Float: Stephanie Wood, Coogee


I have jumped from a Berowra Waters jetty into a frigid Hawkesbury River in spring. I have taken lazy laps in the North Narrabeen Rockpool’s delicious emerald-green. A dusky whaler shark flashed past me in the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve near Manly and at Clovelly I was startled by a gigantic blue groper. I have trained with an ocean swimming squad at Bondi on a clear still day, and also when the waves were mountainous grey mouths with teeth and I was terrified. Of course, I’ve done Bondi Icebergs, although I prefer the grey days when the preening sunbathers are elsewhere. When the water is icy, August or September, say, I like to leap into the Icebergs pool after 15 minutes in the sauna.

But it is the ocean pools of Coogee to which I return over and over. I take my laptop and work on the deck at Wylie’s Baths, swimming between paragraphs or when words desert me. Here, a friend and I hovered for an age in goggles studying an octopus tucked into the pool’s rock edge — an orange-rust red arm would shift slowly, then another, then the creature would settle again, seeming to study us with its curious white eye. 

And I drop myself in McIver’s Ladies Baths just north of Wylie’s when I’m feeling glum, when I need replenishment. I try to empty my brain and let it fill with the underwater burble. I try to focus on my stroke, on the reach forward, then the pull back, to propel myself through the pool. Sometimes I think that I have never seen anything as beautiful as the explosions of bubbles that spring from my hands as they cleave the water – champagne, diamonds, sequins, comet trails. Under here are ribbons of wriggling light, drifting seaweeds, turban snails gleaming like pearls, a little fish with electric-blue markings that flits and ducks and hides under rocks. I’m caressed by expelled bubbles, by the silky brush past of tiny jellyfish that float around me like ghostly dancing crinolines. And as I surface, I wonder how many women have felt their troubles soften, even dissolve, in this water, and have returned to the world feeling lighter.

Stephanie Wood is the author of Fake: A Startling True Story of Love in a World of Liars, Cheats, Narcissists, Fantasists and Phonies (Penguin Random House) is out now. Says Sydney Morning Herald investigative journalist Kate McClymont of the book: ‘Fake is a breathtakingly honest and beautifully written account of the emotional wreckage caused by fraudsters of the heart.’ Find the book here or follow Stephanie @stephaniewoodsydney.