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What happened when Oliver Wilkinson challenged his identical twin to a swimming race?

Ollie Wilkinson Magnetic Island Swim

On 28 of July 2019, I competed in the 65th Magnetic Island to Townsville swim race, a tropical North Queensland swim race that was first swum in 1954 despite the fact that the waters off Townsville are famous for box jellyfish, sharks and salt water crocodiles – but my main concern was beating my twin brother!

The swim race takes place in the middle of the year when the jellyfish are not so numerous. Up until 12 years ago it was swum in shark cages. The sharks are still there, so I don’t know why they decided in 2007 that cages were no longer needed. Still, I assume the organisers have done their risk assessments and filled in all the correct forms to keep the sharks and crocodiles away.

The race starts with an early morning ferry ride to the picturesque Magnetic Island located 8km due east of Townsville. There we met our individual support paddlers, had numbers written on our bodies and received our final instructions. There were 81 solo swimmers and teams this year.

At just after 9 o'clock we plunged into the warm (21 degrees) clear waters and started swimming back towards the tropical-tree lined coastline of Townsville. Our main task in the first kilometre was to locate our paddlers who were waiting a few hundred metres offshore. The swimmers rapidly thinned out as the fastest disappeared into the distance and the slower swimmers settled into a more sensible pace. Every 1km there was a large pink buoy for navigation and to let you know you were still making progress as Townsville seemed to take an eternity to get any closer. Eventually the single multi-storey building on Townsville's beachfront started to loom ahead of me and the sand and break walls became visible.

After just over two hours I reached Townsville to discover I had managed to finish a respectable third overall and first in my age group (35-49). Up to that point I had absolutely no idea where I was other than I thought I was nearer the front than the back of the pack. To be fair my paddler had held up three fingers to me at one stage but I wasn't sure if he was giving me my place or telling my how far I had swum or had left! Communicating such things not being among the few things we discussed in our two minutes of pre-race discussions.

The Magnetic Island swim is very much the small brother to the much bigger and more famous 20km Rottnest Island swim (swum off the coast of Perth every February), but it is a beautiful swim, in a lovely location and one I had been keen to do for the last few years. Anyone looking for an open water swim in a tropical location would do well to consider this little gem of a swim race.

The photo below is from an article the local newspaper ran the day before the swim. For those who want to know I finished comfortably ahead of my brother, which was never really in doubt.

(P.s. I didn't swim the full 8km fly - just the last few strokes for the camera.)

Newspaper Image

Pre-swim headline from The Townsville Bulletin

Cover September19

Issue 30 September 2019

  • Go Wild! Plan your perfect swimming adventure
  • The Pull of the Sea - understanding tides
  • Find Your Power! How to pace for your best race
  • Edge of the World - exploring the Hebrides
  • The Joy of Snacks! Fuel your swim adventures
  • Adventure Swimming - Gear special

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