5 May 2023

Sharkbaiters and inflatables to make a splash for Dementia Australia

| Dione David
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Sharkbaiters ocean swimming group on Wollongong beach with inflatable toys

Wollongong’s Sharkbaiters ocean swimmers are set to stage their Tugatoy Dementia Swim for the third year this Sunday. Photos: Sharkbaiters.

This Sunday 7 May, around the time the sun begins to rise over Wollongong Beach, the early bird might catch a curious sight.

Dozens of inflatable toys slowly taking the form of dogs, flamingos, dinosaurs, unicorns and who knows what else will signal the start of the Sharkbaiters’ annual Tugatoy Dementia Swim.

Now in its third year, the event creates a spectacle as members of the Sharkbaiters ocean swimming mob attach the colourful toys by rope to their ankles, swim out of the harbour and down to the north beach in front of the pavilion.

There they will arrange the toys into a big heart in the ocean before swimming back to the harbour for an inflatable muster by Osborne Park and hot beverages with family and friends.

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This “attention-seeking behaviour” will hopefully help them meet this year’s fundraising goal of $5000 for Dementia Australia towards finding “a cure for dementia and support those afflicted along the way” – a cause close to heart, according to one of the event organisers.

Pat Preeo, an ocean swimmer for a decade, says whenever the Sharkbaiters discussed turning their proclivity for winter ocean swims to a cause, one came up most frequently.

“It seemed most of us had a connection to someone who has dementia in some form or another,” he said.

“In fact, one of the ladies that swam with us a few years prior had to stop when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She was a bit of a legend.”

The Sharkbaiters is a loosely formed micro community of people who have been swimming most mornings from the break wall near Wollongong Pool for about 40 years.

Pat joined them about six years ago.

“I first saw them when they used to swim with little lights in their caps in the early morning darkness,” he recalls.

“The old Sharkbaiters religiously went out at 6:30 every morning from Continental Pool. In the middle of winter, in the pitch black you’d be on Cliff Road and you’d see these tiny lights bobbing along. Something about that fascinated me.

“I ended up chatting to one of them – Kerry Ayr. She invited me out. And if you do it once, you’re hooked.”

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They’re ready to brave the water come rain, shine or frigid water this Sunday – though Pat insists there’s nothing “brave” about it.

“The water is warm at the moment – it hasn’t dropped hardly at all since summer,” he claims.

“Besides, swimming in the colder season’s more pleasant than swimming in summer is in a great many ways. It’s exhilarating, it makes you feel alive and oftentimes the water is clearer, crisper, with fewer stingy animals.

“And it’s even better knowing it’s for a good cause.”

Donate to the Sharkbaiters Tugatoy Dementia Swim here.

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Guillaume DAVID8:34 am 09 May 23

Congratulations for reaching your goal !

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