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Review of the inaugural Ocean Swim Week


Trevor Hendy with guests on Lord Howe Island

We’ve been swimmers for years. Before moving to Lord Howe, we used to swim at Sutherland Pool (in Sydney) alongside Ian Thorpe – he was in lane 8 by himself and we were in lane 3 with the other lap swimmers. On our honeymoon, we swam along the Amalfi Coast from fancy hotels to local fishing coves and discovered the magic of open water swimming. The idea that we could swim a couple of kilometres from point A to point B, and not feel like we’d wasted an hour of our day following an underwater black line, was a revelation. Not only did we see new things along the way – limestone grottos, inaccessible beaches, Italian fishermen in rustic boats, Russian tourists dancing to drum and bass music (this was nearly 10 years ago), and deep underwater reefs, we also felt a sense of achievement and independence. Open water swimming was our new thing, or so we thought.

The problem with travel is that sooner or later you return home and all of those revelations and promises are faded by routine and convenience. Somehow, swimming along Cronulla Beach wasn’t the same as the coast south of Praiano, and we drifted back to the black line at Sutherland Pool. But we did talk a lot about ‘swimming holidays’ – where we’d go, who we’d swim with, and how it would work.

Fast forward eight years to March 2014, and we found ourselves living on Lord Howe Island with a lodge to run and a need for some new ideas to attract guests to Pinetrees. Wellness – done. Adventure – done. Food and wine – done. Photography – done. Surfing – too fickle. Swimming – hang on a second. Why hadn’t we thought of that sooner? Somehow we’d forgotten the years of dreaming and scheming, only to find ourselves in the perfect place for an Ocean Swim Week.

Lord Howe Island has about 22km of ‘subtropical’ coast, divided between turquoise lagoon, long beaches, stunning coral reef, enormous sea cliffs and off-shore islands with rare seabird rookeries. Any section of the Lord Howe coast is ideal for an adventurous ocean swim. Yes, some sections are easy, shallow, still and flat, but the places we wanted to go have reef sharks, turtles, deep water and swell. After working out a number of options for different wind and swell conditions, we realised that the plan for our inaugural Ocean Swim Week was missing one thing – someone to lead the way.

Within a few hours of sending an invitation to Trevor Hendy, we heard back from him – “yes please, and I’ll bring the family” he said. Perfect. For those who haven’t heard of Trevor, he was Australia’s most successful ironman in the 1990s and was awarded an Order of Australia for his contribution to surf lifesaving. He now coaches elite athletes across the country. We also signed up Michael Banister from Cronulla Surf Club and Dean Hiscox from Lord Howe Environmental Tours to help with water safety and guiding.

Come November, Trevor and his family arrived at Pinetrees along with 12 ocean swimmers and Louise Southerden from the Sydney Morning Herald (stay tuned for her 2 feature articles in January or read Lou’s blog post here). Our ‘meet and greet’ was a revelation. No sooner had the crowd introduced themselves (name, home town, profession etc.) then the talk got kind of spiritual. Not Byron Bay hippy spiritual, but ocean spiritual - the kind of soul talk that most surfers and ocean swimmers have with ease in the right situation. Haven’t you ever wondered how surfers can sit for hours waiting for waves and staring at the horizon? There’s something else going on.

Our first swim was a challenge - nearly 2km in choppy water from Erscotts Hole to Lovers Bay. The downwind direction made is easier, but it still gave everyone sore arms and a bit of underarm chaffing. We wouldn’t expect any less. The next day, we walked from Old Settlement over the ridge to North Bay and swam back. The coral and fish were stunning, as were the turtles and occasional reef sharks. There was something strangely rewarding about walking somewhere and swimming back – maybe it was just that we were as far from black line pool swimming as possible. We finished the swim and lit the BBQ (and I think from memory I saw a few beers) for a lovely lunch of marinated prawns, Lord Howe kingfish, New England lamb and delicious salads. That afternoon, and every afternoon that followed, was spent relaxing by the lagoon or near the day spa. That’s the thing about a long morning swim – your exercise is done for the day and it’s fine to do nothing from that point on. Who could possibly judge you after swimming 2km?

Wednesday greeted us with cloud and drizzle. Luckily as a swimming group, it didn’t matter, so we swam from the Little Island gate to Pinetrees in glassy conditions. We saw volcanic rock structures, plenty of big fish, coral, sea grass and had a quick walk along Lagoon Beach. Thursday was also cloudy, but luckily flat, so we swam along a section of the outer reef that is rarely visited by snorkelers, and saw the best coral gardens that Lord Howe has to offer.

The final swim was the highlight of the week – a genuine ocean swim from Neds Beach to Soldiers Cap across deep sections of cobalt blue Pacific Ocean. Our rest on Malabar Beach was under big sea cliffs with thousands of Sooty terns and Red tailed tropic birds. The swim back to Neds was completed with group hugs, kisses, handshakes and back slaps, which summed up the vibe of the week – friendly, supportive, non-competitive, and rewarding. Yes, it probably looked strange to the untrained eye – all of those adults hugging on the beach in wet cozzies, but that’s Australian beach culture. Isn’t it?

All up, it was probably my favourite week at Pinetrees in the last 4 years (and that’s a big call given the good stuff we do). Trevor is the real deal – a waterman, soul surfer, free diver and elite athlete – packaged up with generosity, humour, intelligence and depth. He made the week, and even now, two months later, continues to email the swim group from his ski holiday in the United States. Luckily, Trevor also had a good time and is returning to Pinetrees for two more Ocean Swim Weeks in March and November 2015. Please book soon if you’d like to come, start training, and expect the unexpected.

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