It’s exactly one month ’til my fiftieth birthday and I’m sitting with that strange feeling of the number not quite resembling the feeling in my heart (apart from recently becoming spatially aware on stairs).
I’m not in the space for the big “once in a lifetime” party, or the overseas trip to walk the Camino or to take a villa in Bali, but when some fit mums from our sons’ school cricket team told me they were going to swim in the world’s first nude ocean swim – the “Sydney Skinny,” I felt something stir within.
While I love to swim, and do work out a few mornings a week with a varied group of women, I’ve always avoided competing in group anything and could think of nothing worse than being stuck in a stampede of sweaty athletes running, swimming or cycling in a race.
But after a few chats with a friend, I was convinced I could do it at my own leisurely pace as part of a supportive group of women with no spectator gallery, and we could wear sarongs down to the water’s edge before submerging and swimming naked around the course… I was IN!
My preparation involved one lap swim at Bronte Pool to ensure I could make the 900m distance (tick), a last minute appointment with Zoe the waxer (tick), offloading my two sons (tick), eating some guilt-free carbs the night before (tick), dealing with the thought of swimming with a head cold which just appeared (tick-ish), and sitting with this growing feeling of the unknown… the secret delight of voluntarily stretching myself and being outside my comfort zone.
On the way there, the jokes started flying around about pendulous breasts and bobbing boobs, Gen Y plucked chook brazilians, Gen X landing strips, and Baby Boomer forests. As we arrived at Middle Head car park and joined others walking down to the marshaling area, our gaggle of women became noticeably more subdued.
“Oh My God… I’m not sure if I can do this,” exclaimed one. “I’ve never swum in a race before, let alone NUDE,” said another. “And look at all these men!” chimed in one mum, echoing the thoughts of many for whom it had just sunk in that naked men were actually going to be down on the beach with us.
With our own sarongs now hastily wrapped concealing all manner of bodily shapes and sizes, we moved like vulnerable sheep to the slaughter into the railed-off area where a marshall held us for a good 10 minutes.
As we moved down the bush track to Cobblers Bay, shrieks of laughter wafted into the trees at the first sight of multitudinous nude bottoms below as we approached the point of no return. With caps now on, goggles in place and the haunting threat of a random TV camera wafting about, we threw off our sarongs, dived into the beautiful dark green sea and we were DOING IT.
Swimmers in the Sydney Skinny Ocean Swim yesterday
Making sure I was positioned on the edge of our pack so as not to feel hemmed in, I proceeded to find my flow stroking comfortably along and peering into the deep green darkness.
The bubbles from my moving body glistened in shafts of sunlight that disappeared into the depths. My body felt good, like it was returning to something it had known eons before.
When I started to relax into the rhythm of my breathing, reassuring myself that I could make it all the way, I started to enjoy the sheer delight of knowing I was doing something beautifully natural just for me – swimming naked in Sydney with a group of women on a beautiful summer’s day – in the world’s first nude ocean swim.
As I was approaching the third lilac Nudie marker buoy with our now spread out mermaid group, I was shocked to find that somehow a random nude man had snuck into our school and was now swimming alongside me!
I put on the jets, ruddered away and when the coast was clear rolled onto my back for a spot of backstroke. This felt good too, and much to my delight a large puffy cloud fish appeared in the sky causing me to smile as I pondered my approaching Piscean 50th birthday, and my deep love of all things oceanic that always brings me home to myself in a lovely, centred way.
For some it’s the bush, or the mountains, or flying through the air, or listening to music, or painting or cooking… the list of creative and natural elixirs goes on. And for some like me, it’s the ocean and my proximity to it in all its majesty that helps to inspire and create that profound sense of peace.
My thoughts now focused on the vague possibility of a remotely graceful water exit (who was I kidding? This was never going to be pretty), I peered ahead and was relieved to see that, true to her word, my wonderfully reliable friend Jo Davison, leader of running group the Coogee Cougars (pictured right with the author), is knee deep handing out french blue “Sydney Skinny” sarongs to her triumphant wave of mermaid women!
I wrap and notice a few men strutting their stuff before joining our blue sarong brigade for a delightful “Aqua Cougar” team photo that seems to attract much interest from TV crews and the like.
Someone nearby calls out my name and I turn to find to my surprise its Joan from our kids footy club standing excitedly in her sarong about to do her swim. Joan then proceeds to introduce me to HER HUSBAND WHO’S STANDING THERE STARKERS and I find there’s now a vice-like grip on my neck preventing my gaze from descending from his head area, and after a quick “hello” move thankfully away.
It’s great to be alive with a healthy body, and, approaching 50, to have had so many rich life experiences – positive and negative – we need them all to grow.
Swimming in the world’s first group nudie swim, with a reported 700 swimmers, will no doubt be a once in a lifetime gig, an amazing experience shared with friends. But it’s one that reminded us that our bodies are damn fine, that we still have a little bit of crazy within us… And it makes teenage sons squirm!