In one of Sydney’s strangest rituals, on any given day and in any given weather conditions, at 7 am sharp there will be one or two hundred ocean swimmers wearing pink caps, if not pink costumes, congregating off the point at Manly beach.
There they wait, some patiently and compliantly in line with the second telegraph pole from the point, others cheekily inching their way to the front of the pack looking for that competitive edge, until their leader yells, ‘Lets Go!’ whereupon they swim to Shelly beach and congregate again in the shallows eagerly awaiting further instructions.
They are of mixed abilities these pink hats: from aging sea dogs of the surf lifesaving movement to stars of the pool and ocean swimming circuits back in the day and there’s everything in between. They’re young and old, fat and lean, black and white and caramel, and some are from South Africa. There are men, women, boys and girls. They are nothing, if not inclusive.
As the slowest of their number make it to shore the assembled engage in banter and tell lies about the size of the shark they swam over to get there or the time they swam with a killer orca at half way beach. In winter there is much shivering and beating of chests about the water temperature and quite sniggers and looks of derision at the wetsuit wearers. The best badges don’t go to the wetsuit wearers.
When the last of them arrives birthdays are announced, immigrants and emigrants are acknowledged and on special days of holy obligation saints are praised, the fallen remembered and the nation celebrated. And then, in what seems strangely to surprise the group each time, their leader yells, ‘Lets Go’ whereupon they return from whence they came.
This is the way of the Bold and the Beautiful, an indeterminate group of friends who meet each day for a swim, 365 days a year rain, hail or shine. Nothing more or nothing less, this is community at its best and I am proud to be a member albeit a somewhat absent one this past year as I moved to the pool for most of my English Channel training.
The universe willing, as I approach the French shoreline in a couple of short weeks proudly wearing the colours and cap of the B and B, with my lungs bursting and my muscles burning, I will remember the days, less than three years ago when I felt exactly that way swimming from Manly to Shelly, and I will feel blessed that I belong.