Three years ago, Nada Pantle decided to look for like-minded people who love ocean swimming and started a private Facebook group – with original membership of just five, the Terrigal Ocean Swimmers Facebook group has grown to encompass more than 1,000 people enjoying regular swims ranging from a ‘tea bag’ to five kilometres.
“I started it because I wanted to do some unusual swims with people and share my photos of the Terrigal sea life; it just snowballed from there,” Pantle said.
The Terrigal Ocean Swimmers Facebook group is made up of lots of smaller swimming groups and individual swimmers who have joined over the years.
They have names for their groups and often have swimming caps printed up.
The Flying Fins, Blue Breakers, Lizards, Mermaids, Jimbles, Sea Slugs, Skillion Rock Hoppers, Sultans of Swim, Tremblers, Swimblers, Terrible Blue Bottles, Avoca swimmers, Urchins, SRF, HOBOS (Haven Old Boys Ocean Swimmers) and the TOFFS (Terrigal Old Farts Freerange Swimmers) and are just some of them.
They all have their own start and finish times and their own distances and everyone is welcome.
Pantle also puts out some slightly crazier swims.
“A few weeks ago, a group of 10 women swam from North Avoca into The Haven at Terrigal,” she said.
“I encourage women to join, particularly mature women who might be less likely to start a new sport.
Pantle said there is no pressure to swim fast or do a particular distance, but swimmers can still challenge themselves.
“We have a ‘Pscyho Swim Series’ which involves swimming from Avoca out to the Adelaide Buoy then into Terrigal – we have done that a few times and it is always fun having a laugh and taking photos around the Adelaide buoy.
“We swam with whales once, which left us in complete awe of these amazing creatures.
“Some Terrigal Ocean Swimmers recently competed in the 20km Lake Argyle swim in the Western Australia’s Kimberley region.
On June 21, swimmers from different groups went out to watch the sunrise from ‘Goldie’, a buoy named for a Golden Retriever who used to swim at Terrigal.
Pantle said members had also swum with seals, dolphins, turtles, wobbegongs, blue gropers, Port Jacksons and Grey Nurse Sharks.
“ I have had a personal swim with a Dusky Shark who gave me a bit of a nudge to get me out of her feeding zone,” she said.
“That was a little scary, but once I learnt about their behaviour, I understood what she was doing and why.
“People are amazed with the sea life we have right on our doorstep.
Pantle said Terrigal Point is a breeding and egg laying area for Giant Australian Cuttlefish and the very cute Port Jackson Shark.
“It’s also a gathering area for breeding Grey Nurse Sharks – one day we saw eight in The Haven.
“The males had red and swollen claspers so we know they breed in there; that’s pretty important information.
“Swimmers love, and want to protect, these beautiful and critically endangered sharks.”
The swimmers also know how deadly the shark nets are.
“We call them ‘killing nets’ as we have seen rays and turtles caught in them and we know they are a death trap for migrating whales, dolphins and endangered Grey Nurses,” Pantle said.
“These animals die and long and painful death.
“We are not scared to talk about mental health and suicide prevention either.
“If only we would react so quickly when a young person ends their life as we do when there is an incident with a shark, we would have a stronger society better equipped to deal with mental health.
“We need to talk about it – and talk about it with our children.
The Semi Retired Friday (SRF) group also mentors young men and women to improve their mental and physical health and often raise money for mental health.
The swim groups aren’t deterred by the colder weather; scores of swimmers head out every day throughout winter.
“There is so much evidence around the health benefits of swimming in cold water,” Pantle said.
“It makes us feel invigorated – just diving under for a few seconds can be such a release from stress.
“It immediately improves mood, and if you keep swimming there is a reduction in symptoms of ongoing stress and depression.”
Pantle posts beach conditions on the Facebook site most days along with photos of the sea life, people and videos of various swims.
See the Terrigal Ocean Swimmers Facebook page for details.