20 years in the swim

MILESTONE: When swimmers hit the waters of Coffs Harbour Jetty for this year's Beachside Radiology Coffs Ocean Swims, it will be the 20th time the event has been held.
MILESTONE: When swimmers hit the waters of Coffs Harbour Jetty for this year's Beachside Radiology Coffs Ocean Swims, it will be the 20th time the event has been held. Rob Wright

THERE are three swimmers who certainly won't be missing the start of this year's Beachside Radiology Coffs Ocean Swims.

Coffs Harbour locals Michael Tonks and Greg Swan, and Brunswick Heads swimmer Dave Alexander all share something very special.

They are the only swimmers who have taken part in every one of the Coffs Ocean Swims since they began 20 years ago and will be lining up on the Jetty Beach on Sunday, April 2 to dive in for the 20th time.

All are keen ocean swimmers and love the iconic event.

They have raced in everything from big swells and choppy seas to flat, glassy conditions and wouldn't miss the annual Coffs swim.

Each year they take part in both the 600m swim around the jetty and the 2km swim across the harbour.

In fact, the distance they have covered in the past 20 years would be the equivalent of swimming from Coffs Harbour to Woolgoolga and back.

Swan said he had taken part in every swim because he loved the event, it was well organised and there was something really nice about swimming past the jetty.

"Having participated in swims all up and down the east coast, I can definitely say the Coffs Ocean swim is my favourite,” Swan said.

After breaking his foot one year in a surfing accident, Swan even had the plaster cast removed earlier than recommended just to take part.

"With two boys and a busy work life, training has had to take a small backward step when compared to the old days. I used to prefer the shorter 600m swim, but as I'm getting older, a longer, slower effort seems to suit me better,” he said.

"Hopefully I can do the swims until I'm 70, so if all goes well, I'll still be lining up for the Coffs Swims for the next 30 years or so.”

His advice is simple: "Anyone thinking about trying the swims this year, should just come down and give it a go - they will be hooked like me.”

Another 20-year Coffs Ocean Swims veteran, Tonks, said his motivation was the fact that it was an annual charity event and also very community oriented.

"It also motivates me to get fit each year and I always compete in the 600m swim to warm up for the 2km swim,” he said.

Tonks recounts a funny story from the event a few years ago.

"I only see some people once a year at the swim and a couple of years ago I was busy talking to a friend and did not realise that the two of us had lined up with the females for the 600m swim start,” he recalled.

"We swam the whole course and were not aware of our mistake until we were in the finishing chute and saw all the females around us and no males. What made it more embarrassing was my name over the microphone was stated as 'Michelle Tonks'.

"It took me a long time to live that one down.”

Event founder Mick Maley was full of praise for the trio.

"It's exciting for the event to be celebrating 20 years with these three swimmers,” Maley said.

"They have received garden gnomes as prizes over the years and I'm sure they each display them proudly in their homes. There is a lot of anticipation about what prize they will receive this year.”

Entries are now open for the 20th anniversary swims and organisers encourage all those who have participated previously as well as those who have never done an ocean swim to enter and be part of the celebrations.

The Beachside Radiology Coffs Ocean Swims cater for ages 8 and over.

Events include the 600m jetty swim, the 2km harbour swim and the Coffs Harbour War Memorial Olympic Pool 150m and 300m junior swims.

All events are held at the protected Coffs Jetty Beach on Sunday, April 2. For more information and to enter go to

Topics:  coffs coast ocean swim coffs harbour coffs ocean swim jetty beach swimming

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