What Happens In The Open Water, Stays In The Open Water

What Happens In The Open Water, Stays In The Open Water

Photo of Kirsten Cameron by Antonia Steeg.

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

New Zealand masters swimmer Kirsten Cameron, a world record holder in the pool and a world-class open water swimmer, is the only female on the EC6 relay (Total Immersion in the English Channel).

Faced with a crew of men and 5 male teammates, Cameron knows how to deal diplomatically with the other gender.

Ever since her immersion in the open water, she has been together with her partner Mark Copsey and their relationship has been intertwined on both land and in the open water.

Mark and I have been together since 2006 when I first got into open water swimming.

The first time he actively got involved in a race of mine was the 5.6 km Kapiti Island Swim, from Kapiti Island to the [North Island] mainland in 2007. Every swimmer had a boat and Mark was on the boat. At one point he waved to me. I thought, ‘That’s nice, [but] I am fine thanks.’ Then the marshalling boat cut by really close to me. I thought, ‘That was a bit wrong.’

It wasn’t until I had finished that my father asked, ‘So how big was the shark?’ Apparently, Mark was waving at me to get closer to the boat as a shark had appeared. The marshalling boat cut between me and the shark, heading it off. As it turns out it was just a basking shark – they don’t even have proper teeth, but still, a shark is a shark

The next adventure on the high seas was when Cameron headed off on the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup professional circuit in Singapore and Hong Kong. She needed a feeding stick. “Mark worked up a feeding stick for me. He lovingly created it by hand – it was a doctored golf retrieval stick thing. Lets just say, it wasn’t beautiful, but it worked.”

She returned to the FINA World Cup circuit in 2009, but her first race was the New Zealand Open Water Championships, a 10 km race in Wellington Harbour. “By this time, I preferred to carry my own feeds decanted into small plastic bags that burst easily when squeezed. But I like to have a backup. We didn’t have to use feeding sticks and I had asked Mark to have my drink bottle on a rope so I could grab it and swig, then let it go and he could pull it back. When I came around at the 5 km mark, I noticed he had taken the lid off the bottle. I wondered why, but fortunately I didn’t need to feed from him so I didn’t stop. Apparently he had overheard another coach saying it’s best to have the lid off so that as much goes into the mouth as possible. That may be fine, but it wasn’t what I wanted or how I wanted to feed.”

Over the next few FINA World Cup races, Cameron decided to carry her own feeds so she never needed to stop.

In 2010, she started to venture out to do other swims around the world. First up was a 3 km race in Fiji without an escort or feeding. It was followed by a 10 km marathon swim where Copsey volunteered to be her kayaker. “He shot off like a rocket with me chasing until I spat the dummy and yelled at him to bloody slow down. I was supposed to be able to see him and not need to look up and have to chase him. I also yelled that I needed a drink so he had to stop. That set the tone for the rest of the swim with me yelling every now and then, and then arguments over direction – one of the buoys had moved. But we survived.”

In 2012, Cameron and Copsey went back to Fiji for the beautiful Denerau to Beachcomber race. Cameron had suggested earlier that he not kayak for her as they sat down for a heart-to-heart conversation. “I suggested to Mark that he should think hard about kayaking for me. But he wanted to. The night before the race, a couple of guys sat him down and explained to him the exact positioning of a kayak when guiding a swimmer.”

In addition to a kayaker, each swimmer also had a boat. “Mark wasn’t happy with his kayak and said it didn’t steer properly. He wasn’t wrong! At one point he was going one way, the boat on the other side of me was going the other, and I was in the middle thinking ‘hang on a minute where the hell am I going?’ Then comments like, ‘Swim towards the island’ led me to respond, ‘I am at bloody sea level, I can’t see the bloody island – it’s your job to guide me.'”

To make matters worse along the 18 km course, there was a bit of an ocean swell and waves around the middle of the course. “Mark did have a hell of a time trying to control the kayak. And that led to me being run over by him. The second time was my last feed and I didn’t even see him coming and thought, ‘Am I going crooked? Is he trying to get my attention? But no, he just ran me over.'”

To make matters worse, there was a bit of communication problems between Copsey and the boat crew. “Mark wanted to follow the young Australian boy as word had it they had the tides sussed and would roll in at the end, but my boat wanted to take the most direct route. The Australian boy did pick a perfect current to sweep in ahead at the end, but hey, that’s ok, I still enjoyed my swim.”

With her competitive spirit, Cameron knows why Copsey is part of her passion. “It makes him a proper active part in my swimming. I put the effort in and he sees [kayaking] as him putting effort into it too. As he explains, ‘She is out there for a couple of hours, so I don’t exactly have anything else to do, so may as well get some gratuitous exercise.’ In some swims, it is a case of him thinking I would be better having him look after me than some stranger.”

From her perspective, what happens in the water, properly stays in the water. “I can yell and abuse him for going crooked and running me over, but that all just stays with the swim. He’s not going to hold a grudge for the next year. I trust him: he will do what I say, feed me what I tell him to, and he knows me and can read me.”

As they say in the open water world, that is love at first sight.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association