By TONY WHITE
WHEN Grafton's teenage surf star Jacob Lollback and the other backmarkers finally hit the water in the annual Convent Beach to Main Beach event at Yamba today, the majority of the expected 300 competitors, will have reached the half way point of the 1100m handicap surf swim.
Lollback, 16, and his noted compatriots ? Kellog's Nutri-Grain Ironman Hugh Dougherty, Noah Outteridge and 2000 winner, Freshwater lifesaver Oliver Loomes, face a daunting task to catch the field.
"It's almost impossible to catch the front markers, you've just got to go for it and try and pass as many people as possible," Lollback said yesterday.
In the 16 previous Convent to Main swims only one back marker, Joe Dougherty in 1993, has achieved a last to first result.
Competitors ranging in age from nine-year-olds to the race's oldest swimmer, Yamba Surf Lifesaving Club stalwart and event organiser Barrie Cribb, 76, will take to the water in the North Coast's longest-running surf swim.
The popular event also draws large spectator numbers.
Lollback, also a noted still water swimmer, will be competing in his 8th Convent to Main.
"It's a gut-wrenching race, gruelling," Lollback revealed. "It is not that long, but it's very hard.
"You're trying to catch up, pass other people ? swimming in the pack can be roughhouse sometimes ? and with the chop and what not, it all adds up to a tough swim."
For Lollback nerves aren't part of the pre-race equation. It's the pumping adrenalin that needs to be kept under control.
"I've got used to waiting for the other swimmers to go," he said. "You just wait, look at the currents or rips and look for the best way out to the first buoy.
"You just need to pick the best course to get there."
While tactics are important, Lollback with the brashness of youth summed up the start "you just go for it.
"The trick is to get into a good, fast rhythm, find your right speed and try and work through the field."
Passing the first buoy approximately 300m off Convent Beach, competitors turn north and head towards the Iluka water tower.
The size of the field creates inherent problems for the faster swimmers.
"Yeah, it's not much good trying to go through the pack, you try and avoid that as much as possible and look for clear water wider out."
Similar to road race cyclists, swimmers use each other to do the hard yakka.
"If we're all out together we normally take it in turns leading or dragging," Lollback said.
"Or if Hugh (Dougherty) is there, I normally try and stick with him. He's by far the quickest surf swimmer."
Reaching the final buoy for the swim into Main Beach signals a major change in the race.
"That's about where we (backmarkers) start to pick up the main field," Lollback said.
"You usually look up at that point, use the Pacific Hotel as a marker, and swim your guts out for the beach and if there are any waves, try and make good use of them."
A big sea Lollback believes will be advantageous for him and the other surf lifesavers.
"If the waves are up that should increase our chances. We (surf lifesavers) have more surf skills than the still water swimmers and hopefully we can latch onto a wave and catch up."
Last year a bolter, nine-year-old Brisbane student Lachlan Cramsie, having his first ocean race, surprised by being the first competitor home in 16 minutes 10 seconds after starting from scratch.
Lollback, Outteridge, Loomes and Dougherty will be off handicaps of around 11 minutes.
A flotilla of safety craft will patrol the course ensuring safety for all competitors.
Race registration is between 8am till 11am with the event scheduled to commence at 11.30am.