Thousands to gather for Portsea Classic, but Chris already leads in one category

When thousands of competitors gather in Portsea this weekend for the annual ocean swim races, Chris Yencken will already have them beat in one category: most Classics swum.

Mr Yencken, 66, was 30 when he competed in the first Portsea race in 1987. This year, having swum in every event to date, he is hoping to complete his 36th.

Chris Yencken is the only swimmer to have competed in every Portsea Swim Classic. Credit:Joe Armao

His father was a competitive swimmer and Mr Yencken has followed in his footsteps, taking part in all local open water swims. He still remembers his very first Portsea Classic.

“I went along with a few mates, there were only about 200 swimmers, so we all went off in one wave and there was actually a very strong north wind.”

“[I had] second thoughts going into it, but once I got going I enjoyed it and thought, ‘Oh I’ll go next year’ and since, I’ve been doing it every year.”

With gold, silver and two bronze medals under his belt, Mr Yencken carries a wealth of experience on competing in the popular bay swim.

Chris Yencken is the only swimmer to have competed in every Portsea Swim Classic.Credit:Joe Armao

“If it’s the first time you’ve swum, I think you should just let the experts go off first, sit back and hop into the water and go along slowly at your own pace,” he said.

“It’s a very strong tide, so you’ll get down to the finishing line without any trouble. There’s a saying: If you leave your swim cap, it’ll probably meet you across the line.”

He swims not one, but two events in a day: First the 2½-kilometre race, then the 1½-kilometre.

The growing number of COVID-19 cases last week forced the Lorne Pier to Pub to move its event online due to a volunteer shortage.

However, the Portsea Surf Lifesaving Club said it was confident its events, which include the Portsea Swim Classic and the new bay to surf competitions, would go ahead.

Club captain Jess Lamb said it had learned much from running a COVID-safe swim classic in 2021, and an additional year of living with the pandemic.

All the competitors and volunteers will be fully vaccinated if they are over 16 years of age and land officials will wear masks and face shields. Post-race entertainment will also be reduced.

Maggie Betts, 14, will compete in her first Classic this weekend, along with her father and her two older siblings.

Chris Yencken competes in all local open water swims.Credit:Joe Armao

“I’m quite excited and nervous. I’m excited to swim with my friends and challenge myself, but I’m nervous because it seems kind of big and hard.”

An active member of the Portsea Surf and Lifesaving club since she was six, Maggie has taken part in a number of education programs, including nippers – obtaining a surf rescue certificate – and cadets.

She has also competed in the 500-metre junior swim classic and helped out around the club as a volunteer.

Swimmers take part in Portsea Swim Classic PHOTO  23rd January 2021 Portsea Swim ClassicCredit:Darren McNamara

The 1½-kilometre swim is the major fundraising event for the club. Proceeds will go toward training, lifesaver development and equipment.

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