Island swim is part of our local RealSwim Adventure options and are run on a demand basis 

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February 26th, 2014

La Grande

On Saturday 22 Feb the 4th round of the State NZ Ocean Swim Series was held in the historic French and British settlement of Akaroa. Nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano the village is only 75km from the city of Christchurch but with is quaint sleepy galleries, craft stores and cafes set on the harbour front you feel miles from anywhere and instantly chilled and relaxed. The date of the 22 Feb was also significant in that it was the 3rd anniversary of the Christchurch earthquakes that claimed 182 lives. A minute of silence was held in remembrance.

The day started extremely promising with blue skies and the sunshine peaking over the crater rim. Race start was 0900 to coincide with 60 minutes prior to high tide. After registration in the town domain swimmers then walk 500m down to the central village beach for the start. With just over 900 competitors the beach is busy but with a friendly and excited atmosphere. The path above is packed with friends and family members and sightseers alike. Akaroa also acts as hosts for visiting cruise ships and a few passengers take up the last minute opportunity to participate in the 2.8km ocean swim.

Race director Scott Rice gives one of the most professional race briefings you are likely to hear. Then the race starts in seeded waves with the elites and faster swimmers starting first in red caps, followed by successive waves in different coloured caps starting 60 seconds apart. The course is a simple triangle 1.4 km out and 1.4km back finishing with a run up the beach and across the finish line in the local domain.

Blue skies and sunshine remained for the swim start however a reasonable Nor’west breeze meant that swimmers were swimming directly into a moderate wind-blown chop for the first 1.4km. For the novices this perhaps was a challenge for the more experienced it provided some variety that makes open water swimming exciting. Rounding the top mark all swimmers were blinded by a blazing sunshine and had to use all navigational opportunities to try and swim down the buoy line to the finish line. This meant sighting off the volcano rim, using features left and right and at times dog legging back to the buoy that you were just about to miss – this occurred for many from the elites, amateurs and yours truly.

There was a swim into the beach and the very short run up the beach to a large and supportive crowd meant everyone felt an additional spurt of energy. It was hard not to run up the finish chute with a smile on ones face.  The prize giving is held in the finish area at the local community park/domain which gave the event a real family orientated feel. The sun continued to shine all day which makes the difference for any open water event. Many finished up with a well-deserved ice cream on the water front. The perfect conclusion.

This article was first published by the worlds leading open water swim magazine

Find out more about the State Ocean Swim Series


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January 13th, 2014

Epic Round-Up

Epic Swim

Each January at Lake Taupo, New Zealands best gather for the Oceania 5 and 10km Open water Swim Championships. Swimmers of all ages and abilities are invited to share the weekend with the elite swimmers in what has become known as Epic Swim. Epic swim events include 500M, 1km, 2.5km, 5km and 10km.  Five minutes after the elite 5 and 10km swim race has begun the Epic swims start and swimmers of all ages get to enjoy Open Water competitive swimming in one of New Zealands most beautiful and the largest fresh water lake.

Epic swim 2014 was held January 10 and 11th with over 600 competitors from the UK,  Australia, Samoa, South Africa, Germany, Japan, America as well as New Zealanders.

With any open water event the organisers are at the mercy of the weather. This year, similar to last the weather gods were favourable and the lake conditions were stunning. The course runs along the lake shore providing spectators a terrific view of the entire race unfolding.

In the mens elite 10km race the first two laps of the four lap race were taken at a ‘leisurely’ pace lead out by Japans Yasunari Hirai. In the third lap the leaders upped the pace significantly and a breakaway of four swimmers established itself. The eventually winner NZ Kane Radford didn’t take the lead until the final 500M making for a gripping finish. His winning time of 1.58.12, with Japans Yasanari Hirai second just two tenths  of a second ahead of Australian Ridge Grimsey.

In the womans elite 10km the kiwi woman swimmers were aggressive and a group of 6 led out. The pace in the second half of the race started to tell and two of the elite woman lead pack fell back. Australia’s Sacha Downing took the win in 2.07.04, South Africas Sasha-Lee Nordengen second in 2.07.56 and New Zealander Grace Sommerville third in 2.07.57.

In the Epic 10km races the eventual winners were in the Mens Axel Wohlfarth 2 hours 14 mins and first time 10km swimmer Holly Cassin took the womans win in 2 hours 39 mins.

The Epic 10km marathon swimmers enjoyed crystal clear waters, sunshine plenty of crowd support. The course runs parallel to sure and is clearly marked with large turn buoys in each corner and orange buoys placed every 150M. It makes navigation as close to simple as one can expect in open water.  It’s a good course for a swimmer new to marathon swimmer to experience their first 10km swim.  The clear water gives plenty of reassurance to a nervous open water swimmer as you can see the bottom the entire way.

The Epic Swim finish line is set up just before the mouth of New Zealands longest river, the Waikato. This also happens to be right on the central periphery of the Taupo township. Everything is within walking distance. It makes for convenience, great crowds and support.

