Finswimmer Rob Harman braves the chilly River Derwent at Bellerive. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)
A few years ago, Tasmanian Rob Harman did not consider himself a swimmer. Now he can swim 50 metres in the same time as an Olympian and is preparing to represent his country.
His secret? A flipper that resembles a mermaid’s tail called a monofin.
Mr Harman is among five Tasmanians in a team of seven Australian finswimmers preparing to compete at the Masters Finswimming World Cup in Spain next week.
Finswimming is an all-over-body fitness sport where swimmers use a monofin to reach speeds much faster than conventional swimming.
Last year, Olympic great Michael Phelps used a monofin to try to beat a great white shark in a race (he was pipped by two seconds).
Mr Harman, who took up finswimming about two years ago, can swim 50 metres in 22 seconds wearing the monofin — about 10 seconds quicker than without it.
“The speed and the feeling underwater is sensational,” he said.
“You can feel the water rushing over your head and see the pool disappearing underneath you at lightning speed.”
Tasmania leading the charge
The sport has been around in Australia since the 1970s but its popularity and recognition here pales in comparison to European countries.
Within Australia, though, the island state has lead the charge.
Coach Helen Lane said that was reflected in the number of Tasmanians making up the national team that would compete in Spain.
“We seem to have a lot of very dedicated finswimmers in Tasmania who are keen to compete overseas,” she said.
“We did have some very stiff qualifying times and there were only two other Australians that made those times.”
Tasmanian Sabina Lane, who has 27 years’ experience in the sport, will also compete at the World Cup.
“I like the speed, the fluidity and there is a sense of streamline that you don’t get with anything else because you are not using your arms,” she said.
“It is not nearly as difficult as it looks once you get the hang of it.
“There are over 60 countries around the world now who do compete in finswimming so it is slowly getting there.
“It has actually been a recognised Olympic sport since the early 1980s; it just hasn’t been chosen as a sport in one of the Olympic Games as yet. That would be amazing.”
‘A few of us have a chance to win a medal’
Ms Lane said some of the Australian finswimmers had a chance at bringing home a medal.
“Most of us are aiming for a final at least but a few of us do have a chance at medals and that is very exciting,” she said.
“It’s a combination of nerves and excitement; it will be wonderful to compete at this level.”
Ms Lane’s mother and coach Helen said they would be up against tough competition but the experience would be priceless.
“We are hoping to achieve at least in the top eight for every event,” she said.
“We hope for medals but we are going more for the experience.”
Categories include surface swimming and breath-hold events in the pool and a three-kilometre ocean swim.
The Australian finswimming team has all age categories covered, from 29-34 years to 75 and over.