If you are in Sydney and looking to join one of the southern hemisphere’s friendliest and most welcoming sporting meet-ups, look no further than the first northern beach, where the ‘Bold & Beautiful Swim Squad Manly’ meet every morning.
The only proviso is that you’ll need to be up early and ready to embrace the Tasman Sea rollers as they come into one of Australia’s most famous and picturesque city beaches. No need to pre-plan in any way other than how you are going to get to the beach. Once there, head for the patch of sand in front of the Manly Life-Saving Club. Whatever the weather, a growing number of informal swimmers meet at 7am, 365 days a year.
Everyone is welcome, as the swathe of swimmers – clad in bright Manly Bold & Beautiful Swim Squad pink hats – swim a 750m outward leg, across Cabbage Tree Bay, to Shelly Beach. Once everyone has arrived at Shelly Beach (located on the north of Sydney Harbour National Park peninsular), the whole posse of pink-hatted swimmers swims back again to Manly Beach.
If it is your first time, you will need to register with the morning’s ‘chief Bold & Beautiful welcomer’, pick up your pink swimming-hat and brace yourself for the early morning water temperatures.
Having swum with the Bold & Beautiful ranks at the beginning of January this year, I highly recommend it. Whatever your age, sex or swimming ability, as long as you are up for a swim (at your own risk), with a throng of equally bleary-eyed bathers of all ages, I am sure you will find it invigorating and inspirational in equal measure. The emphasis is very much not on being in a race, but more of joining a congenial pistols-at-dawn, flash-mob-happening vibe.
The distance is far enough to make it a work-out and the ocean’s open-water setting creates a considerably rewarding pre-breakfast challenge. Well, certainly for a pommie novice, more at home on a football field than in a barrel of surf. That said, the truth is, if you only fancy half a swim you can walk back from Shelley Beach … just be aware that it’s locally known as the ‘walk of shame’. So no pressure.
As a foreigner it also gives you an opportunity to experience the classic all-embracing group-a-thong-thing, that is so much a part of the Ozzie default mode of being open, welcoming and friendly. From the moment you arrive you are made to feel Bold & Beautiful, while sharing what is a truly stunning natural environment, only a stone’s throw from the centre of Sydney.
The story behind how ‘Bold & Beautiful Swim Squad Manly’ started is as inspirational as following the throng of bobbing pink hats, and keeps you going when you’re having second thoughts as your dry toes first touch the early morning water.
I am lucky to know the full story. One of my longest-standing Australian friends, Sandy McCindoe (who I first knew in London 25 years ago,) was one of the main instigators. On Boxing Day 2008, the first Bold & Beautiful swim took place when four friends looking to improve their swimming, as much as presumably shifting some excess Xmas stuffing agreed to meet on Manly Beach, for a swim to Shelly Beach. It was initially a one-off morning swim.
However, after swimming from Manly Beach to Shelley Beach, they felt so invigorated that they agreed to meet again the following day. Day 2 saw Sandy join the mini-throng as nine of them met at dawn. And from that day on they have done it every day since, with an ever increasing number of friends swelling the ranks to hundreds of daily swimmers and thousands of overall participants.
By the time I joined them for my first swim, five years later, there were over three hundred swimmers in one morning. On a clear summer’s morning I saw an amazing array of fish and under-water sea life through crystal clear water. With Sandy explaining the theatre of marine life as we went, I seemed to spend more time under the water than above it. This aside, for the record I am sticking to the argument that I was the very last back to Manly Beach because I was not wearing flippers, rather than the pace of my stroke.
The informal ‘club’ has been so successful in inspiring many to take up an exercise they perhaps would never have considered, that they now boast over 6,000 swimmers in total, the eldest of which has been 80. They have a vibrant web-site, selection of swimming events, blog, 2014 Calendar and even clothing range. All a fantastic example of how a local community initiative can help in addressing what is a worldwide lack-of-exercise health issue. So poignantly highlighted with this week Medical Journal Lancet’s Report on global obesity.
I would like to thank Sandy and all her friends for welcoming me into their shoal, as well as urge all of you to get Down Under and into the pink. They have been rightly voted as one of ‘Sydney’s Best Things To Do For Free’.