Darren Turner

In 1977, Darren became Merrylands' first State Champion when he won the Boys 10yrs & Under 100m Backstroke at the NSW State Winter Championships. He also finished with Bronze in the 100m Freestyle at the same meet. During his time at the club, Darren set 21 club championship records, and also won the 50m Backstroke at the NSW Shell Age Series.

After leaving Merrylands, Darren went on to become one of the world's best open water swimmers, winning the 1989 Australian Marathon Swimming Championships, and was named the 1989 World Long Distance Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine. Darren's achievements have seen him nominated for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

From the Daily News of Open Water Swimming...

The 1993 Waikiki Roughwater Swim was an event filled with studly ocean swimmers including Olympians and national champions. It was so fast that the 1993 race was one of the few times since 1972 that no women placed in the top 20.

Australian Darren Turner, one of the most physically imposing ocean swimmers from Wollongong, won that 1993 race.

Between the late 1980s to the early 1990s, Turner was on a tear, competing and winning everywhere he swam:

  • second in the 1986 and 1988 Magnetic Island to Townsville Swim in North Queensland, Australia
  • first at the 1987 and 1988 5 km Sri Chinmoy Swim in Lake Burley Griffin, Australia
  • first in the 1988 Turner won the 18 km International Long Distance Swim in South Australia
  • second at the 1988 Australian Marathon Swimming Championships
  • second at the 1988 Wategos Beach to Byron Bay, Australia Day Ocean Swim
  • participated in a Guinness Book of World Records 1988 40 km Ocean Relay Swim from Largs Bay to Port Noralunga, South Australia
  • completed the 1989 25 km Ocean Swim in Gunnamatta Bay, Australia
  • swam 20 km in Engadine Pool, Australia in 1989 in 4 hours 12 minutes
  • first at the 1989 USA National 25 km Championships in Long Beach, California
  • first at the 1989 Australian Marathon Swimming Championships
  • named the 1989 World Long Distance Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine
  • first at the 1989 5 km Yarra Super Swim in Melbourne, Australia
  • first at the 1989 Waikiki Roughwater Swim in Hawaii
  • first at the 1989 Santa Monica Pier to Pier Swim
  • first at the 1989 Melbourne Australia Day Yarra River Super Swim
  • first at the 1989 Wollongong Ocean Swim, Basin to Beach
  • first at the 1989 Macquarie River Swim in Dubbo, Australia
  • first at the 1992 Melbourne Australia Day Yarra River Super Swim
  • first in the World Rescue Tube Race at the 1992 World Lifesaving Titles in Shimoda, Japan
  • won 7 Australian individual and Team Surf Lifesaving titles
  • first at the 1993 Waikiki Roughwater Swim in Hawaii with a course record in 42.21 minutes
  • participated in the winning team at the 1993 Maui Channel Swim between Lanai and Maui in Hawaii
  • first at the 1997 Nepean River Bridge to Bridge Swim in Australia
  • Masters Swimming Australia National & NSW State Record in the 30-34yrs 400m Freestyle at SIAC in 1997 - 4:21.40
  • participated in the winning team at the 1998 Maui Channel Swim between Lanai and Maui in Hawaii
  • Masters Swimming Australia National & NSW State Record in the 30-34yrs 800m Freestyle at Blacktown in 1998 - 9:07.30
  • Masters Swimming Australia National & NSW State Record in the 30-34yrs 1500m Freestyle at Blacktown in 1998 - 17:15.08
  • participated in the winning team at the 1999 Maui Channel Swim between Lanai and Maui in Hawaii
  • completed the 9.6-mile Maui Channel Swim 7 times between 1989 and 1999
  • participated on the winning team in the 2005 Cottesloe to Rottnest Island Swim in Western Australia
  • first at the 2011 Bondi Beach Rough Water Swim
Darren was one of the many outstanding Australian swimmers and surf lifesavers of the 1980s and 1990s and recently recalled his long career in the open water swimming world with "Daily News of Open Water Swimming":

Daily News of Open Water Swimming (DNOWS): The most exciting race (dramatic) ocean swim during your career?

Darren Turner (DT): Of note was the USA National Long Distance Championships at Long Beach, California. It was a hard and fast race. I was only in a winning position in the last couple of kilometres. Representing your country and being part of the Australian team made this swim one the most exciting victories for me.

Following this race, I still remember being sore for days and I was lucky to lift my arms above my shoulders.

One of the most exciting races I was involved in was being a major part of a team that was the first team to beat the USA in the Maui Channel Swim. This was a relay swim, but it was also one of the most exciting and dramatic victories for more reasons than one.

DNOWS: What was your most difficult marathon swim of your career?

DT: Two stand out for different reasons: the Magnetic island to Townsville Swim, Qld, Australia and the Guinness Book of World Records 40 km Relay Swim in South Australia.

The Magnetic Island to Townsville was raced in a shark cage. This is one of the most difficult ways to race as it is difficult getting your pace in time with the tow boat which is usually several 100 meters away from the cage and accompanying boat.

Swimming in the shark cage was extremely difficult as it was only about 2.5 meters wide and 5 meters long. There is little or no room to move in the cage, especially for me as I am already 6 foot 4 inches (193 cm). Swimming in a cage meant I was constantly putting my fingers through the front of the cage and being thrown about depending on chop and surface conditions. Swimming in a cage also meant I needed to be constantly be communicating with my support crew in order to help with my adjustments in speed. I was lucky I had the great Des Renford on board and he knew all the tricks I needed. One of his tricks was tying coloured ribbons in the centre and sides of the cage. This helped me hold my position while racing. Holding my position at the front of the cage also helped me to maintain my speed and stroke.

