During this COVID-19 lockdown many swimmers have struggled, very much like fish out of water. The pools were all closed, even those at the ocean. There was a hush on social media when the call went out, “Does anyone know which beaches are open for swimming?” The silence was deafening. Many had their undisclosed haunts.

Running a swim school which offers adults learn to swim programs and squad training, puts me front and centre for many swimmers. Some reached out to me for guidance and ideas, others wanted the address of a swimming hole, others just to commiserate. Most have felt quite lost. They’re not alone. I’ve felt just as adrift, wondering when this will end. When and where can we can go for a swim?

I heard stories of swimmers climbing out of bed in the dark, sneaking under railing in the early hours for that illicit and much-needed swim at the beach. I know of others who jumped off rocks to avoid surveillance only to find they had to swim into a closed beach because they couldn’t clamber out. Others were harassed by locals, after travelling across town to an out-of-the-way beach for a swim. As you can see, swimming is an essential component of life for many. It really is how we all breath.

Yet as restrictions loosened, swimmers were still unsure, even with some beaches open. Can I drive across town for a swim? Is it legal? Will it be crowded? The beach is open for exercise only, so you must enter this way and not hang around. No sitting on the sand.

There were many unexpected scenes at beaches. Police walked across the sand to enforce social distancing and there were other restrictions; swimmers rushed wet from the beach to make room for others, and most did their best to keep separated by 1.5 metres, even in the water. I was also struck by what constituted swimming. For some, bobbing in the sea was enough. Not my idea of swimming, but as I’m learning, this is swimming for them. I do know submerging in saltwater does have wonderful health benefits.

As swimmers contacted me over the past few weeks, I kept searching for ways to best support them. A fitness video, a recipe or two, a social media challenge? But the truth is, for my community it’s about getting into the water and swimming. It’s just that simple; maintaining some of the rituals, our aquatic routines. Thankfully a number of the outdoor pools are now reopening. I anticipate there will be a queue of swimmers lining up to dive into their own lane of warm chlorinated water for thirty or forty-five-minutes. Anything for a swim.

This week I attended a virtual Town Hall meeting with over three hundred swim school owners. The key issues which came out of it were many; viability, new programming for teaching without physically contacting students, managing timetables to allow for changeover times, reduced one-on-one classes, new hygiene practices, COVID-19 staff training, protecting vulnerable employees and much more. It is clear the industry is keen to get back to work, but how to do so safely is top of everyone’s mind.

It is a challenge for any business to determine commercial viability in this climate. Just look at the pools reopening with the current restrictions in NSW, of one swimmer per lane and a maximum of ten people allowed in a facility at any one time. It’s going to be tough, even for our dedicated community.

I believe there is an opportunity to recreate the aquatic centre model, in order to meet demand and social distance restrictions. Pools can be divided into shorter distances, thereby offering more lanes, with rostered times and pre-bookings; hours can be extended in busy months, and pools separated by use. This could all happen alongside additional programs in the ocean and ocean pools. Afterall, who knows how long we will be in this season of COVID?

For me, the silver lining has been a return to the ocean, testing my mettle in the cooling ocean water. Having missed the entire summer season of ocean swimming events, COVID-19 has afforded me the opportunity to rediscover my love of open water swimming. I have really pushed my boundaries, swimming way out back at a number of Sydney beaches – even between beaches. It has been just marvellous. If wetsuit sales are anything to go by, I’m not the only one. There are others returning to the sea. I hope to see you out there swimming friends. Let’s greet each other warmly as the bite of winter sets in.

Kari Baynes


Different Strokes Swimming