46 and 45 – Manly
All photos by Elspeth Blunt
Bold and Beautiful
Manly to Shelley Beach return
We watched through the window spray and seaweed thrown two storeys into the air as waves pounded the stone wall below. Just after 7.00am the first of a small group of brave swimmers appeared pink headed round the point. Somehow they had made it out safely from the beach then headed across through the chop and rebound. 1500 meters overall with a stand on the beach at Shelley to wait for the slower people in the group at the half way point. Every single morning of the year. Conditions permitting were a grey area and up to each person to make their own judgement. The “Bold and Beautiful” informal, no exchange of money, swimming group. Ocean swimmers.
We had done some ocean swims in the past. The Cole Classic on almost this same route with a couple of thousand others. Months of training, butterflies in the stomach, the swim and elation at finishing. Now we were hoping to join this group who practically do the “Classic” every morning.
I did a trial swim with my brother while the swell was still big and just managed with a total hammering coming back in to the beach which tumbled me into the sand. I surfaced into foamy water that didn’t support my body weight as much of the water was bubbly air. Lost my goggles and swimming cap and coughed and spluttered my way into the beach. Overambitious.
On the first calm day Cath and I did a practice run. It was a little spooky on our own. Deep water mixed up with rocky terrain and seaweed shallows. With googles unfogged it was almost like a strenuous version of snorkelling. I knew there were sharks in the water. I knew if I was attacked I was unlikely to see it coming. I knew the statistics of thousands of people in the water every day and no recorded attacks in Sydney for some time. But. And I kept occasionally looking over my shoulder out in the depths.
Next morning the sea was calm. We registered at the surf club and were given our prized pink caps. Milled around for a while and chatted nervously. The start was massive – hundreds of people pushed out through the small swell and then swam out to wait off the point. Legs, arms, bodies, sleek, tubby, strong, strugglers all mixed up and headed towards distant Shelley Beach. Breathe, stroke, kick. It was hard to build a rhythm in the pack but the camaraderie was wonderful. A hundred different styles and speeds. Pink heads were everywhere. Male, female, young, old. Across the open part I measured off sections past blocks of units, the outdoor pool, tall trees and finally made it onto the sand. I was about half way through the pack. Around stood hundreds of healthy humanity sharing a long early morning swim in the most staggering surroundings. This must be one of the best informal, non-competitive sporting events in the world. Every morning. Free. Patiently and without any pressure the crowd waited for the slower swimmers. Then the splashing arms and legs whitewashed the whole of the small beach as we all left for the return. I slowed towards the end and found more space. Every now and then I raised my head between strokes to check direction before ploughing on again. Round the headland I tried to take it wide to come in with the waves but found myself closer to the rocks and swimming doggedly tired against the gentle rip. Eventually on the beach Cath and I bubbled over with impressions and feel good vibes. Health. Vitality. Cleansed body and mind and soul. Manly, so beautiful. Ready for breaky and to start the day.
The following day we swam like old hands. Confident. Capable.
On Christmas day the crowd was just as big. At Shelley we sang happy birthday to one of the swimmers as we waited. Back on the main beach day trippers had already arrived with hampers to stake out the best bits of shaded grass and beach for the day.
Surfing Manly with Royalty
Surfing – Manly Beach
20 – 24/12/15
Storms lashed the coast early in the week. After some tough times during the year we’d lashed out with a pile of hard earned for a week in an AirBnB right near the water. The swell picked up. The beach was closed. Surfers went wild. Along the main beach the bigger sets rolled in and peeled left and right. Out at Fairy Bower the long right hander was crowded. From our window bay I watched it all. Surfing is a wonderful spectator sport. Fluid moves, wipeouts. Power in the waves and the riders.
When the weather cleared I ran along the beachfront promenade – walkers, scooter kids, pram pushers, Christmas groups from the western suburbs, beach volleyballers, swimmers, joggers, runners, cyclists, people doing yoga and hard isometrics, scuba divers, kite surfers, kayakers, snorkellors, sailors, coffee drinkers, picnickers, beach dance party goers. It was like the world was out And right there was where it was all happening. The homes and units along the water’s edge make up a millionaires’ row but the beach, the surf, the foreshore and the coffee places belong to Everyman.
In the smaller swells that followed and matched my ability I took my longboard straight out from the main beach. There were other surfers in the water but I was amazed there was space for all of us. I got a few nice ones. Lefts and rights. And long enough to play a little up and down along the face. Enough to bring out the full body smile and the endless “just one more” as I bailed out each time in the shallows. I thought of the Hawaiian Duke, Kahanamoku, in the summer of 1914/15 showing the locals right here how to ride a board on the waves, initiating with Tommy Walker the whole surf culture that has become such a huge part of Australia.
Late the next day I surfed again. Sitting out the back my gaze shifted from watching for swells o ut at sea then round to the scene on shore. The strip of beach sand was backed by the stone wall with the path above alive with active souls. A strip of grass, Norfolk island pines, the road, coffee shops and surf shops then the high rise units and hotels. In a sweeping arc all the way from Shelley Beach to North Steyn. Magnificent. I felt a connection sitting out there, still, calm, waiting, with Layne Beachley. Years before I had been to a conference where she did the keynote. Then I read her book. What a tough life she has had in so many ways. One of our most successful sports people ever. 7 times world champion. Totally inspirational. And she surfed right here too. The “Beachley Classic” is held at Manly every year. In the National Portrait Gallery there is a photo of her by Petrina Hicks. I’m not usually one to be taken by a person’s appearance but this shot portrays her arresting eyes that seem to be made of translucent pools of clear, blue ocean. Layne’s comment on the portrait was that ‘whales look you right in the eye, sharks stare straight through you’. I caught a last wave of the week in.
In the evening beautiful coloured lights of the Manly foreshore were visible from Shelley Beach.
Layne Beachley from “Beneath the Waves” (2008) on what makes a champion;
- 2 Champions have a strong support team
- 5 Champions have often suffered emotional or physical trauma before they succeed
- 9 Champions give something back
- 10 Champions inspire