Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Port Dickson OWS No. 1 (4 Feb 2018). A Volunteer's perspective

The P.D. Open Water Series No. 1 is the first of seven races planned by Swimon for 2018. Good times indeed. Open water swimmers have never had it so good in Malaysia.
For the first time in 34 years of doing endurance sports, I volunteered for a race rather than being a participant. I didn't feel like getting another heart attack doing the same 2km swim at the same location. The Organiser also made a request and I must say that my wife and I had a most wonderful time on the other side of the fence. I might just stick to volunteering, no I'm just kidding.
200m for kids divided into many age groups.
800m divided into ten year age groups
2km divided into 5 year age groups
There were a total of 386 participants.
My volunteer duty
The primary duty for me and Tip was to correctly give out the 386 Finishers medals, 129 podium medals, 8 trophies, announce the results and be the race judge.
On duty today
Tip in her element and in the sun!
Sorting out the hundreds of medals in a systematic manner suited Tip to a "T". She is always very meticulous and neat with her cooking, fruit carvings etc. She arranged the medals so neatly, that many swimmers took photos of the medal arrangement.
Fellow volunteer Yvonne, whom I only met that day, helped me a ton with getting the prize winners ready.
Cherish Chin was the reliable all rounder bringing me the results as they became available.
Sumai (Amir's right hand person) sorted out everything that got stuck.
Somebody whom I still don't know, took over the setting up of the changing tents when I was stuck at 6.30 am, in the dark.
Then when all swimmers had left, I took a black garbage bag and collected all the rubbish (especially plastics) left behind on the beach stretch.
I'm very happy I did all this, it was wonderful.
The Amazing Volunteer Team
There's actually about 25 people and they in turn have their unofficial helpers.
Our core duties start from Saturday afternoon until Sunday 4 p.m. It was the first time I was meeting many in the team. But you know what?
Everyone was working selflessly for each other without a question being asked. Its an amazing team, all wanting this new sport of Open Water Swimming to hit the ground running.
Part of the large volunteer team
Core duties would include the MC, body marking, bag drop, timing chip, food distribution, course set up, time keeping, photography, personal safety buoy, medal management, walkie talkie, race pack etc.
Then there are numerous duties which have not been assigned but needs willing hands, like escorting the kid swimmers (Jose), Notice Board (Julia), arranging the hundreds of chairs (Azizul), setting up the portable loos (Philip), tent set up, drone, really many things.
This volunteer team just did many tasks, no questions asked.
Race Director, Amir leading the post mortem. We all want to improve
200m for kids
Many kids were doing their first ever OWS Race. No mean feat this. Of course triathlons for kids have been around for more than a decade. Malaysia won Gold Medals at the recent SEA Games in OWS (Heidi Gan and Kevin Yeap). Kevin Yeap has retired from the sport so the country has to develop talent. It wasn't done by the country, NSC or a Sports Association. But it was done by Swimon. So Malaysia, you'd better say thank you, Putrajaya please try to reduce your charges.
The little boy who won by miles (Jacky Aw Tian Jin) looks very good for the future.
A happy kid
Soon after the start I could see that many kids were not good swimmers. Luckily we made the Safety Float compulsory. One kid really couldn't swim. He was Farid, Azura's kid. But then I saw Jose's face bobbing in the water close to Farid. Well well, we got the very best to escort the kids and I didn't worry anymore.
Isn't it wonderful? Kids doing their first OWS Race
ALL KIDS finished safely in this first OWS race for kids in Malaysia.
Farid was last, taking 35 minutes to complete 200m. The official cut off was 25 minutes and Farid had only completed 90m after 25 minutes.
But at the finish, he was a Champion, a World Champion, this is what Sports does to kids.
When I see the photos showing the smiling faces of the kids, yes we did something here.
The 800m was dominated by Ben Lee's kids. They live in Malacca and I have been observing Dad Ben Lee driving his kids from Malacca to various events, starting in the wee hours of the morning.
Their day. Mimi Adriana Lee, Aiman Lee and proud Day, Ben Lee
Today was the Lee family's day. Aiman Lee was the Men's Champion and sister Mimi Adriana Lee was the Female Champion. The siblings also won the 2km Relay. So the siblings took home four trophies out of the eight on offer.
Smiling faces everywhere
The 2000m start. Beautiful
It was the last event to start and the tide was starting to recede very quickly. 4 Feb was a Full Moon day, which means the tide changes would be at its maximum.
The day might have looked clear but the wind and tide picked up very quickly.
It became very tough for the slower swimmers as the buoys moved to Indonesia.
So swimmers took a longer time to finish. But all safely finished and they didn't swim that much extra. All I saw recorded about 2.1km on their smart devices. So this is still ok.
Overall assessment
I think it was an excellent event.
  • No serious medical issues. The two ambulances on standby were not used. Definitely no deaths or anything close to it.
  • Many kids had their first OWS race and this was done by Swimon, not a Sports Association.
  • All swimmers finished safely. No mean feat.
  • All official results electronically available the following day, accurately.
  • The smiling faces of the kids proudly displaying their Finishers' medals, priceless.
  • Happy faces of participants.
  • More than a thousand quality photos and drone footage free for participants.
  • We helped to create unity for the country. The volunteer team was multi racial and the participants were multi racial.
Doesn't Race Director, Amirizal Ishak deserve a medal then?
Open Water Swimming is a new sport in Malaysia. Its incredibly exciting to be a part of this exciting sport in its incubation period. 

