Master strokes: one woman's obsession with swimming

Master strokes: one woman's obsession with swimming

One-time junior swimming champion Paddy Hintz finds the allure of the water returns in a different phase of her life. Image by Amaury Treguer.

The urge to swim comes in waves. Twice for me it has been a tidal wave, wiping out most other things. Trying to make it at an elite level requires that kind of obsessive commitment. These days, some four decades later, swimming is back in my life, but at a more natural rhythm, if 4.30am starts four or five times a week fits your idea of the natural order of things. 

If I didn’t know about the enormous social and fitness benefits of being in a squad, I would say those who restrict their swimming to pools are slightly insane. It’s in the ocean — where consistency of effort builds strength and courage — that swimming day in and day out makes most sense to me.

The ocean can be a terrifying place, where we dread being swept off our feet and losing control, where things unseen pull at our imaginations and make us shut our eyes to the beauty around us. The first ocean swim with others can be a frightening time for many and really not that enjoyable. How we all got to this point may be different for everyone. I think we are all there because of something missing. 

For the first few times, the sound of your heart pumping and the concentration required to fight rising panic and a desire to turn back can detract from the experience. But getting into a rhythm way out beyond where you ever imagined you would be, in the company of other frightened souls, can be an exhilarating experience. 

There will be good days and bad, especially when squeezed mid-ocean between a pack of masochistic males fighting to overcome their career shortcomings via the 50-60 year age bracket of, say, the Bondi to Bronte Ocean Race. But it feels so great when it stops. Each swim brings with it an analysis of what the current was doing, what the sea threw up, questions about how to handle the conditions better and, always, how to get faster.

Because swimming, the hard taskmaster that it is, always offers the opportunity to get better.

If you miss a day, a week or a month for whatever reason, you will go backwards against your friends. Swimming is like that. It is unforgiving on the no-shows. But each lapse brings opportunity to get better and faster than the day before, to buoy the spirits when life might be crumbling at work or at home, and to just relax and enjoy the scenery.

Swimming needs consistency of effort. But it also needs friends. They provide drag in the pool, in the swell and in life. Swimming friends can be tough but fair. They help you stay on course when a tsunami of grief threatens to overwhelm you, by making you lead when you don’t want to, and taking you out for beer after.

I have been back at it six years now and I have learnt much. 

Turning up again and again to the ocean, I have learnt to relax first, enjoy second, and go like the clappers third. I know now that sometimes you can just be swimming in the same spot and going nowhere, but that’s OK, you will eventually move forward there. Sometimes you may get hit by a sudden dumper, but that’s OK too, you will survive. I have swum ocean channels and coastlines both here and overseas. I know I can handle most conditions. What I cannot handle is going without some sort of regular saltwater immersion therapy or the people who pull me out beyond the break and back again, every time. 

For me the ocean and the people I swim with are Alka-Seltzer for the soul.


For a great adventure, the Pittwater Ocean Swim Series is a brilliant excuse to soak up the beauty of Sydney’s Northern Beaches. There are ocean swims at Newport (January 6, 2019), Bilgola (January 13, 2019), Warriewood to Mona Vale (January 20, 2019), and the Big Swim from Palm Beach to Whale Beach (January 27, 2019). Then there is the Avalon Beach ocean swim on April 14, 2019. Swims range from 400 metres for juniors to three kilometres.

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