A growing number of swimmers are taking to ocean rock pools across regional Western Australia to bond with like-minded souls and brave plunging water temperatures.
- Community-based ocean swimming groups are thriving in remote coastal areas of WA
- A big part of the appeal is the social connections made
- Swimming groups are a substitute for formalised sporting teams in smaller towns, a devotee says
In the state's South West, groups gather at the water's edge from pre-dawn, in part to get a daily exercise fix, but largely to connect with fellow devotees.
Jo Hayes formed the Augusta-based Flinders Flounders swimming group in February, with up to 30 swimmers now fronting up for a morning swim in the often-chilly Southern Ocean.
"It grew in a very organic way," Ms Hayes said, of the group's rapid expansion.
"I generated a WhatsApp group, posted a few photos, everyone started telling everyone else and it's just gotten bigger and bigger."
Ms Hayes said she took her cues from other established swimming groups in nearby Margaret River and identified the need for something similar in Augusta, which has a population of about 2,000.
"A large part of the draw is the need for human and social connection and the fact it revolves around getting in the ocean, doing a bit of exercise is something really healthy and good," Ms Hayes said.
"The by-product of it is that social connections are made. For the next hour those same people who swam together will be in a coffee shop together and we will connect on everything other than swimming."
Come for the swim, stay for the coffee
Similar scenarios unfold each morning at several other beaches north of Augusta.
The Polar Bears, Sea Slugs and Swimming Women occupy various stretches of Gnarabup in Margaret River while a further 20 minutes north, the Red Rockers do the same at Cowaramup Bay in Gracetown.
Each group attracts up to 40 swimmers of various ages and skill-sets.
Further north still in the coastal hamlet of Yallingup, at least three groups take turns swimming a course in a pristine lagoon, which juts out into the Indian Ocean.
The earliest group gets up in the wee hours to be at work later in the morning, while the third group generally takes to the water by 7am.
John Price is one of the late starters and while recent illness means he's been unable to swim, he continues to front up "in support of everyone else."
"We are all pretty much retired so we're happy to wait until the lanes are clear, so to speak," Mr Price said.
"But it's a very rare morning indeed where you won't see anyone swimming here. It's part of the fabric that keeps us all together."
Mr Price said the informal gatherings served as an ideal replacement for formalised sporting or social groups, which were largely lacking in regional WA's smaller towns.
"We come for the swim but stay for the coffee," Mr Price said.
"The unstructured aspect of what we do is what makes it work so well. We are now a group of friends … the social aspect, the mental health aspect is very important.
"We get together, have a laugh and work our way through the worries of the world — then get on with our day."