"New Year Resolution Swim" 3km on 31 December 2017

New race location this time
This was a semi serious swim event organized by Swimon at Putrajaya Lake.
It's terribly expensive to hold swim events at Putrajaya Lake, we hope this will change as many swims are planned there for 2018.
Swimon is building it's expertise and volunteer team. More or less the same team was used for the PD OWS on 4 February 2018. It is good to have the same team, so that everyone becomes more familiar with their respective roles and the interaction with each other. Bear in mind that everyone have their own jobs and only get together at the weekend of the race. There is no time to train the team all over again for every new event.
Some services have to be hired and its good to use the same people as they are also building their expertise.
Many improvements
I noticed Swimon had upped its ante;
  1. A detailed and colourful Racebook was made available for all participants. Even the ambulance evacuation route to the nearest hospital was mapped out. Well that's good for me. Once the Organiser can produce a high quality Racebook, you just sort of know that it will be a good race.
  2. An incredibly high number of safety personnel involved. There was Aquaputra Putrajaya, Bomba and Marine Police, kayaks, SUPs.
  3. Many new bright yellow buoys, finishing funnel, gantry, very nice prize giving backdrop. All this must be very expensive. Very eye catching.
  4. Top quality race pics by Mrs Yoshi.
The race distance was 1.5km and 3km. Putrajaya is only 30 minutes from my home versus 1 hour 30 mins for P.D.
The lake water is pitch black and scary if you look at it. But believe me its safe for swimming. I've swam 10km in that lake and no body itches after.
The race  location was now at Kelab Tasik Putrajaya versus the usual Precint 6. Why not? for a change.
The actual race, well my race
The 3km was two laps of 1.5km going clockwise.
I notice swimmers don't warm up. Everyone is happy talking to friends they have not seen for a while. Well, I've learnt my lesson and now use the bungee ropes from Decathlon to warm up.
Weary from my heart attack about one year previously, I held back a little bit at the start. After the first turnaround I found myself next to a good friend. I must be doing Ok because at Tanjung Rhu she was doing the shorter 5km and literally swam right over me as I was too slow for her.
But she had too much Christmas pudding in her and I was inching away this time. I think initially I could sense her on my toes, so I really had to get my swim act together. This must have been good for me (swimming scared) because I only finished seconds behind a very strong rival friend of mine.
There were some leaves and small debris as we swam under the bridge, this added to the excitement I thought.
The midway point at 1.5km was exciting because the volunteers and spectators were there. It was strictly business for me, no waves to anyone or anything like that. Later I found that Mrs Yoshi (Sen Ra) had taken simply amazing action shots of me swimming and ignoring everyone. Thank you Puan.
Half way
I had a good race and finished just seconds behind a close rival who was swimming beside his daughter the whole way. Probably he needed his little daughter to protect him. My other rival who knocked the back of my head at Langkawi was only a little bit behind.
The "trick" is to breathe low. Oops there goes my secret
 I was fourth male in slightly under 1 hour 5 mins. The winner finished in under 58 mins.
I went for another 1.5km lap for training purposes and started doing a fourth 1.5km lap but was stopped by the Police.
Prizes and official times were only given for the top three in each category as it was only a semi serious race.
Wonderful Volunteers
The team is getting better and better.

Amir's angels. Julia, Sen Ra, Cherish Chin and Sumai.
Great work ladies (Are ladies more hardworking than men? Makes me wonder)
Amir of course is doing everything. Sumai is the one providing the strong support to him. Sumai is in turn supported by Julia and her husband Azizul. Joey Ting and friends are doing the swimmers' registration. Philip Tan and Yoshi are on the course. Sen Ra and many others provide many quality shots for free. Yoges is the capable announcer. Cherish Chin is the all rounder.
We just wish that its not so costly to hold swim events at Putrajaya Lake.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Thailand Swimathon 10km Pattaya 2 Dec 2017

