Friday, September 13, 2013

Wasaga Beach sprint water safety - Sunday, September 8th, 2013

The morning after my semi-fail at the Wasaga Olympic tri, I got to massage my soul with the double delight of volunteering and being out on Georgian Bay. I hopped on Tanker's bike at some absurd pre-dawn hour to cycle the 15km from our hotel to the beach.

With a necessary stop here and there.

The sunrise was beautiful as I rolled along Mosley, so I couldn't resist popping down a side street to shoot the gathering light over the lake.

It was shaping up to be the antithesis of Saturday - dry, sunny, windy and cool. The river on the beach had disappeared into the sand, but the freshening breeze had stirred up a break.

Wasaga Beach - Canada's answer to the Jersey Shore.

The Blue Mountains off in the distance.

Wind from the North brought some surf.

I helped out setting up the swim course, then the water safety team headed out in Zodiacs and on paddleboards to help shepherd the swimmers for the sprint race. With as chilly as I'd been on the shore I feared I'd freeze to death, but it turned out the water was pleasantly warm on the arms (and the face) and the waves actually seemed to shelter me from the wind.

A couple of young lads tried surfing the break on their paddleboards.
It didn't go all that well.
Not bad so far.

A little more interesting.
The wind continued to rise and the break actually deepened by at least 50 metres in the hour before the start of the race - it was past the final sand bar, so athletes would have to wade deeply to get past it, or just suck it up and swim it. I was having a great time on my board with my waterproof camera in my PFD pocket!

In the mix.


The start was delayed about 10mins while they did a safety briefing down at the shore. I hung out near the government buoy line - a bit more than halfway to the first turn buoy - and waited, watching as the first waves of swimmers began to approach. As they passed, I'd offer encouragement to those who looked less confident, and provided direction to some who had trouble navigating in the swells, which reached over a metre and a half (nearly 5') in the deeper water.

The elites in wave 1 - red caps.

Wave 2 in yellow caps.

There were 7 waves of racers in total, and the weakest swimmers seemed to be in the final 2. As I watched the purple caps of the penultimate group make their way through the water, I heard a call of "HELP" to windward and paddled over to a gentleman who had utterly lost his confidence. I offered that he could hang onto the board as long as he liked to catch his breath, and he gratefully clung to the nose. He started saying that he couldn't do it, but I pointed out how close he was to the first turn buoy - the farthest point of the course. He decided to try again, so I followed along beside him. He needed to stop and rest again after a minute, then made the turn and was headed broadside to the wind to the final turn buoy. I thought he'd be ok, but a moment later he was calling for help again. I paddled over and let him rest again - he was just about ready to quit and I was about to hail a boat to bring him in, but I told him once he made the final turn he'd be able to surf the waves all the way back to shore. He gave it another try, asking me to stay with him, and I faithfully followed along a few feet away until he was in water shallow enough to stand and wade. Tanker tells me his son was racing as well, but waited for him on the beach until he finished the swim - making sure his Dad was ok before continuing on to the bike.

There was a lot of shepherding to be done for the final wave, as a powerful current was sweeping everything off to the West (including me and my board if I let my guard down!), and many swimmers went far off course. I'm not sure even the elites were able to escape its effects, and Tanker tells me MultiSport Canada founder John Salt was heard to remark "well, this 750m swim just became 900". Myself and the other water safety team members did our best to bring everyone in safely - to the best of my knowledge there were no incidents, which is a testament to the hard work of everyone on the team in those conditions. At times I even had trouble staying on my board - which was the only one without a skeg, so a bit less stable - as the surf would come down on top of me and just roll me over! I had to use my feet to grip the outer edge in an attempt to stay on and right side up, but even so..


I'm ok!

Nonetheless, it never happened while I was actually trying to guard athletes, and I had massive amounts of fun on the water - I've never minded a good dunking! I helped out with swim course tear-down afterward; deflating and packing away buoys, hauling cinderblocks and winding tether lines, then went and collected Tanker after he'd finished volunteering on the run course for a lovely stroll down the boardwalk to end our weekend at Wasaga Beach.

Good times!

Where else would you choose to spend a beautiful Sunday morning?

In other news, the blog passed 20,000 hits some time early Monday morning. Twenty. Effing. Thousand. You folks are absolutely amazing for putting up with my drivel! I'll give you a solid break for once, as I'll be offline all next week trekking out into the woods of Algonquin Park so far that noone can hear me scream. I don't know who should be more terrified: me, Tanker or the bears! In any case, if we don't come back, you'll just have to make up your own poop jokes...or send out a search party, 'cause who doesn't like a party?

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