Sounds of silence for the big swim

Sensational swimmer Georgia Bavington. Photo: Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media.

The 14-year-old had hardly climbed from the water after conquering the stretch between Motiti and Papamoa, and she was already toying with the idea of an assault on Cook Strait and the English Channel.

“Yes, I'm definitely interested in those sorts of swims,” says Georgia Bavington after her 11.1 km, three hour, 48 minute and 11 second island-to-mainland effort. “But they're a long way off at this stage.”

Georgia just wants to get some bigger distances behind her and gradually acclimatise to swimming in colder water.

The Mount College student created a little piece of distance swimming history when she became the youngest person to make the swim between Motiti and Papamoa. Despite lumpy conditions churned up by a steady north-easterly breeze, Georgia was delighted with her first big ocean swim.

“It was a bit easier than I thought it was going to be,” she says. “I thought it was going to be rougher and colder. But it was actually quite warm.

“The worst thing was the little jellies getting into my togs and making me itchy.”

Georgia's coach Sheryl McLay has been training her with the Team Shorebreak ocean swimmers for 18 months and is delighted with her progress. She has a terrific attitude and nothing really fazes her, which is a handy attribute in a long-distance swimmer.” She'll just keep putting challenges in front of Georgia and let her tick them off.

George is in experienced hands. Coach Sheryl has already swam the moody 22-kilometre Cook Strait. “She knows what it takes,” says Georgia. “She has lots of good advice.” And it was Sheryl's suggestion that Georgia tackles the swim.

There's also a certain psychology to being an ocean swimmer staring at the seabed for long periods. “I told Mum to turn the radio off for a couple of days beforehand - I definitely didn't want any songs stuck in my head for four hours.”

Georgia says she tends to tune out. “I just get into a rhythm, let my mind drift while my body goes to work. I do remember looking down and seeing a few fish along the way and that was pretty cool.”

There have been several recorded swims between Motiti and Maketu, beginning in 1969 with Rotorua teenagers Stephen Joseph and John Haycock. They smothered themselves with a mixture of grease and Vicks to ward off the cold.

They turned a seven-mile journey into a 10 mile, six-hour epic, raising $1411 - enough to cover the mortgage on the newly-built Maketu surf lifesaving clubrooms.

Legend also has it that two Maori made the swim to Maketu; once when an ancient fleet of Manaia waka washed ashore on Motiti during a terrible storm and the other in 1831, when a fleeing Ngapuhi raider took to the waters to escape a cleverly-hatched Motiti Islander ambush.

However, it wasn't until 2006 that a 10-strong group of local Tauranga swimmers took the slightly longer route to Papamoa, landing at Taylor Road Reserve. Bavington's journey covered yet more distance, taking her further down the coast to the Papamoa Domain, battling the swell and currents in the final third of her swim.

Having recently qualified as a lifeguard, her first day on patrol at the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service was last Sunday. It was sandwiched between finishing second in her age group at the national 10km championships at Lake Taupo and her big ocean swim.

Georgia admits she's loved the water ever since she learned to swim as a four-year-old.

“I got sick of competitive pool swimming,” says Georgia. “I believed I was more an endurance swimmer so I started to do ocean swimming. And I really enjoy pushing myself, doing longer distances.”

And there's more to come this summer. Next month she'll tackle the 3.3km Huka XStream down the Waikato River, followed by a 4.6km Rangitoto to St Heliers swim in March.

Doddles by comparison.



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Walk around the Mount. Photos: Denis Player.

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