This is a very popular race with Malaysian swimmers and rightly so. Again the Sports Buddy Team / Thailand Swimathon did an excellent job.
Part of the huge Malaysian contingent for 2017
The great things of last year were repeated and for 2017, there was an open air awards night. It really was a wonderful event, I think you can read my last year's Race Report, its the same excellent race.
It was nice to see many new swimmers from Malaysia, Spain (Jose, Ignacious and wife), Bangkok (Tim Johnson), Ko Samui (Andy, Gary Sparkes, Anika) and Brunei (Ahmad) experiencing this excellent race for their first time.
Fun times at the airport. Entertainment by Andy
Overall Champion
The Men's Champion in 2017 was Jose Lois Larossa in 2 hours 27 mins. Rupert did 2 hours 20 mins in 2016 but in 2017 was a little slower (as he was busy with exams) and finished second.
Awards Party
My Performance
I recorded 3 hours 20 mins versus 3 hours 34 mins the previous year. This was the biggest improvement of all participants. In fact, because of the more difficult conditions, most swimmers were markedly slower in 2017. Plus I didn't loose to any of my friends, so I was extremely pleased with this performance even though I didn't podium my 45 years plus category.
I am happy to note that Thailand Swimathon have announced even more events for 2018. Oceanman (separate from Thailand Swimathon) have also signed the franchise agreement for Thailand. Add Swimon Malaysia having seven events planned for 2018, Open Water Swimmers in Malaysia and Thailand are going to have their best year yet in 2018. Exciting times indeed.

Again they provided many action photos

Thanks Raymond Ng for this shot

Oceanman at Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi on 25 Nov 2017 (10km)

The Oceanman at Tanjung Rhu on 25 Nov was the second Oceanman event in Malaysia for 2017. The previous Oceanman being at Putrajaya Lake on 19 March 2017.
The Oceanman at Tanjung Rhu also replaced the previous Langkawi SwimFest on 10 Dec 2016 at the same location.
Both Oceanman 2017 and SwimFest 2016 were held at the same time and place as Pesta Air Langkawi. We understand for 2018, Oceanman 2018 will be a "standalone" event.
The Oceanman franchise for Malaysia has been taken over by Langkawi native, Puan Azura. The signing ceremony in London was witnessed by Malaysia's Tourism Minister. We wish Azura every success in her endeavour to promote Open Water Swimming in Malaysia. We the Open Water Swimming community will support your events.
1.5km, 5km, 10km
Male and Female
Age groups divided into every ten years
As for all Oceanman events, the top ten in each age group automatically qualifies for the Oceanman World Championship. The Oceanman World Championship for 2018 is still to be announced.
All finishers get a medal and trophies are awarded to the top three in each age group.
Incident Next Door (no safety float)
We understand a youngster almost drowned close to the Oceanman's finish line. The youngster was not an Oceanman participant.
With my close friend, Philip Tan just before the start
I think the requirement to make the "safety float" compulsory for swimmers is a very good one. I can attest that when I got my heart attack on 18 Dec 2016, my first line of defence was to hold on to the safety float. I understand there have been no fatal incident whenever swimmers use the safety float.
I have observed a few times when swimmers were quite annoyed when they found out that the safety float was compulsory. Well swimmers, the safety float is for our own good.
The actual race
The 10km was the first event to start. The course was to swim a 5km triangle twice. The 5km participants would start a few minutes later and do the same triangle once.
At the start, the weather actually looked fine. But unfortunately, only a few minutes into the swim, the sea got very choppy, it became very windy and rained very heavily. It was a thunderstorm. The safety float attached to my body was flapping everywhere in the storm.
Visibility was much reduced and the buoys started moving about and were no longer in their original straight line. The first red turning buoy had moved away significantly. Being the honest racer, I nevertheless headed for the red turning buoy. I saw only one other swimmer actually go around the red turning buoy and I presume the vast majority didn't, but this was not their fault. So I was behind many swimmers who I knew were slower than me.
I decided to skip the 2.5km feeding point as it was still early in the race. I'd go for the 5km feeding point, I thought.
The yellow guide buoys had moved everywhere. The 2nd red turning buoy could not be seen in the bad weather but I knew it was somewhere yonder and I  kept going. I found it, duly went around it and headed back to the start point to complete the first triangle.
But alas I saw the majority of swimmers not going around the second red turning buoy. The 5km swimmers all seemed to take the short way back.
The buoys had gone everywhere, the weather was bad and no one was guiding the participants, so swimmers didn't strictly adhere to the course, probably just following the person in front.
I was feeling annoyed and wondered whether the race would be cancelled.
Then there was no feeding point at 5km. There was a change and apparently it was announced in the morning but I missed the announcement. Some kayaks did have water though.
I was told  there were even swimmers that didn't go around the third red turning buoy, and this was right in front of the race secretariat.
Second lap
The weather was calm for the second lap. I had missed the feeding at 2.5km and luckily the kayak at the first red buoy (at about 6.8km by now) had two pieces of bananas. I took one and left the other one for Ernesto Pujan who was just as hungry as me.
I headed for the 7.5km feeding boat and this boat rescued my race. Tons of bananas hanging from it's canopy and very helpful staff. Most swimmers gave the 7.5km feeding boat a miss (maybe they didn't recognise it) and after my banana fix, I caught many in front of me.
Again for the second lap I saw swimmers not following the course. I actually thought at that time, the swimmers were doing a different race or something.
Race Finish. The sea was perfectly calm for the second lap
I knew from the previous year that Tanjung Rhu has a lot of jelly fishes. A close swimming friend was hospitalized this year and I saw a female swimmer in pain at the showers. Luckily I didn't get any jelly fish stings this time.
I didn't stay for the prize presentation. I just headed for the nearby Fish and Chips shop which was quite delicious.