2014 Epic Swim results

If you want to be a part of Epic Swim next year why not join us

You can also watch the thrilling finish to the mens 5Km Elite championship race

This summary was also published in the only dedicated open water swimming magazine

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December 4th, 2013

Water Safety in New Zealand

Be Prepared

The closure of over 300 NZ school pools in the last decade is a sad reflection of the times. A pool will always lose when it comes to accounting based decision making because it often takes up a significant amount of zero’s on a budget. Unfortunately there is no column for social impact on an accountants report; health and well-being from obesity through to drownings are all actual outcomes for closing a school pool.

Demands on public pool usage only continues to grow as our population grows. Having a school pool is the only way for a school to guarantee regular quality access to swim lessons for their students. For many schools that opportunity is now lost. My own primary school pool is long gone, making way for a lovely… carpark. For decades the accepted NZ social cost of a drowning is over $3 million dollars, some would argue a life is priceless. There are schools who have closed their pools to save $60K in a year. Was that really a justified saving?

Swimming pool access and child learn to swim is only part of the problem, thankfully it receives attention unlike other aspects of swimming safety. What about all the adults who missed out on sufficient learn to swim while they were at school? Where do they go to get swim lessons and swim skills? How about the additional baggage they carry ; “Im embarrassed I am an adult and can’t swim”; 66 of the 98 recorded drownings in 2012 in New Zealand were aged between 15 – 66.

We spend a great deal of time teaching children to swim in a pool however a very large majority of drownings occur on beaches, off shore, rivers, tidal waters and inshore still waters. And those drownings are primarily adults not children.  Consider that for the last three decades we have been very consistently covering all our swimming pools? We have also been steadily increasing the temperature at which we heat the indoor pool water. When I was a kid swimming outdoors in 18C was the norm, now you will most likely swim indoors with a water temperature around 29-30C. The disparity between a controlled indoor swim environment and almost any outdoor swim environment has changed significantly. This means that although one may be comfortable swimming in a pool they are far less likely to be comfortable and therefore less able to cope in an external water environment. This disparity only increases the risk for panic with an unplanned entry into the water in an outdoor environment.  To be safe we need to be more familiar with the open water environment. After learning to swim in a pool, open water swimming , survival and safety should be the next focus area when considering water safety.

And lastly, Water Safety statistics; they are a little too all encompassing.  A child left attended in a bath, a capsized boat, a teenager diving in a river and knocking themselves unconscious and an adult swimming out too far and panicking all come under our drowning statistics. They all require different focusses to remedy. A child drowning in a bath is a parenting skill not water safety. An overboard when boating – how many boat qualifications require the person to actually go overboard and experience what it is like? There are a number of areas that need addressing in order to stop deaths by drowning. That said 90% of drownings are in open water, two thirds of drownings last year were adults. Swimming and survival skills for children are an important preventative measure. More swimming, education and survival classes run for adults 15 and older and held in ‘natural’ open water environments are needed. This focus would have a by far the biggest impact on our drowning statistics. New Zealand is a nation of water lovers, it’s time we started acting like it, by taking to the open water and preparing to survive.

An edited version of this article is also published at

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November 19th, 2013

Dealing With The Masses

Picture courtesy of State NZ Ocean Swim Series (AKL Harbour Crossing 2013)

It is one of the most voiced concerns open water swimmers raise when discussing open water swim racing; the mass start. It can be a daunting, scary, physical experience.

A mass start will always have an element of tension and energy. The idea is to minimise this as much as possible in order to maximise your overall performance and your enjoyment. Learning to achieve this takes time and takes experience.

From a deep water start; If you are in a wetsuit relax, more than likely the wetsuit will keep your head well above water. Do not needlessly tread water and waste energy. It will also help you avoid unnecessary body contact.

Talk to people and smile, it helps to ease tension and relax the nerves. Say ‘Hi’ or wish someone luck.

Pick your line that you are going to swim. If you have a good idea of where you are going you are far less likely to get disorientated.

When the swim starts you will be going from close to zero output to a significant workload. Many athletes allow the hype, adrenaline, nerves and other swimmers to dictate their pace. If you allow these emotions to dictate the situation more than likely you will be working and swimming much faster than you have rehearsed. This will result in a feeling over overload, out of breath and for beginners this can result in a panic situation. For others at the very least it will mean having to slow down to allow your body to physiologically adjust and recover to this new ‘busy’ workload. The more calm and controlled you can keep your swim start, the better off you’ll be all around.

By its very nature ‘open’ water swimming means people can swim an open line. This will result in contact as one swimmer drifts left and the other drifts right. Contact in mass participation is almost a given. The idea is not to avoid contact but to minimise as much as possible and to ensure other swimmers have as little impact on your swim performance as possible. Believe it or not other swimmers can even greatly enhance your swim if you know how.

