I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Finswimmer Magazine - the most followed finswimming blog in the world.
Today we want to take you Down Under, to see what is happening in the lovely swimming pool of the Ironside State School, where an old friend of Italian finswimming has been working for some years. From big to small, we are in Australia, Queensland, Brisbane, up to the quiet suburb of St Lucia. Here, lives and works Stefano Zerbini, one of the few athletes to have been part of the Italian National team in both swimming and finswimming.
Hi Stefano, how did you end up in Australia?
Let's say it was a lucky case. My wife Lucia was chosen for a postdoc fellowship at the University of Queensland in 2017. After difficult years in Italy, it was the opportunity we were looking for. At the beginning it took some time to adapt to the inevitable cultural differences. However, after almost four years, we are now completely in love with this lifestyle and the people we met in St Lucia.
Why don’t you tell us what you’re doing?
Ever since I've been here, I've always worked as coach and teacher at Georgie Parkes Swim School. Georgie, an Australian swimming icon, runs the Ironside State School swimming pool in St Lucia. Here, we mainly work with children aged 5 to 12. Our motto is to "lay the foundations for future success" in a friendly and inclusive but highly professional and efficient environment. In addition to my coaching job, I also resumed swimming. I train twice a week at the UQ Aquatic Centre with a group of unleashed masters. Unexpectedly in 2019 I broke the 100 butterfly Australian masters record. A few months later, during a swimming masters meet at UQ, I unofficially smashed the masters world record in the 50 bifins. Then due to injuries and pandemics I could no longer compete with fins. In 2021 I will try again at the Australian Masters Games in Perth, where finswimming is part of the program for the first time ever.
Speaking about finswimming being part of a multi-sport event, tell us about Queensland 2032.
Quoting Ian Hanson - it could well be a case of “Australians let us all rejoice” when the IOC Members cast their votes on Brisbane’s “irresistible bid” to host the 2032 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. So, a small but significant move like Perth 2021 Masters Games, may result in a small step for a man, but a giant leap for finswimming world. Surely, there's plenty of work to do and situations to be solved: to provide equipment, to collect sportsmen, to share knowledge, to school coaches and obviously to fund-raise the whole venture.
That's why you put a bifins event during a swim meet?
Since the beginning of my Australian adventure, I have tried to introduce this sport even here where it is almost unknown. Georgie was immediately interested in this "exotic" novelty. Elsewhere I have found more distrust. However, thanks to the help of some UQ masters friends, in particular Christina, Martin and Sean, it was decided to make a 50m bifins show case during our meet. No particular rules and even start from the water. Apparently it seems that people have had a lot of fun.
We have seen that you have organized a finswimming meet in Ironside. How did it go?
More than 50 competitors enrolled for this Ironside SC Finswimming Preparation Meet held 12th June 2021. By relieving the participants from the strict international rules in terms of approved gear and mandatory snorkel, we involved many children and their parents from our swimming school. It was a nice afternoon with the grandparents in the stands or busy timekeeping. There was also the inevitable barbecue that kept everyone fed.
What are your plans for the future of finswimming in Australia?
Last year I collaborated with AUF-OZIFIN - the local finswimming federation - and their president Helen Lane, to organize the National Championships right here in Brisbane.
Then the pandemic and a very busy swimming schedule slowed down our projects.
This year, as said, the finswimming season will have its climax with the Masters Games in October. Before that date I would also like to organize the Queensland State Championships. Maybe with an Open formula, to include friends from other states.
In Australia, and particularly in southern Queensland, swimming is almost a religion. This is a brake on the introduction of other disciplines, but at the same time it indicates an enormous potential. Here there are swimming pools everywhere, lots of children and adults who train daily with fins and a very high level sports culture. All ingredients that, if well mixed and balanced, can make our sport explode.
For my part, there is a great deal of enthusiasm. AUF-OZFIN supports me widely and the friends around me begin to reap the benefits of this novelty. Such an inclusive new sport, finswimming also has a major social impact on small local communities. The use of fins, both at a competitive and amateur level, can amplify the aquatic sports audience.
You have been an athlete and coach of both disciplines. How was it possible to bring the two sports together?
As an athlete, I approached finswimming at the end of my career. Swimmers have always been a bit snobbish towards finswimming. Unfortunately this was the cultural context in which our coaches raised us.
As an adult, without ideological barriers, fins were a great addition to my swimming training. Competing in this sport was the natural consequence. With great benefits in both disciplines.
As a coach, I avoided dividing the two paths. All my athletes have always trained with and without fins, with and without snorkels. The monofin, for various reasons, needs dedicated spaces. But this is a "problem" that occurs only when the athletes are more muscularly mature and their technical level requires a greater specialization.
As a masters athlete, I recommend everyone to try. For this age group, fun should be the beacon. Challenging yourself with something different, stimulating and satisfying can do nothing but good.
Before we talked about the Olympics. Finswimming is an Olympic discipline but has never been included in the Games program until now. Why, in your opinion? And what can be done to unblock the situation?
This is a complex and ancient subject on which many words have been spent. My impression is that there is a tendency to associate finswimming with the world of underwater activities and fishing, rather than seeing its proximity to more traditional water sports. The fact that it is mistakenly associated with recreational activities rather than competitive sports may have put a stop to the process of Olympic inclusion.
I believe that there are political balances, which I do not know, which have so far prevented this fascinating sport from emerging worldwide. It is emblematic that in the homelands of swimming, USA and Australia, it is almost unknown.
In my opinion, finswimming, with its variations of swimming pool speed, open water, orienteering, team’s sports and, lately of mermaiding, can autonomously represent a model of inclusion, spectacularity and respect for the natural heritage like few other sports.
Being part of the OZFIN board I hope to be able to bring greater visibility to our sport and help give it the international prominence it deserves.
Thanks Stefano, good luck with all your plans!