With my new friend, Ignacio Melero Ordonez from Spain. At Pattaya one week later, we would again finish close together.
10km Overall Results


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Clean Half Extreme Marathon Swim Hong Kong (15 km)


The Clean Half Extreme Marathon Swim at Hong Kong is probably the most famous Open Water Swim event in Asia. It is an annual event normally held in October (summer). The race on 7 October 2017 was its eleventh edition.
It is a Charity event organized by a Hong Kong Charity / NGO called Ocean Recovery Alliance that does work on improving the ocean environment. Entry fees are paid directly to the Organiser, Doug Woodring. Doug is the co-founder and Managing Director of ORA.
The event is one of many sporting events held throughout the year by Open Water Asia. Protecting the sea goes hand in hand with open water swimming. Doug is a key person for Open Water Asia. He is a keen open water swimmer and regularly participates in the Clean Half. Doug was even nominated for the 2012 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year award due to his  contributions to the sport and the environment.
Participation and support for the event by the local community is good. Total number of swimmers is probably close to 300. Most are taking part in the many types of team events (5 person team, 2 person Yak team, outrigger canoe which are then sub divided into Men, Women, Mixed, Age Groups etc). I guess team events bring in participants which in turn brings in participation fees.
Support is provided by various recreational water clubs (Eg Victoria Recreation Club) that allows its facilities to be used for the event. Hong Kong has been a leading port for a hundred years maybe and understands the  sea very well. The international  population of Hong Kong supports and loves to participate in  sea sporting events. Live musicians were even playing their instruments right on the swim course. This was very cool and as far as I know, only happens at this event.
First Impression of Hong Kong - Good
It was our first ever trip to Hong Kong and I have a positive first impression of Hong Kong. I would even classify it as a "developed" country. Very good public transport system, PEOPLE QUEUE!, designated places for wheelchairs on trains, taxis that don't cheat, polite and professional usherettes at a nice airport, honest taxi system at the airport etc. I also didn't see the hundreds of junk boats at the harbor that people used to live in.
We could see Deep Water Bay (race finish) from our hotel window
 It is a sporty country. People are jogging everywhere, even single ladies. Land is of course a premium but right next to our Ovolo Hotel was a massive football complex with a number of football pitches. Hong Kong  has a very international community. All these things I am happy to see. 
Land is scarce but Hong Kong still has amazing sport facilities (next to our hotel)
Race categories & fees

Roughly, depends on whether you need a kayak, paddler or boat support. Please check actual site page: 
  1. Solo. HK 2,400 early bird (roughly RM 1,400). Kayak and paddler will be provided. HK 5,300 if support boat needed.
  2. Team. 5 persons. HK 2,500 per team and bring own support boat. HK 6,200 if support boat needed.
  3. Team 6 person outrigger canoe. "Carbon neutral" category.
  4. YAK Team. Two swimmers share a kayak relay style. One paddles and one swims. (HK 2,500 per team kayak provided). This looks quite tough actually. How does a swimmer get into the kayak during the changeover?
Note that entry fees for good long distance swim events are always very high.  A solo swimmer would need a kayak and paddler or a boat with feeder and skipper, for support. Then there's the sweeper boats, medical, lifeguards etc.

Race Day - before the start
The 10 a.m. start time and the close proximity of Stanley Main Beach to our Ovolo Southside Hotel meant that race morning was quite stress free, even though I only arrived the previous day late in the afternoon. 
We had breakfast at 6.45 a.m. and then only I got my race gear ready ha ha. We took a taxi and got to the race start at 8.45 a.m.
First time meeting the Race Organizer - Doug Woodring

Quite a lot of swimmers (mostly relays)
 There are two starting times on Race Day (Saturday, 7 Oct 2017):
  • 10 a.m. for solos and teams that need more time to finish (about half opted for 10 a.m.)
  • 11 a.m. the main starting time
The 11 a.m. fast group. The eventual winner was 16 years old Bill Thorley on the extreme left
Registration was basically to show yourself and sign the indemnity. No race markings, no collection of goody bags (as there was none). Briefing was done by Doug Woodring using a loud hailer. Doug introduced me to my kayaker, Stanley. I liked him right from the very first moment. We agreed that feeding would be every 30 mins and I would follow all his instructions as this was his fourth time versus the first for me. I would swim behind or to the right of him. All my nutrition was placed inside one cooling bag. All items had to be essential as there was limited space on the kayak.
My kayaker, Stanley was dressed for the part complete with gloves and head gear. He looked like he meant business and I just knew that I could trust him explicitly.
We were each given a timing chip that we needed to have with us at the finish. In the meantime it was ok for the kayaker to carry the chip. I opted to wear it around my ankle.
The start beach (Stanley Main Beach) was quite crowded as it was small and used by a number of wind surfers that morning. The wind surfers were surfing right across where we were about to swim  as this was their patch. This delayed the start a little bit.
The slower 10 a.m. swimmers (my group) about to start. Note the team support boats in front. The sea was already choppy

We eventually started at 10.16 a.m. Solos and Teams started at the same time. Very weary after my heart attack experience, I was actually in last position overall at the beginning.
The water was choppy right from the start. The press release by the Organiser explained that "very strong winds and currents due to the full moon made the times 40 minutes slower for the fastest and then some".  How was I to know it was going to be choppy the whole way! ha ha. 

