So today I returned to take part in my first Sunday of the month swim (1soms) since August 2011. The first Sunday of the Month swim is an organised 1 Mile swim that takes place every month at Clifton beach in Cape Town.
The 1soms has been going for several years now and attracts a variety of ocean lovers. From the hardcore channel rules swimmers affectionately known as Polar Bears, club swimmers, triathletes and just those that want to swim in the ocean in a safe environment. The 1soms has lifeguards on duty in the water and a designated boat just in case. Its a great event to start yourself off into ocean swimming and learn from some old hands.
I don’t know why it had been so long but I was determined to not let this 1soms pass me by. @beanker wanted to get properly initiated on open water swimming and put in some prep before Ironman 70.3 in January. So we headed down to Clifton 3rd beach to register and take part in our first ocean mile for the summer.
The weather had changed slightly from the howling South Easter we had enjoyed for much of the week to an equally ferocious North Westerly wind. I secretly hoped overnight that the change in wind would improve the frigid Atlantic Ocean waters but it was not the case. As we left for Clifton I was worried for @beanker as she had not been feeling well the previous day. Swimming in the Ocean is a challenge in itself but swimming in cold water intensifies this and not being 100% can be a potential recipe for disaster.
We arrived on Clifton Beach and walked a short stretch along the beach to where the other swimmers were gathering. I looked out at the Ocean and it looked cold with plenty of chop although there wasn’t much swell. I was already feeling uneasy about swimming and then seeing a wetsuit clad swimmer come out of the water in gloves, hood and booties almost psyched me out completely. It was at this point I was thankful that B decided to not swim. I was certain it would not be the best 1st time experience and I wanted it to be an enjoyable experience.
I registered and paid my R40 to take part and then jumped in the water to acclimatise. I was informed the water was a chilly 13C but I immediately felt better having swum in colder conditions and having my trusty Coral Wetsuit on. I chilled (literally) in the water while waiting and had a great chat with a fellow wetsuit clad swimmer who shared his experiences from this years Ironman South Africa. We eventually headed in and waited for the start.
I decided whilst on the beach to take the swim relaxed and to maximise enjoyment as it was my first sea swim for some time. Having double capped (put on 2 swim caps) and comfortable with the fit I didn’t want to mess with the fit too much and admittedly missed much of the swim briefing. I did hear however that it was a square loop of about 800m and we would have to complete 2 loops passing the 4 buoys on the course with the right shoulder. I figured I would just follow everyone else. Big mistake!
We started and I headed out with the 20 swimmers of mixed wetsuits and channel rules. I managed to start on the outside right and got some clear water to the first buoy. On the way to the first buoy I used one of the lifeguards ahead of us on a ski as a marker as I figured he would lead the way. I looked to my left and right and realised I was out on my own. I was a little unnerved and decided to hang back to wait for someone who hopefully knew the course. I made the first turn with a costumed swimmer and another wetsuit swimmer.
We swam the back straight across the bay with no one in sight including lifeguards. The onshore swell and wind was making sighting of the next buoy difficult. I became increasingly aware of my stupidity of not listening properly at the race briefing for tips on landmarks. The other wetsuit swimmer and I stopped briefly mid swim to consult if we were going the right way before continuing. I managed to launch myself out of the water over the swells and spotted the 2nd buoy ahead and made a note of a building behind it to use for the second loop. The 3 of us made the turn and the straight back towards the beach was awesome as I got my moneys worth surfing the swells back to 3rd buoy.
After the 3rd turn my face was frozen but I felt warm and could still feel my hands. The pace across to the 4th buoy felt a little quicker and I noticed that the costumed swimmer was actually a lady after bumping into her. I felt awkward and tried to give her some space. At the 4th buoy and end of the first loop the other wetsuit swimmer suddenly turned sharp to the right and began to make his way across to the 2nd buoy. I almost followed but then looked to my left at the lady that was swimming the other way out towards the 1st buoy and then followed her.
The remaining buoy turns went by a lot quicker as I used landmarks behind the buoys and also decided to push on and finish as I was starting to get cold. I eventually rounded the last buoy completing my 2nd loop and swam in using the swells to glide through the water before bodysurfing a couple of waves onto the beach and officially finishing.
I was cold, tired but stoked to get through my first ocean swim of the season and have a benchmark for improvement. I greeted @beanker and then waited to shake hands with the lady I had swam with. I congratulated her on her swim, thanked her for unknowingly helping me with the course and praised her for doing it all sans wetsuit. I felt a bit of a dork though and nervously laughed when she said it wasn’t that cold. I could barely talk properly as I couldn’t feel my mouth and didn’t try to quip a response. Polar Bears they certainly are a hardcore lot!
For me open water swimming and swimming in the ocean in particular is all about enjoyment. I think swimming in cold water would not be as enjoyable as much without my wetsuit. So my wetsuit will stay firmly on for now anyway.
See you at the next 1SOMS on 6 January. Don’t forget about the Reconciliation day swim though on the Sunday 16 December.