Matiu/Somes Island Sea Swim
Updated: Apr 22
Wellington is home to one of the largest triathlon clubs in NZ, and a mecca for multisport athletes. Event pickings are plentiful especially in summer .You’ve got the local splash and dash every Wednesday, Capital city series triathlons running every month, as well as sea swim challenges that are family and newbie friendly i.e Banana Boat Ocean Swim series.
You also have, a challenge yourself to do something epic type swim, the Matiu/Somes island endurance sea swim, organized by Traction fitness tri coach Jen Rose with an impressive number of Triathlon world championship wins and subsequently a wealth of experience in all things Swim, Bike, Run.
This epic half day event is a perennial favourite amongst the Tri Wellington, and Ocean swim community and this is its 4th year. There are 3 swim distances for you to choose from, a 3km, 3.7km and a 6.7km. At 3 km, you’d go around Matiu island, at 3.7km, you’d make a figure 8 around Matiu and Mokopuna, and at 6.7km you’ll swim from Petone wharf to the islands and do the figure 8!
Dan and I managed to snag front row seats to this exciting event, which was a nice change from being a participant. We rolled up yawning (ok just me) at stupid o clock, and made our way down to the Petone wharf, where athletes doing the longest swim distance (6.7km), all support crew, kayaks and boats gathered.
There was a second registration point from the city wharf, where swimmers doing the shorter distances 3km and 3.7km would take a ferry to the island and start from there.
Registration commenced, briefings for both swimmers and support crew were conducted amidst a showstopper of a sunrise. The water looked nice and flattish, not much wind going on, as rare as unicorn farts around these parts. If you’re a Wellingtonian, you’ll most probably be used to strong northerlies and the ever exciting wind conditions on any given day.
As swimmers slowly put on their togs, Dan & I got carried away taking photos and videos and missed the boat we were supposed to be on, which had already moved off from the Petone wharf… oops, sorry Jen lol. Thank goodness for Rod and his awesome jetski , he was able to taxi us over to the boat in a jiffy. While wading out , my lower legs got soaked and promptly (started crying mercy before it) went numb. Bloody hell the water was practically arctic. (To this tropical parrot anyways, everyone else thought it was warm, and some even went non wetsuit.. like WHAAAT?! ) I seem to be missing a vital part of body heat mechanism! Rod was laughing at me and poohing away at my delicate senses. Cheers!
The boat, named "Serenity" had the dual purpose of being both a passenger return ferry from the Matiu island back to Petone when the swim was over, as well as a floating aid station (how cool is that) and check point. There was also Casey the dog on board *squeee <3)
We had some time to chillax on the boat and just enjoy the scenery. As swimmers came by, they called out their race number and were checked off the list for safety purposes, and they had the opportunity to get a drink, a banana, gels and have a bit of a break before heading off in pods to finish up the swim.
Dan managed to get some really nice shots at this point from the drone, much to the chagrin of the sea gulls. They were absolutely furious at this really shady buzzing flying monstrosity that couldn't even caw for gods sake and yet had the audacity to take to the skies in a poor imitation of a bird.
It wasn't too long before the last swimmer finished and the city ferry docked at Matiu island, to take some folks back to the city, and then it was the Serenity’s turn to dock and take the rest back to Petone.
On the journey back, everyone was of course all on a high, buzzing with excitement about the swim. Garmins were stopped, exclamations were made and data was examined as most athletes are prone to do =p
When that important bit was done, lollies and chocolate fish were handed out, and the recurring theme was how epic the swim had been and how happy people were to accomplish such a long distance they had never thought themselves capable of doing.
I had the opportunity to speak to a couple of swimmers about the swim experience, and what they liked about it, and these are some things they said :
“It was absolutely amazing. From the weather, the birdlife, it was almost like sight-seeing!
There were things to see in the water, around the island itself it was beautiful, we watched the birds. And because of the company around, it felt safe, and made sighting easier."
"There wasn't any pressure,like in a race, it was a recreational event. I actually stopped and some point and just watched the birds flying, had a drink. It was really fun, and because we had a buddy swimmer, you never felt alone as it can feel swimming in such a large expanse of water."
Anna. G and Julia.B are return swimmers , who have attended previous sea swims , in increasing distance each year.
Paul.R , a legend in his own right, doing half ironmans at age 70 ish, and probably fitter than many in their 20s , attested to the overall friendliness of the event, such as having buddies swimming together, and the elation at completing the distance and feeling on top of the world, and the picturesque nature of the swim route.
Check out this combination of Go Pro and drone footage of the event Dan put together :
Organizing an endurance event is no small task. I’ve played the role of athlete, spectator, support crew, in a few ,which gives me an appreciation of the vast number of things that need to be organized and the safety aspect of the race.
In particular, I reckon swimming tops the list in terms of tediousness because of the nature of the activity itself. Its so easy for a participant to swim off course, run into trouble physically, or not feel well, and the repercussions of that as opposed to running and cycling where you can stop anytime are huge.
I picked Jen’s brain about what was the hardest thing about organizing such an event, and she spoke about the logistical complexity of making sure there was enough motorized boat support, as well as support crew. There were a whopping 26 number of support crew, medics, course marshalls on kayaks , a jetski, as well as organizing the different ferries and timings to meet at that sweet spot .
There was also a time cut off for obvious reasons, and it while would appear that this swim would be for slightly more experienced swimmers. Jen is also mindful there might be newer swimmers keen to give the challenge a try, and to cater for that need, as well as pay special attention to such swimmers in particular.
To Jen, the highlight wouldn't be swimming and arriving at the island, although it would be to the long distance swimmers, but rather it was the beauty of the swim around both islands. In the first year, it was a shorter course, just out to the island. Subsequent years saw the same 3 choice format as this year and sign ups have been steadily increasing since its inaugural race. Safety is always the main issue, not so much the weather, and had mother nature been in a snit that day, the event would have either been postponed or cancelled. However it was a brilliant day this year, couldn't have asked for better conditions.
Some swimmers requested the opportunity in future to stop on the island for a picnic/walk , and its something to definitely consider, although that increases the complexity of logistics. This swim event seems to be constantly evolving and I'm pretty sure that will be an option sometime!
All in all, it ran pretty seamlessly, due to the hard work of the thanks to the amazing support crew , experienced Race director, and meticulous logistical organization of Traction fitness.
I might even consider giving it a go, and that's saying a lot as I'm allergic to cold water. Get yer togs on the rest of you and don't miss out next year!
*This article was shared with permission on Traction fitness and Triathlon Wellington Community FB.