The Guinness Book of World Records team swim that I did in South Australia was one of the most difficult for other reasons. Starting at 5 am in the dark swimming from the shore to find your support boat is not one for the fainthearted. To add to this, South Australia is known for its’ great White Sharks and swimming in the dark with no lights is like swimming blindfolded.

What also made this swim one of the most difficult, was we swum into a strong head wind of about 25 knots. This kicked up the swell and chop so keeping course was difficult and physically demanding for the entire swim.

DNOWS: The 1993 Waikiki Roughwater Swim was a classic. Can you describe this race?

DT: The Waikiki Roughwater Swim attracts some of the best open water swimmers from around the world and the start line is packed so getting a good start is critical.

I led the race from the start and the pace was on from the get-go, I was leading with Alex Kostich and Daniel Veatch trailing closely behind. We had broken away from the main pack, but I just could not shake these two but I was extremely determined to win.

At the last turning buoy, I knew I needed to break these guys using my surf skills and knowledge. I made a right-hand turn and made my way across to the wave zone which broke over the reef. The surf was up around the 4-foot mark on this day. Alex and Daniel had continued to swim straight into the main channel area as I proceeded to the wave zone. There were several surfers on this break when a nice 4-footer came through, I called to the guys surfing on the break “MY WAVE” which I caught and then surfed the wave for at least 100 meters over the shallow reef. I was then left with only a short swim to the beach area. This placed me much further from the finish line than the normal course, but I ran the extra 50 meters to the line and was the overall winner in record time, a record that still stands today.

DNOWS: What was your most difficult workouts?

DT: I trained with one of the toughest coaches ever, Dick Caine was a non-accredited coach who is very much non-mainstream in his approach. There is no science to his approach, it was just all about hard work. He still works in miles, not kilometres. Dick Caine was the coach of many still-water and triathlon Olympic champions, open water and surf lifesaving champions, he has also coached many other sporting legends from a range of disciplines including boxing, rugby and football.

One week which was often called Hell Week we swam 113 kilometres and often supplemented this with gym and running. We often started the workout with 1 hour of straight swimming with our ankle bands which is having your ankles are legs tied with rubber tyre band (NO pull buoy).

Other sessions consisted of over distance sets 400’s, 800’s, and 1500’s sessions also always included hypoxia breathing (i.e., breathing 1 in 5 strokes or 1 in 7 strokes or 1 in 9 strokes). Friday afternoons always consisted of 16 x 400 freestyle on a very short rest cycle (every 5min), 100x100 freestyle was always another tough set. I believe we gained a lot of our strength and conditioning from this type of training.

Dick Caine was a hard task master, so if he believed you were not trying or you choose to not be as focused on your workout you were penalised with 1-hour straight butterfly so you could re-focus.

If there was no valid reason why you could not make work out Dick Caine would have his wife ring and you were given a time frame to be there, if you choose not to follow his instructions you were given one chance to comply or you were never not welcome back.

However, if you applied yourself and lasted the distance with Dick Caine you were going to succeed he is the most caring of coaches who made you feel part of his family.

DNOWS: You were a highly successful surf lifesaver. How would you describe the differences between open water and surf lifesaving?

DT: In Australia, many swimmers have been exposed to surf lifesaving at some point in their career and are taught surf skills from a very young age. This experience has given me the ability to read and understand different surf conditions, the ability to be quick off the start, and ability to navigate the best path to and from the shore., to use the conditions to my advantage and to find the right path on my return to shore and put myself in the best possible position in the wave zone and to catch the first rideable wave.

Surf lifesaving gives you the experience in swimming in a large pack. A surf lifesaving surf race usually consisted of 30 or 40 swimmers starting the race often rounding a buoy at sea sometimes six or eight wide, so you become accustomed to swimming in a confined pack where locking arms and being kicked in the head was normal.

Open water swimming is a very different from surf life-saving. Open water swimming requires you to navigate open stretches of water, you need to adapt your stroke and style depending on surface conditions. As an open water swimmer, you need to be an endurance athlete and have the ability and training to complete a long-distance swim. I believe you need to be mentally strong and be to cope with the loneliness of longer swims. As an open water swimmer, you will also be required to swim in varied water temperatures this also requires training so your body and mind can cope.

I strongly believe that you also need to understand your own pace in open water swimming to be adaptable at any time during a race, you may also need to increase your speed or be ready to change tack at any time.

Solo swims are a lot different you need to swim at your own pace, not go too hard at the start, be prepared to build the swim and maintain good rhythm. During the swims, I completed I found that just after taking a drink stop, I would take several strokes of backstroke, I found this helpful as it relieved the pressure in my shoulders for a short time.

DNOWS: Do you still swim?

DT: I still love to swim I hit the pool several times per week and usually swim up to 5 km per session. However, when ocean conditions permit, I love nothing more than to swim solo just in open water this occurs just where I live and work as Manager of Bulli Beach Tourist Park in NSW Australia where I swim between the two headlands Waniora Point to Woonona Point.

Like the famous Kelly Slater, I find Fiji one of the most beautiful and unspoilt places on the planet and intend to complete the Mana island ocean swim soon.

I still have the desire to compete and would love to one day again compete in the following swims: the Maui Channel Swim, Waikiki Roughwater Swim, and the Rottnest Island swim this would allow.

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