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Behind the scenes of Australia’s longest open water swim

Behind the scenes of Australia’s longest open water swim

While athletes often steal the headlines of major sporting events, the hundreds of people working together in the background bring the Port to Pub ultra marathon swim to life.

Swimming to Rottnest from the safety of the shallow waters of Leighton Beach earns plenty of respect in anyone’s books. The nerves pulsing from the fit bodies lining up on the sand on March 25, waiting for the Hotel Rottnest Port to Pub starter’s horn, will be palpable as they attempt 20-kilometres of swimming after months of training for the feat.

Willing each and every one of those swimmers on will be an enormous amount of people working in synchronisation to ensure their voyage is as smooth as possible. According to Port to Pub Event Director Ceinwen Roberts, the lead up to the event for the organisers is a long one.

“Last year was the inaugural Port to Pub and we started working on the 2017 swim the day after the first one was over!” Ceinwen says with a laugh. “We have five committee members who organise everything around their day jobs and young families because they’re passionate about the event and the swimmers who love it so much. But even we couldn’t do it without the hundreds of people that work with us on the swim.”

The safety alone requires plenty of people power. The Fremantle Surf Life Saving Club members man the start line, ensuring swimmers set off well with volunteers from the City of Perth Club waiting at the other side. Fremantle Volunteer Sea Rescue and St John’s Ambulance are on hand throughout the event.

“The volunteer sea rescue and officials are out on the water long before the sun gets up,” Ceinwen explains. “Then there’s TAMS who provides the tugboat icon vessel, helps set out the marker buoys and pulls them in afterwards. They’ll be on the water setting up around three o’clock in the morning and won’t finish until the last swimmer does, which might be five pm.”

Aside from the logistical folk who enable the event, the marathon swim has more than 60 volunteers setting up, helping at registration and marshalling, providing support to swimmers stumbling over the finish line once they reach the dry land of Rottnest (sea legs are particularly uncooperative after swimming 20-kilometres), handing out water and fruit, and more.

“On so many levels, it wouldn’t happen without our volunteers,” Ceinwen says. “Seeing the generosity of the community coming together to make this event happen is one of the most rewarding parts for me.” There are also the unsung heroes of the event who move alongside the swimmers from start to finish but don’t see their names on the results list. Each solo swimmer or team require a boat, skipper and at least one paddler and often more support crew idle on the boat to provide nutrition and boost morale.

“The rules state swimmers must have a skipper and a paddler, so swimmers couldn’t get to the island without them volunteering their time and vessels,” says Ceinwen. “They often look more exhausted than the swimmer by the time they get to the finish line! They certainly deserve their drink at the Hotel Rottnest after party.”

Despite the challenges faced by all to complete the gruelling swim, Ceinwen is constantly inspired as the many warriors of the event, from swimmers to support crew, cross the finish line with looks of elation plastered across their zinc-covered faces.

“It makes all the hard work worth it when we see people’s faces as they come through the finish line and hearing the stories of courage and sportsmanship that happen on the day,” she says.


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