Meet the Gropers

20 May

There are polar bears, huskies, penguins and kool kats; whales, walruses, dolphins, seals, turtles and frigid frogs; barracudas, bullsharks, mackerel, marlin and shivering shags; crabs, sea snakes, sea eels, yabbies and jellyblubbers; along with a smattering of eskimos, icebergs, mermaids, pirates and maniacs.

WSeskies WSDYIPs WSBraseals

These are but some of the 42 current members of Australia’s Winter Swimming Association. Since 1959, when its predecessor the NSW Winter Swimming Association was formed, some clubs such as the Blacktown Beavers (water temperature 8 degrees) and the Gunnedah Craybobs (water temperature 2 to 4 degrees) have been and gone; got cold feet perhaps. Other clubs have not yet formally joined. Perhaps they are still bracing themselves in their infancy like the Bermagui Blue Balls. Others perhaps don’t feel the need to differentiate themselves as a winter swimming club, choosing instead to swim all year round like the Bongin Bongin Dawn Busters, the Toowoon Bay Buttercups or the Bold & the Beautiful.

Most are closely connected to a local surf life-saving club. Some say they were formed to keep surf-lifesavers fit in the off season from May to September. Others that they were formed so that members could get access to the club bar in winter. Drinking and socialising certainly seems to be a strong tradition among winter swimming clubs. Tales of beer, whisky, butterscotch schnapps and bundy rum feature on the facebook pages of the members. The Maroubra Seals have even described themselves as “a drinking club with a swimming problem”.

“We are the Bondi Icebergs, the toughest men they breed. Happy and contented, cold water’s all we need. We’re not soaks or crooners, we just sing as we drink our beer. So bring out all your schooners ’cause the ‘Bergs are here.”

– The Icebergs Anthem, written by Joe Wallace, 1940

Icebergs, the self-proclaimed ‘home’ of winter swimming. Perhaps they do protest too much about the soaking?

Beer, so it seems, simply makes one more buoyant for the next week and also assists with an extra layer of insulation. Club races are usually run on a handicapped system to account for age, fitness and technique and, for those clubs that have thrown off the shackles of their historic exclusive blokey culture, gender. The Winter Swimming Association organises an annual winter swimming competition for its members on the third Sunday in September. Women have been competing since 2008. The over 85 years 50 metres men was won in sub-43 seconds last year.

Some clubs still won’t admit women. Shame on you Harbord Frigid Frogs and Umina Blue Swimmers! The Umina Blue Swimmers call themselves the blubbers – it’s no wonder. Cookie my Freshwater friend, time for the Freshwater Frosty Femmes (real women don’t kiss frogs anyway) or my Umina buddy Teenebeans, how about the Umina Ice Maidens or maybe the Umina Blue Heelers?


A Numnut checks for his balls


Others seem to have a weekly fine system in place for laydees which bizarrely last winter resulted in a Narooma Numnut bringing along her own real balls (a pair of dog’s testicles from a recent veterinary operation) to hand to the fine master in an effort to be excused.

Hmm, Narooma laydees – here’s a link to a prosthetic testicle maker in case you need it.

Another winter swimming tradition is soup. Facebook pages and newsletters abound with mouth-watering references to pumpkin and ham, zucchini and bacon and chorizo and bacon. Although I note that the Numnutz had wonton ball soup the week following the ‘testicle incident’. And the Bermagui Blue Balls awards a scoop of gelati to the Blue Ball who stays in the water the longest each week. A whole new meaning to the consequences of an ice cream headache.

Clovelly Eskimos (known as the Eskies) boast being the first affiliated winter swimming assoc club to allow women. According to their website, Tetsuya Wakuda prepares food for the Eskies! Talk about progressive!

Winter swimming rules are that you have to swim newd ie no wetsuits. Although step aside Nigel Marsh, the Bemagui Blue Balls were contemplating a real nude swim last year. The Narooma News reported –

Folllowing the very successful nude ocean swim in Tasmania earlier this winter, the power brokers at Bermagui Blue Balls are entertaining the idea of a nude swim on Father’s Day to raise money for cancer research. It is the talk in all hotel and bottle shop cool rooms up and down the coast. Blue Balls members are tight-lipped at the present time but it is thought that such an event would draw both participants and spectators. As gender differentiation is difficult at these winter events, spectators are encouraged to bring both binoculars and magnifying glasses.

WSbearsjuneraceSome clubs have mascots such as Patti, the bizarrely inflatable friend of the Numnutz.