Swimmers may nudge each other or if you are in the middle you may get contact from both sides. Stay calm, stay relaxed. Let the situation sort itself. Swimmers may move left and right again, or you may need to slow down or speed up to remove yourself from the ‘sandwich’. The worst you can do is let the contact distract you from the job at hand; focus on swimming, maintaining your breathing pattern and navigating.

Right from the start of a mass participation swim you will have opportunities to enhance your swim performance and experience, or detract from it. Drafting from the swim start is an excellent way to get the best from your swim start while minimising workload. Swimming directly behind someone will increase your efficiency by around 20%. Swimming directly next to someone with your head around their shoulder line will give around 5% efficiency advantage. If you are sandwiched between two swimmers sitting back with your head around their shoulder line can be very beneficial. Whatever you do don’t be sandwiched and have your head in front, you’ll be helping two people along and spending additional energy to do so.

A critical step in getting the mass start right is that you first rehearse mass starts race in a group without the pressure of a ‘race day’. This is the first step toward properly preparing yourself for a mass swim start. If you’re not comfortable, unsure about strategy, tactics, technique or swim gear seek additional advice from a coach or experienced swimmers.

There are no shortcuts when learning mass start swim skills. You need exposure and practice. The more experience you have in these situations the more relaxed you can become. That’s why it’s a good idea to pick a couple of swims prior to your main event where you are not so focussed on the result but are more focussed on analysing and dealing with and learning from individual facets of the race. It is why I always advocate triathletes do a couple of pure swim races so they can rehearse, learn from mistakes in the swim without the pressure of having to get out and bike and run afterward.

The more skills you can get comfortable with before race day the less apprehensive you will be and the more capable you will be in dealing with the race. With enough rehearsal and experience believe it or not mass start swims can be a whole lot of fun.



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November 6th, 2013

NZ3 The Kiwi Triple Crown

Oceans Seven has created a massive amount of interest in New Zealand’s contribution to the Oceans Seven; Cook Strait. At present open water swim legend and Cook Strait swim guide guru Philip Rush fields a phenomenal number of inquiries about the swim, I believe he is now taking bookings for 2016 and beyond. Cook Strait is an amazing piece of water, the tides are completely opposite at each end of the strait making currents impossible to accurately model and predict. The weather can best be described as knarly. Every form of wildlife imaginable calls Cook Strait home or at least transits through, you honestly have no idea what you’re going to run into when you’re swimming Cook Strait, therefore to successfully swim it is truly a special achievement, as is any of the Oceans Seven swims. Having said that I believe it is of interest to note some of the other remarkable marathon swims that have been completed in New Zealand and are available to those motivated enough to take them on.

The Cook Strait is named after Captain James Cook , it runs between New Zealands North and South Islands. There is another Strait that Captain Cook passed on his travels in New Zealand only he failed to recognise it was a Strait, originally thinking that New Zealands third most prominent Island, Stewart Island and the South Island of New Zealand were linked. Stewart Island is located below the South Island. Foveaux Strait links the two. Foveaux Strait was discovered by an American, O. F. Smith, while searching for seals in 1804. In March 1806 he passed on the information to the Australian Governor of New South Wales who decided the Strait should be named after Major Joseph Foveaux, who was one of his aides at the time. Foveaux Strait is approximately the same distance as the Cook the Cook Strait at around 16miles/26km and because it is at a greater southern latitude the waters are colder and just as rough, if not rougher, than Cook Strait. It can be a very unforgiving place, between the years 1998 to 2012 there were a total of 23 maritime fatalities in Foveaux Strait.

Marathon swimming Foveaux; John van Leeuwen, a Dutch immigrant living in New Zealand made the first successful crossing of the Foveaux Strait on 7 February 1963 in 13 hours 40 minutes. He left the beach near Bluff at 9:15 am and reached Stewart Island at 10:55 pm. With all the recent day discussion on Jelly fish stings, it is interesting to read what John van Leeuwens had to say about his experience in dealing with jelly fish stings ;.

“I stopped and put in a complaint to the complaints department – Ivan. He got engine oil and smeared it across my mouth. That’s what saved me.

Since that time only 5 other non wetsuit and 1 wetsuit crossing attempt have been successful. The Foveaux is easily as tough as the Cook Strait swim if not tougher.

The third most prominent marathon swim in New Zealand has to be New Zealands largest lake, Lake Taupo. Located in the centre of the North Island. To date 30 successful non wetsuit Taupo swims have been completed . The first recognised swim of Taupo was completed by Margret Sweeny in 1955. In more recent times legendary open water swimmer Philip Rush holds the fastest crossing of this 40.2km swim at 10hours 52.48 and the fastest two way crossing at 23.05.

In my opinion these are the three most challenging marathon swims that New Zealand has to offer – together they make up what I would call New Zealands triple crown. As far as my research indicates no single swimmer is yet to conquer all three. Who will be the first?

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