Convent Swim congregation
By MAX GODBEE
Yamba Surf Life Saving Club
A DISAPPOINTING finish to the 2004 Convent to Main Beach handicap surf classic at Yamba may have set the stage for North Curl Curl lifesaver Mark Nicholson's big win in the 2005 race yesterday.
Nicholson, 32, and one of the first off the beach on a 'go' handicap, swam a truer course this time and led for most of the journey to beat two juniors Jeremy Stephens, 11, and Ryan Martin, 9.
Nicholson swam off a five-minute handicap in the 1000m event last year, and appeared to have the race in his keeping before straying widely off course in the last section and finishing well down the list.
Just the same, the big reduction to a 'go' handicap yesterday must have appeared a bit of a gift ? and he made the most of it.
Both of yesterday's minor placegetters are members of the Burleigh Heads-Mowbray Park Junior Surf Club on the Gold Coast and swam from the two-minute mark. As well as their surf club memberships, they are members of the Coopers Swimming Club and are coached by Cheryl and Brad Cooper.
Brad Cooper is a former Australian Olympian and won the 400m freestyle gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.
Ryan Martin is the brother of Courtney Martin, who won the Convent to Main Beach Classic last year. Yesterday's event attracted a record field with 324 starters, an increase of 28 on the previous best which was set last year.
Handicaps ranged from the 'go' mark to back markers Hugh Dougherty and Jacob Lollback, each giving away 11 minutes.
The race was held in easy conditions on a low tide and small surf and was watched by a big crowd on the beaches and around the hillsides and headland along the course.
Again there was an international flavour to the field, with a husband and wife team visiting Yamba from the UK, taking part.
Nicholson swam to the front shortly after passing the first turning buoy about 150metres out from Convent beach and never appeared in any danger of losing the lead.
He was first around each of the next five buoys taking swimmers further to sea, until finally rounding the home buoy and turning for the 200m swim to Main Beach.
The event ended with a wade and a short run to the green finish flags.
Nicholson covered the journey in 15 minutes and 13 seconds.
Stephens appeared to be closing the gap in the final stages and finished 35 seconds behind the winner to record an adjusted time of 13 minutes 48 seconds, taking his handicap into account.
Martin was a further 12 seconds back, finishing in 16 minutes to record an actual swimming time of 14 minutes.
Brian Fox of Singleton, swimming off a five minute handicap, came in fourth in 16:27, for an actual time of 11:27.
Eleven-year-old Joshua Lollback a prominent Nippers member, was the first Yamba competitor to finish, taking fifth spot from his 'go' handicap, covering the journey in 17 minutes and seven seconds.
Nicholson has been a member of the North Curl Curl Surf Life Saving Club for 12 years, but is mainly noted as a better-than-average surf ski paddler.
Four of his nephews, the Yamba Surf Club's Lollback boys, fourth-placed Josh, Daniel, who finished 18th, Mitchell who finished 67th and equal back marker Jacob also swam in yesterday's event.
Jacob, who has been selected in the NSW State representative team and holds the State Under-17 surf board and iron man championships, recorded second fastest time for yesterday's race finishing 184th with a swimming time of 10 minutes and 43 seconds.
However, honours for fastest time went to his fellow back marker, Hugh Dougherty, formerly of Yamba, now prominent with the Tugun Surf Club in Queensland, who covered the distance in 10 minutes 26 seconds.
At the official presentation ceremony, when he was announced as the winner of the Classic for this year, he immediately donated his $100 prizemoney purse back to the surf club.
This year's Convent to Main Beach Classic was the 18th running of the event, and the first occasion on which it has been part of a wider treble of surf events on the North Coast.
Second leg, the Coffs Harbour Ocean Swim at Coffs Jetty will be decided on February 26, and the South West Rocks Ocean Swim on March 26.