Monday, 9 September 2013

Crossing the Line

Years ago during my second stint playing cricket in the Northern Leagues in England, I managed to hit a West Indian test fast bowler over fourth slip for six. I was aiming to hit him in almost the exact opposite direction over midwicket, but there you go, you still get six for it.
He steamed down the pitch and said some very unpleasant things to me, mostly relating to my future, short, life expectancy. Never one to miss the chance at a decent comeback, I told him to make sure he wiped the tomato sauce off the ball after he fetched it from the bloke's pie it landed in.
Ha, great comeback Sundo, that'll learn him…..
Next over I was back on strike and Mr Benjamin kicked his mark back to the boundary line, and then proceeded to bounce the absolute sh*t out of me. First one in the ribs, the second one hit my gloves in front of my face & the third one, which I didn't see, hit me on the helmet. 
Oh my god, Kenny killed Sundo! West Indies quick Kenny Benjamin
I remember thinking 'OK, I'm a decent enough player, but I'm not a test cricketer, and this suddenly isn't much fun, I think I'd like to just go home now'.
It was a fine line between enjoying the challenge & suddenly feeling rather out of your depth, and it wasn't an altogether pleasant place to be.
Anyway, I stuck it out, got hit a few more times but also managed to make some ugly runs, which have become more and more stylish & self assured as the years have passed. Buy me a few beers and set aside 2-3 hours & I'll tell you all about it!
My first go at a multi sport event, yesterday's inaugural Hydrothon, took me right back to that day watching that big Jamaican hurtling towards me.
The race started at South Cronulla, and a glance around at the field showed that I was probably the only true weekend warrior giving it a crack. A body mass index measurement would have already had me at the tail of the field, which included several nationally ranked iron men & women & a seriously fit looking bunch of dudes from the local surf clubs.
Organiser Steve gave the briefing, where the most interest seemed to be around what you'd have to do to get a red card from the officials. Righto, so everyone's here to race!
I had trained for the one leg that was a mystery to me, the ocean swim, but hadn't really taken my mind into that confronting environment in any tangible way. The sea isn't a place I fear, I spend my life in waves & moving water & surf, so I hadn't given the seriousness of a 1.3km ocean swim on a choppy day much thought (read: respect).
The gun went off & we charged down the beach & into the surf. I have been swimming really easily in training & just wanted to get into a nice rhythm and hopefully finish the leg in somewhere around 30 minutes. Stroke, stroke, stroke then breathe…..except that I mis-timed my roll & was still in a wave & managed to suck in half of Bate Bay. Thirty metres off the beach & vomiting sea water wasn't a great start to the 22.3km race, but I didn't really want to be remembered as 'that bloke who jumped in the water at the Hydrothon & had to quit!' My mate Stacka had warned me 'most people who do this for the first time swallow a lot of water'. He'd also seen my training times & asked me if was doing dog paddle.
Start - Photo by Grant Sellen of Monopod Photography
After a couple of minutes resting hanging onto a support ski I turned east & headed for the buoy. My stroke went to sh*t and I felt like a little kid learning to swim as I battled out for what felt like hours with waves smacking me in the face over & over. I found a bit of rhythm coming back to shore and caught some little waves back in, slowly around the beach mark then headed out for the second lap.
I dived under a couple of waves & set up for my first swim stroke, which is where I had my Kenny Benjamin moment. I caught a glimpse of the buoy, about 20 kilometres out to sea (at least), and thought, 'I can't do this'. I've done some hard things in paddling but this was different. I was miles outside my comfort zone, my breathing was all over the shop, my legs felt like I'd had 15 schooners & I had to go & do another frigging lap. A nice clubby on a paddle board gave me a few blokey words of encouragement, and I decided to keep going. On the upside there were so many concerned surf club guys watching me there was no way I was going to drown!
Anyway, suffice to say I made it back with some confidence as my stroke recovered, and ran down the beach for the ski leg that I had been fantasising about as I spluttered my way through the swim.
The ski paddle was awesome, Saturday's big southerly had kicked up chop & mess & even though it was quartering it was great fun. I wove my way through the 11km course in what felt like no time, then landed through the surf for the run. Encouragingly, I was nearly footing it with the fast guys on their second lap, so even though I can't swim, I can rest assured that I can still paddle.
I'd just pulled on my shoes & stood up to take my first stride when there was a huge round of applause from the gathered crowd. Jeez that's kind I thought, what a big clap for the poor bugger coming last!  Then I looked right & saw the winner, Hayden Allum, cantering over the finish line looking like he'd been sitting on the beach doing yoga for an hour.
Winner Hayden Allum - Photo by Grant Sellen of Monopod Photography
OK, so I'm 10km behind the winner, time to finish off. The run was a tough leg, not so much for the conditions, more for my total lack of reserve energy. It was a unique experience to be so bloody knackered, and unsurprisingly I ran about 2kmh slower than my normal training speeds. The patient marshalls on the course clapped me at each station as I grimly held up their stroll back to the presentation.
I finished in 2:41, which I was (very quietly) pretty happy with considering I'd thought 2:45 to be a decent target. I was secretly hoping I wouldn't get hooked for being too slow, but Steve reassured me it wasn't good etiquette to hook a sponsor, so don't let anyone tell you supporting events doesn't have it's perks. I was 22nd out of 24, and the two competitors behind me were both called DNF. That was a nice change, considering the male competitors ahead of me all looked like SBW **(Google 'Sonny Bill Williams' if you are reading this from a foreign shore).
Finished, bloody hell, thank god for that!
The event was brilliantly run, safe, clearly defined & well received by the competitors.
You'll see more of these Hydrothons around the place as the concept grows, in my opinion it's got the potential to rival triathlon, after all we're coastal dwellers & there is the added bonus for us paddlers that we can paddle instead of peddle. Organisers are also thinking of incorporating a 'half course' race, which would definitely be a gentler intro than my damn-the-torpedoes debut.

Is it a 'weekend warrior' event? Well yeah, but maybe not at a 'roll up & have a go' level. I trained pretty hard for this and felt my running & paddling were well up for it, it's just the bloody swim that got me, and man did it get me. 
Well done to the Hydrothon guys for putting on such a great spectacle, I'd love to have another go one day soon and hopefully consign my ocean swim to the 'funny stories' bin!
The finish grimace


  1. Thanks Owen. I've got a new motto, 'Dont be afraid of having a crack or of coming last'!

  2. Onya Sundo, very proud of your effort. And beating the DNF twins, well, what can I say ...

    I'd like to see Kenny Benjamin do that, though I'm guessing his hydrothon might include a 4th leg - the hot tub.

  3. Thanks Doc, but Kenny's fourth leg was in the bar at the cricket club, where we got into a long & hazy shout that involved a lot of Cockspur Rum. Fierce on the field, but a great guy once you crossed the line.

  4. Good job Mark & great read. I remember as a life guard being last swimmer in the last heat of the "long swim" (it wasn't!)at the Lifeguard Nationals in England. You got your own lifeguard and the biggest cheer for being last!! I never did that again, I stayed in the rescue boat! That was a long time ago and all about the social!! Well done.


The Velocimiser Sea Kayak Foil Rudder

After two solid years of R&D, we can finally announce a series of successful sea trials of our new foiling sea kayak rudder, The Velocim...