Paddling, personality and perfect bods: Sydney’s swim clubs

Members of the Harold Holt Swim Club take to the water on notable anniversaries of the former prime minister. Photo: Craig GoldingIs there a better way to start a Sydney summer’s day than a dip in the ocean?

Some swimmers say it’s better than sex. But that may depend on who you swim with. There’s nothing but the naked truth when you’re stripped down to swimmers, cellulite and saggy skin at 6am.

Like sex, you can ocean swim on your own but it’s more fun (and safer) to do it with someone else. But who? Here are four swim clubs that are fun, frivolous and friendly and whose freestyle is a bit more free form.  Bold and Beautiful Swim Squad, Manly

Formed in 2008, B and B, as it is known in swimmer slang, is more than just a swim squad. It’s a religion. These colourfully-capped swimmers gather every day of the year at Manly Life Saving Club for their ritual swim to Shelly Beach and back. The 1.5-kilometre swim is undoubtedly Sydney’s most picturesque underwater view.

They are uber-organised with a daily blog, their own line of merchandise (budgie smugglers, jackets, calendars and pink caps) 6,000 registered swimmers and a breakaway ukelele group (The Sandy Bottom Band.) Like boy scouts, they give out badges for accomplishments such as the cold and the beautiful (20 winter swims) and the naked equinox swims.

The morning I join them is their annual dress-up fundraiser for the Far West Children’s home. We swim (nearly 200 of us) over a cornucopia of aquatic life: parrot fish, old wives and diamond fish.

Manly’s Bold and Beautiful Swim Club are part-time matchmakers. Photo: Michele Mossop

I swim with Margot Pope, a Blue Mountains B and Ber who comes all the way from Springwood (I told you they were keen) and joke with Sean Denton (Mr April on the calendar). It’s easy to get swept up in the pace of the pack.

They sing Happy Birthday when they get to Shelly Beach. I have coffee with the oldest B and Ber, the beloved 81-year-old Wilf Deck, who is fresh from the over-80s world triathlon grand finals in Mexico.

This is the RSVP of swim clubs. Former politician and aspiring Cupid Bruce Baird introduced his swim pal David Panton to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Many broken-hearted through death and divorce find a new lease on life thanks to this cossied community.

Where: Manly Life Saving Club

When: 7am, every day of the year

Contact: boldandbeautifulmanly苏州夜网.au

Bold and Beautiful swim club members have a break at Shelly Beach before the second leg of their swim to Manly. Photo: Michele MossopThe Coobras, Coogee/Maroubra

“There are two kinds of athletes training on Maroubra Beach,” according to Coobra swimmer Patrick Wilmotte. There’s the elite athletes, the Coobras, and then there are the Rabittohs.”

You can tell by their name (Coo for Coogee, Bra for Maroubra) the Coobras have their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks: they like to joke and eat.

As the nucleus of the group is European – three French women who met as parents at the local French high school – food is a focus.  Eleven years ago they decided they wanted to do that most n of swim things – gain their bronze medallion.

Coobra-in-chief Corinne Wilmotte now plans parties, weekends away and overseas swim trips for the 60-strong squad (Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa and Tonga so far). Club members range in age from 28-year old physio Jess Solberg to 84-year-old retiree Jimmy Ryan.

“Just follow the crowd,” one of the swimmers suggests the day I swim with them – not something I’d normally do but the Coobras are built for comfort, not speed. The pace is casual; the vibe is Brady Bunch.

It’s easy to see at the post-swim barbecue lovingly cooked by the elder stateman of the pack why this club is considered one big extended family.

They told me to say the food was really unremarkable but I cannot tell a lie. The Coobras served the best baguettes I’ve eaten outside of France, and I’m still dreaming of Corinne’s homemade lemon jam. These people understand swimming brings a whole new meaning to the word appetite.

Where: Coogee Surf Life Saving Club

When: Daily 8.30am (big group) 10.30am (small group)

Where: South Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club

When: Wednesday 9am, Sunday 8.30am

Contact: [email protected]苏州夜网 Harold Holt Swim Club, Bundeena

Any swim club named after a Prime Minister who disappeared while swimming has got a healthy sense of the ridiculous.

The club’s motto is always swim between the flags, but the flags are in the North and South Pole respectively. Despite having a book dedicated to their history, the Harold Holters can’t really remember their origins.

Jeff Donaldson with other members of the irreverent Harold Holt Swimming Club at Bundeena. Photo: Craig Golding

But the club is not related to the local footy team even though the long wait for the Cronulla Sharks to win a Grand Final was compared to leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt.

The HHSC may be the only Sydney swim club involved in a greyhound syndicate, with their dishlicker – wait for it – Harold Holt – racing at the Dapto dogs. The club organises special swims on important dates in the Holt calendar: his birthday, the day he disappeared, wedding anniversary. Next year will be big – the 50th anniversary since he drowned). Swimmers even catch the ferry to Cronulla and jump overboard mid-voyage to swim back to shore.

I swim with amputee Alan Peterson, clinging to the coast to Split Rock and back.

The pace is slow, like Bundeena itself, with one swimmer backstroking his way across Port Hacking Bay. It’s a laugh a minute as they point out a section of rocks called POO (piss off outsiders). They are local celebrities: at the post-swim coffee everyone greets them. This is the Men’s Shed of swim clubs.

Where: Bundeena by the ferry wharf

When: Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, 9am

Contact: Check out the Harold Holt Swim Club on Facebook Wednesdays with Garry, Bondi

You’ve heard of Tuesdays with Morrie. Wednesdays with Garry is a sort of swimming version of the best-selling memoir.

Bondi-born and bred, swim leader Garry Luscombe started swimming regularly on Wednesdays in the summer of 2003. Soon Pied-Piper like, the Icebergs regular had gathered an ocean swim squad around him, and by 2011 he was leading the 1.7-kilometre swim at Bondi Beach.

Hot bods are part of the attraction of the Wednesdays with Garry swim club. Photo: Kate Geraghty

It may be coincidence but the morning I join Luscombe, who works in banking, the bulk of the swimmers were buff blokes employed in the finance sector.

They look like they had just walked out of a Chesty Bond commercial and I was pretty intimidated. But they were patient and kind, though I did find it hard to keep up. These guys are serious swimmers. And so handsome it was hard to know where to look.

“You never regret a swim as it takes you out of your everyday life,” regular Charlie Johnstone tells me. “And it’s excellent for a hangover.”

Swimmers, I learn, are grinners. How can you not not smile if your day starts with sunrise at the beach, with all those fit bodies, appreciating the, ahem, scenery.

When: Wednesday, 6am

Where: North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club