First turning point
The first turning point was quite easy to sight as we used the mountain behind as the target. I stayed calm and just swam slowly to the first turnaround. The good thing about starting with the teams was that, other swimmers and support boats were always nearby.
This is heading for second turning point I think. When you have to do the swimming, that is choppy
The second turning point was also quite easy to sight for we were heading for a corner. But it was open sea and it was getting seriously choppy. My kayaker commented that I was now "in the middle, no longer last". I honestly didn't know if he was telling the truth as I finished last ha ha. But it was a great motivator.
After the corner we swam parallel to the shore. Its a famous part of the course and is known as "the wall". The waves here are seriously high and seemed to be going everywhere. I thought I would be thrown against "the wall".
By the end of "the wall" it was about half way. But I had expended so much energy combating the high waves and strong currents.
The next target was an island which was the five hours cut off point that all swimmers had to pass. Initially the kayaker and myself thought that we would easily make it as it looked so near. But three feeding stops later (1.5 hours), I was still no where near!!!
I was so demoralized. I had exceeded the five hour cut off to reach the island. Are they going to pull me out? I came all this way and couldn't finish? I started thinking of excuses to give everyone. Essentially the negative thoughts came so thick and fast. A million times I thought I wanted to stop. My blessed kayaker just kept on repeating "don't give up", "don't give up".
The course map highlighting where we had to be within 5 hours. I missed it.
Unlike an Ironman, when you are in trouble during an open water swim race, there is "no place to hide". You can't free wheel down hill. You can't go into the medical tent. You can't stop for a short rest. You can't walk. There is no place to hide. Sorry, you just have to keep on going. 
The marshall's boat didn't approach me. I'm sure they were watching me. My kayaker didn't tell me to stop. I could see the water ahead was still very choppy.
However, we have our Iron Grit (thank you Ezer for the phrase). Slowly the negative thoughts turned to positive thoughts. Come on choppy sea!. Is this all you got? I'm going to fight you!!! That got me through one hour.
After maybe 13 - 14 km, we entered Deep Water Bay. This was the only place where the water was flat.  I could roughly see the bloody finish and was of course pumped.
Then the Marshall's sweeper boat arrived and I was told to get in the sweeper boat. The Marshall would drop me near the finish and I could swim the balance !!. The official final cut off (6 hours) has been exceeded. The Marshall was only doing his job.
I pleaded "Please let me swim". "I will protect him" added Stanley, my blessed kayaker. With that we left and the Marshall let us go.
The final twenty minutes was super smooth. My kayaker led and I followed.
I tried to look for the finish banner, tape or even a towel on the beach. There was none. You finish wherever you like on the beach.
Unfortunately at the finish I stepped on some concrete which was painful for my dodgy feet (I have many dodgy body parts). I tried to stand up but the constant bobbing up and down had disoriented me and I collapsed in a heap, totally exhausted. My wonderful kayaker actually caught my full body weight (he was tiny but very strong), then two other bigger sized chaps came to assist me and I was ok. 
The fine gentlemen who helped me to my feet
I thanked everyone and offered HK$ 200 as tip to my kayaker. He refused to accept it. He meant it. Thanks buddy. I gave him a hug and that was it.
My wonderful kayaker Stanley who refused my Tip
There was no loud P.A. system to announce my arrival. But the official time keeper was there and he captured my arrival. It meant everything to me to finish and get my name on the official results list (albeit in last position ha ha).
It was my toughest day in Open Water Swimming
There was DJ music and a simple BBQ at the Victoria Recreation Club, but I just wasn't interested, totally exhausted but happy that I had accomplished something.
There's no souvenir swim cap, T shirt, Finisher's medal, trophy, certificate that is normal for most sporting events, BUT I got my name included in:
  1. The Official results list as the second Malaysian ever to complete the Hong Kong Clean Half in its 11 year history, and my name in
  2. "Open Water Pedia". I have my own page which says Mohammed Sofian Ismail is an Open Water Swimmer. Ha ha fancy that.
This will do for me. Its my toughest swim ever and the longest in terms of time taken. The satisfaction in finishing was priceless.

