Oscar's Long Swim

Thursday, 22 February 2007 02:06 | Written by 
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ImageOn Saturday, 17 Feb 2007,  a cryptic comment appeared on Surfski.info: "SWIM TRAINING: WOULD LOVE OSCARS COMMENTS ON SWIM TRAINING AFTER HIS EPIC TRAINING PADDLE ON FRIDAY". 

Here's the story behind the comment.


On Friday afternoon Oscar Chalupsky set off from Addington Beach near Durban, South Africa with Bevan Manson to do a downwind run to Westbrook Beach some 35km to the North.

Conditions were perfect: ocean swells of 15ft plus with a 30kt south westerly that was gusting to 40kts.  Bevan will be travelling to Auckland, New Zealand with Oscar (and Dawid Mocke) in March to take part in the King of the Harbour race and was there to take some downwind paddling tips from the big O.

About 24km in the paddle, as they approached Umhloti Oscar caught a wave on his V10 "Economy" ski, surfed down the face and nose-dived into the next wave in front.  "I must have hit something," he said, "and the nose of the ski folded about 20cm back from the tip."   As the ski surfaced, the nose straightened out again, but a 30cm gash was left in the hull.
Bevan had been hit in the face by a bluebottle and had stopped to take it off.  Paddling on, he saw that Oscar was stopped with his ski sideways to the swell. 

"The ski was sinking fast"

"The ski was sinking fast," Bevan said, "and within a minute or so we had made the decision to abandon it."

At this point the two were some 2km offshore.  Although the ski was still afloat it was full of water and it would have taken an age to swim it in - and Oscar's wife was waiting for them at the end of the run.  So they made the decision to abandon it and to head for shore, taking turns to swim and paddle the remaining ski. 

Oscar's GPS Track

Oscar disassembled his split shaft paddle and hooked it under the bungies behind the cockpit of Bevan's ski.   After he'd swum for a while he switched places with Bevan and discovered another challenge - Bevan's paddle has the opposite pitch setting to Oscar's.  Oscar said it was very difficult to get used to - especially in the wild conditions.  (Digression/curious fact: according to Oscar ALL paddles in Norway and most in eastern European countries have the opposite twist to the usual South African setting.)

Bevan found it difficult to transition to swimming after having paddled for 25km.  "To stay with Oscar I'd been working really hard, basically sprinting," he said, "so it was quite tiring to switch to swimming."   But the men made rapid progress - both being exceptionally strong swimmers (Bevan is on the SA national water polo team).  Although they were approximately 2km offshore, they swam at an angle towards Umhloti to take advantage of the wind and swell and ended up swimming nearly 2.5km. 

They switched positions every ten minutes.  "It actually took us about 55 minutes to get in," Bevan said, "Oscar thinks he's faster than he actually is!"

"You're so low down in the water when you're swimming," Oscar said, "that you can't see any progress - it was only during my turns on the ski that I could see that we were getting closer to shore."  The bluebottles were also a challenge.  Oscar was wearing his full paddling suit, "so I was only stung on the face," he said.  Bevan wasn't as lucky, being stung on the head, arms and legs.  Bluebottles are not normally experienced in southwesterly conditions - but the strong northeaster of the day before had left the sea full of them. 

"Quite an Interesting Day"

"It was quite an interesting day," Bevan commented, "but if we hadn't both been strong swimmers, we'd have been in trouble.  I was thinking all the time about sharks too - Umhloti is a sharky area, there are no nets, and it's a well known spot for shark fishing."

Oscar said he took a couple of lessons out of this experience:

  • This kind of accident can happen to anyone.  (It happened in Cape Town last year See:  Survival in False Bay).
  • You must look out for one another when doing an offshore paddle.
  • He should have been carrying a cellphone in a pouch.  If the water had been cold or had he not been a strong swimmer, he could then have called the NSRI for help.  As it was, he could have let his wife know that they were ok, but were going to be late.

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