On the way to the beach for a dog walk last weekend I noticed a large group of people of a certain age zipping themselves into their wetsuits outside the changing shed at Takapuna Beach.
Curious to find out more, I stopped to chat and met members of the ”Eight o’ clock at the Toilet Block” club whose motto is to “swim for the joy of getting wet and the freedom of swimming in the sea.”
This informal group of about 50 enthusiastic people meets at the changing rooms at Takapuna beach at 8 am each Saturday morning and also joins in other ocean swim events around Auckland and further afield. They were about to head off for a swim between the buoys.
Most are over 40, many are over 60 and they range from beginners to some who have taken part in triathlons. “Anyone can take part, there is no joining fee. You can just turn up,” I was told.
Among them was Sue Pollard, looking vibrant and healthy, living proof that 70 can be the new 40. In her younger days she was a NZ Junior Swimming Champ. Then she threw in the towel for 30 years before taking up swimming again. “I am keenly aware that it is essential to keep active into my old age if I want to have a good quality of life,” she says.
Swimming is very good for older people as not only can it keep you healthy and fit but it is not weight bearing so it is good for those with arthritis and also helps with balance. But to get the full benefit it is important to use the right techniques when swimming.
"If you have never swum before start off by taking a few swimming lessons which are readily on offer at most local pools,” she suggested.
To become fit and to improve your technique you do have to swim several times per week. For this she recommends joining one of the NZ Masters swimming clubs. These are based on an American model and started in New Zealand in the 1970s. There are local local branches in most major cities in New Zealand and they welcome swimmers at all levels from beginners to advanced.
The focus is on fun, fitness and friendship but members can also participate in national or international swimming events either in swimming pools or open water if they wish, Sue belongs to the North Shore Club which meets several times a week at the Takapuna swimming pool. Here they swim in different lanes according to their speed. "It’s been a good way to make friends and age is no barrier,” says Sue.
“The oldest member of the North Shore Masters swimming club is 96 years old. She doesn’t swim in the sea but still swims in the pool. She attended the World Championship with her two daughters and got five gold medals (as she was the only one in her age group)!”
Sue is philosophical about the fact that age does slow you down and that at 70 years old she swims a lot slower now than when she was 17 years old. But she is happy with what she can achieve now. Every five years she resets her personal best.
A positive spin off from doing so much exercise is that you can eat more. But Sue, who is also the CEO of the NZ Nutrition Foundation emphasises that although you can eat more it important to eat well.
I am always on the lookout for activities which grandparents can do with their grandchildren so when I discovered that Sue is also a grandmother six times over I asked her if there were any such opportunities in Auckland.
“Join in the State Beach Series,” was her advice, as any age can enter from school-aged children, to parents and grandparents. The State Beach series happens on Takapuna Beach on Tuesday evenings throughout the summer (over a period of 18 weeks). You can enrol for the whole series but if you would like to test the water you can just come to one, or several events. A choice of three sports is available each evening; Swimming, Running and Stand Up Paddling.
This sounded like a great way to enjoy some summer evenings at Takapuna beach. So why not pack a picnic, head over there with your grandkids and join in?