We went to a nearby Italian Restaurant for dinner and took a taxi back to the hotel. 
Would I recommend this event?
Bear in mind that beggars can't be choosy. There are not many Open Water Swims going around. But swimming in Hong Kong is ok. There is no jelly fish whatsoever and only one or two sea lice. Its not necessary to cover up your upper body, so that's quite a big compliment. The water temperature is warm which is good for me. You can see your arms and hands quite clearly when you swim (clearer than P.D., Labuan, Langkawi etc. Only Perhentian has clearer waters). The air temperature is say two degrees lower than Malaysia, so that's good.
The swim start and finish is very easy to get to, using public transport.
The downsides are the lack of mementoes for swimmers (there's none so you have to win if you want a medal) and the expenses involved.
The Clean Half (takes place around the clean half of Hong Kong) is in October (summer) whilst the Cold Half (exactly the same route, a winter option wearing wet suits) is in February.
Next Swim Events 
  1. Oceanman Langkawi on 25 November 2017
  2. Thailand Swimathon at Pattaya one week later on 2 December 2017.

Please try to support these events if you can.

Have a good day, SMILE and happy swimming. Thank you.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Pulau Perhentian Besar Round Island Swim 16 km (16 Sep 2017)

It was a historical day for Open Water Swimming in Malaysia. The inaugural 16 km round island and 4.5 km swims held at Pulau Perhentian Besar,  on 16 Sep 2017 (Malaysia Day), was a success. By and large, all swimmers were hugely thrilled to take part in this first formal swim race at beautiful Pulau Perhentian Besar  and its only going to get better. Exciting times indeed for Open Water Swimming in Malaysia.

Coach Jose with the Whale Shark that kept us company
I saw Cheah, a young chap from Pulau Penang  laughing his head off with his kayaker (Wong) on the Barat Beach just after his 16km swim, marveling at their achievements ha ha. Also, the 4.5km swimmers were the nosiest during prize giving, they just couldn't believe their accomplishments, some were quite overweight, but they still did it (well done). I was happy for my 16km comrades, the anxiety and waiting was finally over. The 16 km swim was  the longest ever swim for almost everyone apart from probably Signor Alberto Perez, the easy winner. I had already swam the loop last year on 28 Sep 2016 in 7 hours 2 mins. The Organisers looked pleased and relieved at prize giving, everyone was still in one piece even though a large docile Whale Shark was mingling with the swimmers.
By and large the event was a huge success for Open Water Swimming in Malaysia and it is going to be BIG in the world of Open Water Swimming.

The 16 km route. Anticlockwise

The 4.5 km route. Start point was the same for both distances

  • Everyone loves going to a beautiful tropical island. Add in a swim race in warm clear waters and swimmers will come in droves from all over the world.
  • The water is clear. Whilst swimming, swimmers can see beautiful rock formations, colourful schools of fishes, sun rays piercing the sea and this year there was a huge Whale Shark mingling around. Whale Sharks whilst having a huge mouth (ha ha), are docile creatures, feed only on planktons and do not pose a threat to humans.
  • Competent organisers who can pull it off. The lead organizer is probably En Amirizal Ishak who is a local Terengganu lad. He has the local contacts, contributed to the organization of the very successful SEA Games (Open Water Swimming and Triathlon), Asian Open Water Swimming Championships, Oceanman Putrajaya 2017 etc. He is very hardworking and I actually have not seen him lose his temper ha ha.
  • Amir's partner is Jose Lois Larrosa. From beautiful Spain, Jose has swam all over the world. He thus has the international contacts and knowledge. I have been to his Dad's house in Elche, Spain. He is a wonderful chap.
  • Competent safety partners. Aquaputra Putrajaya are of course the people that pulled me out of the water when I had a heart attack during a swim event on 18 Dec 2016. Please take note there is only a Government Clinic (there is no Hospital) at Pulau Perhentian.
  • Pulau Perhentian is relatively easy to get to, considering its a real tropical island. From KL, its only a one hour flight to Kota Baru, then a one hour taxi ride through nice rural roads to Besut Jetty where there are regular fast boats (45 minutes ride) to Pulau Perhentian. In fact my buddy, Seah Ban Kiat flew in from Qatar (more than 7 hours flight) to KLIA and immediately carried on to Pulau Perhentian. He finished third!!! Obviously he is super human.
  • Nice mementoes for swimmers. This year all 16 km and 4.5 km swimmers had their names printed on a huge banner. Then all swimmers received a T Shirt, Mug, Medal and Certificate. Of course the podium finishers received a trophy too. This is no mean feat. Bali for example, only gives a finisher's towel and swimming cap, nothing else. Clean Half Hong Kong (15 km) gives NOTHING to swimmers. Perhentian also has photos and videos by the official photographer. Next year I understand the mementoes for Perhentian will be of even better quality.
  • Reasonable hotels. First bear in mind that this is a tropical island. There are no roads, centralized electricity or water supply. Hotel rooms are mostly the wooden type. There are luxurious accommodation now at Coral View and Perhentian Island Resort. I took a cheaper room at Barat and it was ok.
  • The official hotel, Coral View has a great location as it straddles Teluk Pauh and Barat Beach. It was a perfect venue for the race briefing and prize giving.
  • Teluk Pauh (the start and finish for 16 km) is a popular snorkeling and sun bathing spot. There is at least one turtle permanently residing in the Bay. The underwater view is  nice. Kids and loved ones can snorkel here the whole day no problem.
  • Many nice restaurants on the Barat Beach. Please don't miss the night time BBQ. For me, it was the best food I have ever tasted.
  • The 16 km will attract very serious swimmers whilst the 4.5km will attract the fun swimmers. Thus something for everyone.

