Fiona McIntosh finds an easy and inspiring entry into open water swimming
As someone who loves iconic events, I’ve long had my eye on the Midmar Mile. But the jump from zero to hero is intimidating. So when I heard about the Pink Sunflower Swim in 2019, a no-pressure fun swim of one kilometre (or as many 500m circuits as you wish) that you can do at your own pace, I thought I’d give it a go.
Held in a dam at the Elgin Valley’s Paul Cluver Wine Estate in late March every year, the Pink Sunflower Swim is a fun day out for a small group of keen swimmers. And with proceeds from sponsorship raised by participants going to two charities – Project Flamingo (breast cancer) and The Sunflower Fund (leukaemia) – you get the thrill of swimming in a magnificent setting and the real feel-good factor that you’re making a difference to boot.
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Where did it all begin?
Founded by Kate Fordyce in 2016, initially as a personal challenge to swim 1km in open water in her 50th year, it became a charity event following her now husband’s journey through leukaemia and a stem cell transplant. The 2019 event, which raised R95 305, was the fourth Pink Sunflower swim, bringing the total amount raised over the first four years to R342 000. “It’s tempting to aim for R100 000 again this year, but we’re shooting for the stars with a big ask of R158 000, which would take us to an amazing R500k in five swims. If we can dream it, we can do it,” insists Kate.
I couldn’t have had a better introduction to open water swimming. Nestled at the foot of Groenlandberg and with the early morning mist rising, the setting of the dam was magical. The water was warm and the upbeat De Rust Futura School’s marimba band added to the festive atmosphere.
There were a few fit-looking athletes among the assembled group who were training for the infamous Robben Island Swim, but the majority were social swimmers, many of whom, including one brave chap in a mankini, were dressed for the occasion. Some wore wetsuits, others flippers and buoyancy aids. There were several moms, pops and kids, including the enthusiastic, up-for-anything hosts Alec and Liesl Rust (née Cluver), who were making a family day of it.
After chatting to other backmarkers and working my way through my limited repertoire of strokes I retired to the coffee tent after two circuits and watched as the ‘proper’ swimmers effortlessly completed lap after lap.
As we packed up I congratulated Kate on a great day out. “Every little helps for organisations trying to contribute to really important causes,” she said. “And I’m sure you’ll agree. Open water swimming is positively spiritual.”
Pink Flower Swim
The next Pink Sunflower Swim takes place on Saturday 7 March 2020. Entry is free, but you need to raise R2 000 for the charities.
6 great open water swims to get you started
Enthusiasm for open-water swimming seems to be growing, and as you swim around a dam in spectacular surroundings, a beautiful lagoon or in our magnificent ocean – it’s easy to understand why. The swimming calendar is expanding all the time, with dam miles, Clifton swims, Silvermine Sundays, Robben Island crossings, all for the doing. PSS founder Kate Fordyce suggests that unless you’re a strong swimmer you start with a short distance, non-competitive events in a dam before venturing into the ocean.
- Join a social group such as the Sunday Hot Chocolate Swimming Group, which meets every Sunday in Camps Bay. The Big Bay Group has regular meets including a social swim from outside Blouberg’s Big Bay Life Saving Club at 6 am every Tuesday and Thursday. Contact Derrick on +27 (0) 82 770 5798 or visit the events page on the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association website.
- Try the Bridge House Mile in Franschhoek. Celebrating its 25th birthday this year, this popular event held in a dam on Boschendal Wine Estate has distance options from 100m to one mile. This year’s event is taking place on 1 February.
- Tackle the River Mile. Taking place in Nelson Mandela Bay on 9 February, this is Africa’s oldest open water swimming event. Join swimmers as they head to Cannonville for a Sunday morning dip in the Sunday’s River.
- Offering 5 000m, 1 600m and 800m options, the Human Rights Day Swim takes place in Camps Bay on 21 March 2020. Find out more by visiting Swimmersguide.co.za.
- With distances of 500m, 1 mile, 3km, 5km and 7.5km, the Lomond Swim in a dam at Lomond Wine Estate near Baardskeerdersbos is a great event for swimmers of different fitness and abilities. And there’s wine tasting to boot! Set aside 13 December 2020 for this swim. For more information, email [email protected].
- And for something a little different, sign up for the Bosom Buddies Swim and go topless for breast cancer. Contact [email protected] for more information.
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Photography Shaen Adey