When Joan Sutton walked off the beach at Perfume Point four days before Christmas after a 1km swim, it wasn't her radiant smile or her age division that wooed Hawke's Bay Today photographer Paul Taylor's camera lens.

No, what made Sutton stand out with jaw-dropping, head-turning regularity among the smattering of fans was that she was clad in regular swimming togs in the second leg of the inaugural Hawke's Bay Ocean Swim Series on Saturday, December 22.

"I only decided the night before that I was going to do it and I just went along so I was quite surprised to see how many people have wetsuits," says the 78-year-old from Waimarama before the third leg at the Ahuriri waterfront in Napier on Saturday, January 19.

"I suppose you get into these things with a wetsuit, don't you?" says Sutton who had discovered later one or two other wetsuit-free swimmers also had braved the choppy water.


However, the grandmother is quick to clarify it didn't feel that cold because while holidaying overseas, when the maiden leg was run on November 24, they found the climes even less agreeable.

"We were in Australia and the water over there felt colder than our one."

She isn't sure where to find a wetsuit in Hastings although series organiser Dale Long has informed her she'll find one easily in Wellington.

"If I do it again I'll probably just wear my togs again," she says, contemplating another leg.

Sutton competed in the 70-plus 1km female division, finishing behind Anne Bauer's brisk time of 27m 06s in the second leg. She clocked a sedate 50:07.

"It's quite scary competing against all these professional-looking people."

Having read the article in HB Today on the three generations of Dawson family swimmers on Friday, December 21, Sutton had found some inspiration.

"I read the story and I thought, 'Yeah, I could do that, too', and that's just what I did," she says. "I just got up on Saturday morning, took my things and went."


When she and husband Nigel Sutton emigrated to Hastings from England in 1973 she often took their three children to the Onekawa pools in Napier for a swim.

That eventually led to her going to then swim coach John Beaumont, who is retired, at Clive pools for lessons.

"I just enjoy it."

The Londoners found the beaches here an ideal distraction, although they did frequent them in their country of birth where throngs of people used to flock to the sandy strips to make it a challenge to find enjoyment.

For the record, Sutton had asked Nigel if he was keen to give it a go and got a tepid response.

"He got up and took the dogs for a walk and I went for a swim."

Joan Sutton and husband Nigel Sutton arrived in Hawke's Bay from London in 1973. Photo/file
Joan Sutton and husband Nigel Sutton arrived in Hawke's Bay from London in 1973. Photo/file

She feels the conditions perhaps had worried the surf lifesaving guards more than her that day.

"I think they were a bit concerned about an elderly lady swimming in the chops," she says with a laugh.

The "lovely girl" on the surfboard (lifesaving guard), says Sutton, kept a track on her all the way to the seashore.

For someone who religiously does laps at the Clive pool, she suffers from a hint of cold turkey when she doesn't get her aquatic fix.

The ocean swim offers different variables but she has put out her feelers to see where it takes her.

"I think I'd like to do it again. I think I took an awful long time and half that time I was talking to people.

"As soon as we got out in the water the boat came along to ask if I was okay, sort of thing."

Sutton suspects the marshals must have thought she was keen to retreat to the shore not long after taking the plunge but sheer determination got her through, as several people came up to congratulate her.

"I think it's a bit scary, actually," she says. "When they all go off it makes you a little unsure of yourself so I just went last.

"But then they all take off and suddenly you realise you're all alone and you can hardly see them in a distance and you start thinking, 'What the hell am I doing out here?'.

"It would have been embarrassing being the last one in, wouldn't it?

"And then the 500m ones came and overtook me."

She hadn't contemplated having the photographer zooming in on him but now reconciles the challenge akin to finishing a marathon. The position one finishes always gives way to having accomplished the goal of crossing the finish line.

However, she encourages anyone who is apprehensive about it to "just get out there and give it a go".

The series is the brainchild of Long with a field age ranging from 10 to 76 competing over 500m, 1km and 2km in the opening leg staged on November 24.

He says swimmers can enter on competition day if they haven't already via www.hboceanswim.co.nz or through their Facebook page.

Long, a 52-year-old from Tasmania, who moved to a 7ha property in Tukituki Valley two years ago with wife Maria Gigney, an architect, hopes to grow the self-funded series into a sponsored event in a few years.