Please take these tips with a pinch of salt as I am no guru.
  • Do your swim training whichever way makes you happy. For example I only swim at one single speed every day, use a pull buoy every time, use the same pool and only swim alone. You need to be happy with what you are doing, otherwise you will soon stop.
  • Learn to swim alone. Motivation should not be coming from someone else. If you are comfortable with swimming alone, you will be able to swim for the rest of your life.
  • Be weary of doing speedwork, swim drills and things you are not used to. Unusual body movements may cause injuries or headaches.
  • Start your races or training slowly, unless you want to get a heart attack like me ha ha.
  • Stretch your shoulders everyday. Don't worry, you don't need surgery or a physio for that shoulder pain. You-tube has numerous examples of stretches and exercises to do. Choose what you like. A simple towel stretch does wonders.
  • Manage your health well. No point being sick. Avoid cold indoor pools, cold showers, cold air cons. Cover up when you sleep.
  • Do whatever kms you can in a week. We all have different constraints. Try to put in as much as you can, but don't get injured or sick.

Nutritional tips for Perhentian;
  • The round island swim can actually be done on just bananas and water. Don't underestimate the simple banana and plain water.
  • If you want to use the gels, sports drinks or any of the numerous things available out there, make sure you have tested them thoroughly in training. Race day is not the place to try out new nutritional stuff or new swimwear.
  • All 16km swimmers will each have a support boat or kayak (like for Mr Cheah). All nutrition will be placed in the boat / kayak. Each boat will have a skipper and a feeder. The feeder will hand over your nutrition to you.
  • Good cooling boxes can be bought from Decathlon. The minimum is to have one bicycle bottle tied to a string. Some swimmers had many water bottles each tied to a string.
  • I'm not sure if anyone used the stick and cup method that is used at the Olympics.
  • Touching the boat is actually not allowed, even during feeding. But I held onto the stationary boat (please don't tell the organisers ha ha ) for my last three feedings. I was so tired by then, that I couldn't tread water.

 Swimwear tips for Perhentian;
  • The published Perhentian Swim Rules follows FINA's Rules.  FINA oversees pool swimming and Open Water Swims for the Olympics.
  • Your swimwear at Perhentian should have a FINA sticker. Of course the Perhentian organisers can modify its rules as its not part of the Olympics. For example, if you want to swim the English Channel, there are very specific rules for that. Triathlon has the ITU rules for the Olympics, Ironman has its own rules, Challenge Family has its own rules.
  • Certain types of swimwear that is allowed for Triathlons eg wetsuits, neoprene material, ROKA, ORCA are all not allowed for Open Water Swims. Organisers may give exemptions of course, eg wetsuits is permissible if water temperature is below 23 degrees.
  • I think only one or two participants at Perhentian had FINA approved swimwear, which I think can only be bought online.
  • We see Open Water Swimmers at the Olympics and SEA Games wearing the one piece bare shouldered competition swim suits. This is allowed for Perhentian  but its impossible to get the correct size on your first attempt. They can be bought online for about RM 1,500 and can reach your home after only 3 working days. After some trial and errors, I  finally found that ARENA Size 32 is perfect for me. Wearing that took about 30 minutes. I used the JAKED Brand (both are Italian made) for Perhentian and got bad chaffing around the neck as it wasn't tight enough. So the suit has to be very very tight and I think ARENA is better than JAKED.
  • Monsieur Serge (2nd Overall) wears lycra type long sleeves and long leggings for all his tropical swim events. This provides protection from the sun and any jelly fish. The lycra suit has to be quite new and not loose fitting. If its old and loose, it will clog up with water and hinder your swim rather than help it.
  • Most swimmers were bare chested for Perhentian and this is ok as there were no jelly fish of note at this year's event. Mr Seah Ban Kiat (third overall) only wore  basic swimming trunks. Most wore tight swim shorts. Don't forget to apply generous sun tan on your shoulders, back, arms, ears, everywhere actually and lots of Vaseline around the arm pits and neck. The Vaseline on your palm / fingers will affect your "catch". So wipe off the Vaseline before the swim start.
  • So basic swimming trunks or tight swim shorts is enough for Perhentian with or without the FINA logo ha ha.

