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In the swim on the Auckland seafront
24 November 2006

I've been concerned about those Aucklanders lately. Should they spend a huge amount to patch up old Eden Park, or an even huger one to build a bedpan on the waterfront?

More important questions for us down here are, how much taxpayers' money will go into the project, and if they go for the cheaper option, will the excess be used to upgrade Trafalgar Park?

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Low fares to OZ from $179ow!Since I was up in Auckland last weekend anyway, helping my brother celebrate getting very old, I thought I'd duck down to the harbour and assess the possible benefits to Auckland of getting rid of some of those ugly wharfs.

An ideal opportunity was right at hand. By entering the national ocean swim series event from Stanley Bay (near Devonport) across to the Viaduct Basin on Sunday, I could view the proposed site from several vantage points on the way across, then compare the benefits of that project with the remains of the America's Cup facilities - another large project undertaken for the benefit of promoting New Zealand via a giant sports event.

At this point, I have to say that there are several more important things in life than sports events, but I digress.

Aucklanders seem to have taken in droves to the idea of ocean swimming. Down here, people are reluctant to expose their water skills unless they have them, but up there lack of prowess doesn't seem to stand in the way.

Although close to 1000 paid a large amount of money to enter the event, 180 either didn't show, or chose to make just a cameo appearance.

Part of the organisation was a reassuringly huge number of lifeguards on surf skis, a plethora of inflatable rescue boats and a huge launch tagging along behind.

The plan seemed to be: swim along at the back of the field, assessing possible stadium impacts from a variety of spots at sea level, then raise your hand and get hauled out so you can further assess the impact without all those damned waves obscuring your vision.

Parliamentarian Rodney Hide had obviously decided he had an urgent meeting with North Harbour stadium representatives halfway across, so he hopped out. The famous dog who does the event every year wasn't afflicted by doubt and ploughed on, providing some inspiration to those whose challenge is to beat the beast.

Stadium questions aside, I was astounded that the attitude of taking part being the most important thing was so prevalent.

I can understand that in a long run you may want to walk a while or flag down a passing vehicle, but to enter a swim with the view that you'll go as far as you can then flag down a passing lifeguard seems very odd. What if they don't notice you?

Nevertheless, the view had official sanction. One stubborn woman won a heart monitor because she'd failed to finish for the third year in a row.

Many people understood that a wetsuit was helpful and various companies were doing a roaring trade in hiring them out. Unfortunately, wetsuits fastened incorrectly at the top (where the velcro sits), or worn without some lubricating substance to ease the frequent rotation of the head, lead to a nasty case of redneck, as layers of flesh are literally ground away (check out Hide's white shirt and tie in parliament his week - he wore so much flesh away it's a wonder his head didn't fall off).

Hobbyists aside, there were plenty of determined and experienced swimmers in evidence. Kane Radford, an unknown Rotorua 16-year-old, took the honours by more than a minute, hitting the front from the start so he wouldn't have to sprint against Commonwealth games gold medalist Moss Burmeister.

Olympian Helen Norfolk had her two-year domination of the event terminated by Melissa Ingram, just 8 seconds separating the pair.

Further back in the field, I battled it out with a clutch of old fogies for 296th place and managed just to crack the one-hour mark.

All in all, it was a worthwhile experience. My main problem was navigation, as I swam from side to side of the course, not really sure where I was heading most of the time.

If only there had been a large stadium on the waterfront, I could have aimed at that. Instead of climbing a ladder and finishing in front of O'Hagans Irish Bar, we could have all climbed a ladder and finished in the centre of the stadium, watched by a crowd of 60,000. Now wouldn't that be something.