Posted by: dave | January 8, 2010

Icebergs ahoy!

Image of Bondi Icebergs swimming pool

I can remember as a kid watching that scary midwinter Russian ritual where people cut a hole in the ice and go for a quick swim in the frigid water. In fact I’m sure I’ve got a nasty image of Boris Yeltsin lowering his fleshy body into an ice hole, but I can’t find video on YouTube so, following the first law of the internet, it must never have happened.

Anyway, with thoughts of that and the courageous Serpentine Christmas Day Swim in my mind, I found it hard to stifle a guffaw when I found out that Bondi’s ocean baths are called the ‘Icebergs’. Sure, in midwinter it must get pretty nippy but never subzero. These Aussies don’t know they’re born.

But what Australians lack in cold resistance they more than make up for in athleticism. As a Brit, going for a swim in Australia is simply embarrassing. The gym I used to visit in London boasted shamelessly about a 20m pool that would barely cut it in an Australian backyard. My local pool when I was last living in Sydney was a 33m one. It was considered so inadequate that it’s currently being rebuilt as a proper 50m Olympic-sized model.

The length of pools seems to be in direct proportion to the ability of swimmers. Whereas in Britain I normally belong in one of the faster lanes, in Australia if you can’t do a tumble turn you’re pretty much consigned to the osteoporosis classes.

A big bit of that comes down to teaching: aged six, I remember being packed off to the William Penn leisure centre in Oxhey, where a tattoed bloke called Steve piloted a gaggle of kids around a urine-tainted pool until they could do a passable imitation of front crawl, back crawl and breast stroke. Once we could stay afloat and move forward, we were pretty much done. There was the sense that you were being taught swimming so that you would die of hypothermia rather than drowning if your ocean liner happened to hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland.

In Australia the objective is rather more ambitious. Swimming is a fully-fledged sport, and every kid is a potential Thorpedo. Kate says she learned to swim ‘quite late’ – ie, at the age of four. Some of these Aussie kids must be doing butterfly before they can crawl.

This has meant that until now I’ve never really been able to swim front crawl (which they call freestyle around here), and I’m going to have to do that if I’m to achieve number 4 of my New Year’s resolutions – an ocean swim by the end of the year. So Kate’s Christmas present to me was a course of swim classes down at Bondi Icebergs.

This post is getting a bit tl; dr so I’ll leave my experiences at the pool for tomorrow’s thrilling instalment.

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