Swimming Goggle tips for Perhentian
  • The brand and model of the googles you wear for the event will also be the same one that you train in. Your preferred brand and model needs to have been thoroughly tested that it will not leak or fog even after several hours of swimming. I use the Optical View Brand from Japan which can be bought for about RM 90 at the Kampong Pandan Swimming Pool.
  • Buy a new one to use only for races. Test it properly once or twice with anti fog and store it away until race day. Old pairs of goggles can snap anytime so its not advisable to use an old pair on race day.
  • 16 km Finisher, Cheah from Penang swears that spit is the best anti fog ha ha. I think any of the commercial anti-fogs are ok.
  • Rinse your goggles after each swim. Dry it completely using a clean towel. Apply anti fog  before your next swim practice but rinse it  before wearing. This way I found my VIEW Goggles has lasted with perfect vision after more than a year of daily use.

What happens during the 16 km swim?
  • The swim starts at the Teluk Pauh Jetty and finishes nearby after one revolution of the island at the same beach. Our respective boats were waiting around the corner near the Barat Jetty. Depending on personal preferences, swimmers will swim to the left or right of their respective boats. Its most important to stay clear of the boat's propellers. At the start there were a lot of swimmers, boats and fumes close together. This was quite fun.
  • The 4.5km swimmers started 15 minutes after us.
  • Slowly but surely swimmers started to stagger out.
  • For about 3.5km the sea was quite flat. Then around  the corner, close to the 4.5km finish, it became seriously choppy. Thus I think the 4.5 km swimmers got their money's worth too.
  • The sea conditions continued this way the rest of the way, mostly flat but choppy at places. No where near as choppy as last year but I wasn't feeling good this year. I was a little bit sick at the start and felt dizzy whenever the water was choppy. But as usual we keep on going.
  • I couldn't see the first four swimmers. They were way out in front, out of sight and out of mind.
  • But I could see Wong in the kayak accompanying his swimmer, Cheah.
  • I was happy to get around the last big corner and saw the huge mosque on Perhentian Kecil. But the water was quite choppy here and progress seemed to take forever. Still another hour of swimming even though you could see the finish was nearby.
  • I caught up with Cheah and his kayak. Cheah was stopping many times, so I went by him as fast as I could ha ha, knowing that trophies only went five deep for Men.
  • I was happy to finish. It was a struggle as I still had some sickness.
  • I could feel my dodgy heart was pumping away right until prize giving in the evening ha ha.
  • But the brilliant BBQ at Barat cured everything.

ROLL OF HONOUR - Perhentian 16km
The clear winner was Signor Alberto Perez Diaz from Espana in 4 hours 13 min
Alberto was very fast because he followed the Whale Shark, who knew a short cut.
No its not Bruce Lee. 2nd was Monsieur Serge Domenichini from KL in 4 hours 57 mins. Serge is the funniest person in our WhatsApp group. I wonder when will he grow up.

3rd was Seah Ban Kiat in 5 hours  11 min. This cute guy came all the way from Qatar and would have done even better with another day's rest.

4th was Prof Ghazali Musa in 5 hours 14 min.
5th was me in 5 hours 40 min. On my left is Safety Leader, Cherish Chin, who pulled me out of the P.D. Sea on 18 Dec. Thank you again.
6th was Cheah Chong Yung from USM, Penang in 5 hours 46 mins. When I grow up, I want to have a body like that ha ha
7th Overall, Female Champion and the only female finisher was Claire Parsons from Spore in 5 hours 57 mins.
8th Overall was Doctor Muhammad Fauzi Othman in 6 hours 26 mins.
Fauzi's next adventure is the Langkawi Ironman on 11 Nov 2017. All the best Doctor.
9th Overall in 6 hours 44 min was Andreas Hvass (Scandy Andy). No that's not the Indian flag but Sweden's.
Andy is well known for his contributions to Open Water Swimming in Koh Samui.
10th Overall is Philip Tan in 7 hours 1 min. Isn't it great when the family is around? Well done Philip
11th Overall was Ridzwan A. Rahim in 7 hours 3 mins. Well done buddy.
15 swimmers started the 16km. Unfortunately 4 did not complete the swim.
Lets not forget the 4.5km swimmers. They were the happiest swimmers I have ever seen.
  Sources of Information on events, online shops etc
  • FINA approved Open Water Swimwear can be purchased from Proswimwear, UK. Takes only about 3 working days for delivery (but its difficult to determine your correct size for the Open Water Competition Swim Suit at the first attempt).
  • From SWIMINN too.
  • ROKA. Popular with Triathletes but not FINA approved.
  • Swimon Malaysia is my favourite Open Water page. They have a good Calendar of Events.
  • On "Facebook", try searching for Larrosaows, Swimon, English Channel, Swim smooth, Triathlon Malaysia, Penang Open Water, Rottnest, Swimbot, Swim Junkie, Thailand Swimathon etc and you will get many wonderful pages on Open Water Swimming.

Next year's Perhentian swim will be on 6 October 2018. "Like" Swimon's Facebook page to keep abreast. Don't miss the event and good luck.  
    With the very competent Organisers. Come everyone, lets make next year's event a World Class Open Water Event that Malaysia will be proud of. Thank you.