The Leigh Swimmers

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The Leigh Swimmers are an amazing group of people who love to get out in the ocean together multiple times a week. Lead by the FANTASTIC Kaye Mueller here are some stories about their journey to take part in the Beach To Bay event. If you are ever up that way get in touch and join them for a swim!

First-timer fears.

The little coastal town of Leigh near Goat Island has 606 permanent residents… and about 20 of us are heading north to tackle the Beach to Bay 3.3km swim.

For most, this is a daunting first time contesting such a major event. The build up of adrenaline before the start, the worry of running out of puff before the finish, hundreds of thrashing arms and legs, unfamiliar waters and currents, not being able to rely on fins and tow floats, and the mere mention of the word ‘race’ can trigger a tsunami of stress hormones.

We’ve been preparing: gradually building our distance by 400-500m increments each week. We’ve swum in changeable conditions with a bit chop, a bit of swell, and a bit of murk. Quite a few have had to get used to the idea of ditching their fins and tow floats for the event. It’s like having to relinquish a security blankie.

So, yeah, it can be scary, but it’s pretty dang exciting, too – to set yourself such a big scary goal, to push through your personal fears, and to know you have the support not only of your own cheer squad but everyone else doing this event. We’ve all been there. Good luck everyone!

Qing Zhang

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Qing Zhang is a maths teacher at Mahurangi College. The Beach to Bay is her very first big swim event. Her aim is to get across the line within the time limit. Here’s her story:

“Almost two years ago just before Christmas, I read an article in a local newspaper “Swimmer beats fear of the ocean”. It was about Kaye Mueller from Leigh Swimmers. I said to myself that I would like to beat it too! So I joined the group for a Friday morning ‘intro to ocean swimming’ session.

Back then, I’d only just learned freestyle in a pool with a speed of 500m per hour. On my first day with the Leigh Swimmers, the ocean was dancing. I couldn’t showcase my newly acquired freestyle so I dog paddled. Almost two years later and after countless swimming tips from many kind people, I am still very slow with the pace of a walking tortoise on land – always crossing the finish line last. I am ok with it because I love to swim with this group of outgoing, fun, inspiring, crazy, and supportive people. When I finish, I know they will be there cheering for me, always. Swimming with the Leigh Swimmers has changed my life, for the better.

Marie Low (aka Sea Kitten)

Marie has done quite a few ocean swims before and even went to Fiji to swim with Kaye. Here is a bit about Marie

For me, it’s not about racing but about completing the swim with a big fat smile at the end (that’ll last for days), gaining confidence, supporting each other and then celebrating with my Leigh Pod buddies afterwards.

My biggest fears are the unknown conditions, getting too cold, that grumbling anxiety and heading off course which I’m inclined to do.

But I know all this will dissolve once I get into my swim rhythm with a few of my swim buddies alongside.

Leigh Gingas

I have been swimming with Leigh Swimmers for exactly a year. And what a tremendous change it has brought to my life. I was warmly invited to join one Loopy Tuesday by Kaye, who must have spied me watching the group gathering for their bi-weekly swims. Indeed, I was curious and somewhat envious of all those bouncy confident folk with their wetsuits and floaties who could swim so far! I happily joined in on that first swim day with my snorkel and goggles. To my amazement and delight I managed to swim around the island at Matheson Bay. I was so carefully and patiently supported by Kaye with encouragement from other swimmers as we swam along. The beauty of the sea and the wonders of the kelp beds just so thrilled me and indeed have continued to do so. I was utterly exhausted when I got back to shore with a deep delight and feeling that I had finally found my ‘thing’.

I now have all the gear, including four pairs of goggles! And swim whenever wherever I can with the pod. Swimming around Goat Island and other Leigh coasts, gasping with pleasure at the natural world below and above and in the caves too. Having so much joy and encouragement shared with my brother and sister swimmers, as well as learning so much about the ocean and who lives in it, has also reenergised a strong restorative drive in me along with some others. To be actively contributing to restoring our oceans is essential for me. Always looking for nasty bits of fishing line and hooks and trying to remove them so they can cause no more harm as well as gathering other rubbish from the sea, and learning more how we can restore is vital to me and all life on our planet earth.