The Cronulla Polar Bears have put out an appeal on their facebook page for their lost polar bear suit, thought to have last been seen somewhere in Wagga (presumably in 2011) it seems.

They might want it for their forthcoming June swim meet which looks more YMCA themed than Arctic fauna.

A large number of winter swimming clubs, like the Cronulla Polar Bears and the Bondi Icebergs race in ocean pools. And many of those occean pools sit on rock platforms at the mercy of the swell and tides making for extra adventure for the Maroubra Seals, Dee Why Ice Picks and the Gerringong Gropers. SMH’s James Cockington said:

The constant intrusion of white water is what gives these pools such a unique character. Olympic swimmers may talk of fast and slow pools, but winter swimmers often race in the impossible pool. Competitors in the outside lanes have been known to find themselves outside the outside lane thanks to a vicious swell. Most clubs have arrived on a Sunday morning to find a gummy shark doing some practice laps.

Nonetheless, according to tradition, winter swimming is rarely, if ever, cancelled. Note that carefully readers. WSkubes3

Last Sundee, having bailed from Sarf Head because of Gill’s shoulder injury, we thought we’d Head Sarf (instead of to Sarf Head) and check out some winter swimming.

In fact, we went to visit the club that brags it’s the closest winter swimming group to the Antarctic (as the SMH once reported – There are no affiliated winter swimming clubs in Melbourne. No-one is that stupid, it seems).

No, not the Kiama Kubes. Just a tad further sarf we went, to visit the Gerringong Gropers. And yes, you might want to check your geography now that the Numnutz and the Blue Balls are on the scene.


The Gerringong Gropers: The Illawarra Mercury

Formed in 1985, the Gropers swim from May to September, meeting at Gerringong SLSC on Sundays at 11am. They head to Werri Rock Pool for ‘warm up’ laps before swimming from the point back to the surf club.


So, says the Illawarra Mercury at least. Funny that Bruce should be in the newspaper because I think he’s the local newsagent.

The Gropers are apparently often blamed for leading their ‘mild-mannered counterparts’, the Kiama Kubes astray. WSFBtaunt

But when I looked on Facebook, I could only find the Gladstone Gropers along with a whole bunch of people whose ‘groper’ interest was far from aquatic.

Gerringong Village Markets where you can find twisted pieces of wordart, indulge in organic skin care, fossick for soap nuts and natural rubber teasers, caress bamboo clothes, covet second hand books, treat yourself to spectacular bespoke jewellery and handmade goat leather bags (not Wategoat though obviously). Make sure you include the flavours of the Shoalhaven and beyond in your retail therapy – get curried away with the curry traders, feast on orange almond cake, king Edward oven baked pots, shanghai dumplings and turkish gozleme or just go crackers at Buena Vista Farm shop.

Anyway, after a quick visit to the boutique seaside Gerringong Village Markets on Sat’dee and an early night, we were champing at the bit on Sun’dee morning and off we headed to Werri Rock Pool to meet the Gropers.




The 22m Werri Pool (originally planned as an Olympic pool) was built by the unemployed in 1936 to attract campers off the Princess Highway. Great history of the pool by Sally on her blog.

Also check out also the history of Gerringong’s other rock pool at Boat Harbour and note how many times the gents come round complaining of seaweed at Werri in what seems a thinly veiled excuse to invade the laydees’ pool.

Of course, you pass them both if you swim Gerringong’s awesome New Year journey swim, the Captain Christie.



We waited at the surf club.

We waited at the pool.

We walked up to random peeps and asked if they were a Groper.

A kindly IRB instructor told us the short cut off the rock platform and we swam the Gropers’ aquatic habit without them.


The Lovely Swim


It was a lovely swim.

We even saw a huge ray.

But no Gropers.

Admittedly, the pool was closed.

Someone from Kiama had done it.

Perhaps it was the Kubes?


Perhaps it was just too warm




Perhaps the Gropers were all at Sarf Head.


But next time we go down sarf, we think we might try the Kubes instead.



3 Responses to “Meet the Gropers”

  1. Teenebeans May 22, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    Lizzie, perhaps one day I could join you and take photos of the “wild life” ? Oh and pirates! Fun read and like the idea of the Umina Ice Maidens.

  2. Rob Taylor October 1, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    Hey……….the Harbord Frigid Frogs do have females in their ranks! Check out the latest results from the Winter Swimming Championships at Botany on Sept 21st. The Frogs ladies finished 3rd in the female points score!!

    • lizziecantoo October 1, 2014 at 11:14 am #

      That’s great to hear Rob and very well done to the Froggie Femmes!

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