Pier to Pérignon

Ask anyone who’s involved in Portsea’s annual Pier to Pérignon Swim (P2P) why they love it and you’ll hear similar answers. Long-time participants and organisers alike enthuse about its community spirit, the relaxed, positive atmosphere, and how it feels more like a group of friends getting together than a competition.

Looking to the event’s origin story helps explain how it developed such a reputation. In 1989, friends Ted Baillieu and Robbie Robertson challenged each other to swim from Sorrento to Portsea, with a bottle of Dom Pérignon for the winner.

The following year, they invited 23 friends – and friends of friends – to join them.

“There was no paying, there was no fee, it was just a group of guys getting together and I was in that first 25 that swam in 1990,” says Andrew Perkins, a P2P committee member.

“It was a casual, relaxed atmosphere, swimming along a beautiful coastline, and at the end of the swim there was a jazz band, barbecue and drinks on the pier. It continued that way for probably the next five or six years.”

As the swim grew more popular with every passing year, Ted and Rob – known in P2P lore as the ‘Humble Founders’ – offered the running of it to the Portsea Surf Lifesaving Club. Not only would the club be better placed to monitor swimmers’ safety, but they could use it as a fundraiser.

Today, the P2P attracts 800 swimmers every year – the race to registration is more competitive than the swim itself – and is one of the biggest fundraisers on the Portsea Surf Lifesaving Club calendar. Yet it’s still retained the friendly, easy-going feel of its fledgling years – something everyone involved is determined to protect.

“I’m keen to preserve it as much as I can so it doesn’t become like every other swim,” says Andrew, who gave up swimming the P2P after a shoulder injury and switched to behind-the-scenes work to remain involved.

What makes the P2P unique is the fact that it doesn’t have different heats or age categories, he explains.

“Everyone goes off together. There are no real prizes for the winners except for the first male and female, and everyone else just does it as a challenge against themselves and their mates.”

Fresh faces are always diving in, but most participants are regulars who return every year with family and friends, allowing organisers and participants get to know each other well. To acknowledge committed participants, milestone plaques are distributed for 10th, 20th, and 30th swims.

Michael Urban is a P2P regular who’ll be receiving his 20th swim plaque this year. He began taking part at the urging of friends after retiring from football.

“It became an annual pilgrimage,” says Michael. “We’d probably not see each other that much but every year we’d get together, do the swim, and have lunch afterwards.”

From his first year, Michael says he knew the swim was special.

Everyone’s there for the right reasons: either to run a good show and raise money for the club, or to swim in a great event. It’s good.”

Kay & Burton Portsea has been a P2P sponsor since 1997, back when Robbie Robertson would doorknock local businesses seeking support. “I used to run out to the petty cash tin or the glovebox and grab some cash each time for them,” laughs Liz Jensen, director at Kay & Burton Portsea. “And then it grew into a partnered sponsorship, and now we’re the major sponsor. “We love the organisations and the people involved and the Portsea Surf Livesaving Club. It’s a really lovely event.”

Kay & Burton’s sales team handle registration and head to the finish line to congratulate every swimmer and spur them on at the end. In her years attending the swim, Liz has seen generations of families attend, children growing into adults who participate and bring their own children along. “It’s so dear to our hearts and it’s a great community and family event,” she adds.

The Pier to Perignon will be held on Sunday, February 17, from 12.15pm. For more information, visit portseasurf.com.au/pier-to-perignon

Pier to Perignon
Lifestyle & Design

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