I can swim much further if I have a lot to look at. I have discovered, and I love, the different density and depths of the blues that change all the time depending on the weather and when the sun is in front or behind me. As a painter I am propelled into a very different world and have had a rather extensive blue period!

I have begun getting more serious about training for the big Paihia to Russell swim as I am concerned that I will struggle with it. I have decided I must swim at least 1 kilometre a day to help get ready. I swim with Leigh swimmers when I can but work and life takes over which means I sometimes resort to the swimming baths if I cannot be at the sea side.

We also have some very helpful pod members who share all their experience of how to improve our stroke. I recently discovered that my head floats! I had been unconsciously holding it in place.  Now that I have relaxed my neck, it has made an enormous difference to my shoulders and breathing, speed and comfort. It is so obvious and simple but has been profound for me.

I am a sixty-two year old woman with an arthritic hip problem, but fitter than I was a year ago. I can’t walk far and limp rather badly; however, I am not in pain or restricted in anyway when swimming and buoyant in the sea. I am sure my hip joint also benefits from being stretched out as well as keeping the muscles toned. I have found a new group of diverse friends with shared interests and shared experiences, which is so lovely. All in, swimming in the sea is so good for me. I feel held and refreshed every time I go into our oceans embrace.

Ian Johnson-Lee

I enjoy feeding off the infectious enthusiasm of other pod members. It’s a chance to swim in new previously uncharted waters. I’m hoping to get a ‘well done Ian’ from our swim-whisperer Heidi.


Lou Roo


I joined Leigh swim group six months ago after seeing them in the local Junction magazine. I remember my first swim with Kaye. I felt anxious and unsure of what to expect. The water was still, there was a rainbow in the distance, and I remember feeling pure joy. I relaxed into the water and we both stopped and absorbed the moment. After that, we swam 300m to the Island in the distance.

I had forgotten what joy was, I seemed too busy to seek it, too busy to feel it. Being a busy working Mum, I had lost myself in housework, stress, and anxiety. Swimming in the ocean with the Pod has brought joy to my life.  I now swim 2 -3 times a week with the pod. I will literally move mountains to meet the pod and get into the ocean, even if it’s grey, cold, and raining… I love it.

The pod’s drive and excitement for longer swims and training is infectious and before I knew it, I had signed up for the Paihia to Russell swim. This will be my first and longest swim. I’m excited (and slightly terrified) but as long as I leave my ego at the shoreline and swim my own swim, I know I can do it.

“Bring it on, to the island and beyond”.

Heidi Borner (swim whisperer)

18 months ago I had no idea that this wonderful, supportive, crazy group of positive people existed. Landing in this Leigh Swimmers community I have come home. I have re-discovered my love of the water, and substantially reduced my terror of sea creatures. With the pod I can go anywhere with confidence which delights me every day. I love watching the pod try out stroke improvements, and be astonished at what they have achieved. And I always reserve special “well dones” for Ian because it makes him so happy.

Victoria McKechnie (pod physio)

As the daughter of the local swim coach, I think I had no choice but to swim as a kid! Apparently, I took to it like a duck to water and I’ve never looked back. Swimming in the ocean is just the best….doing what I love and being in nature…and what neat people I get to meet along the way!

Heather Johnson-Lee

Sharing a weekend with pod friends is a huge incentive (with a wee swim on the side). It will be my first competitive event in a long time so interested to see how I will measure up but not totally focused on results. Equally motivating is seeing others achieve and exceed their goals.

Jono Everest

As an immigrant to Aotearoa, I am thrilled to be taking part in an event at the place where Europeans first settled and near where our founding Treaty was signed. I am in the ‘floundering whale’ class of swimmers and this will be my biggest ever swim so slightly nervous but excited to be swimming with my buddy Qing Qing!


Ocean Swim Series