Burkini Babes change perceptions one ocean swim at a time

Burkini Babes Source: SBS

An Australian group calling itself Burkini Babes has completed its first ocean swim race, a year after the club was founded. Burkini Babe founder, Yusra Metwally, says it's an achievement the women never thought they would be able to do.And she says it is the first of what could be more competitions to come.Julia Calixto reports.  

Burkini Babe founder, Yusra Metwally, says it's an achievement the women never thought they would be able to do.

And she says it is the first of what could be more competitions to come.

Over the past six months, the Burkini Babes have been taking early morning swims at South Maroubra beach in Sydney's east.

It has been preparation for their first ocean swimming competition -- the South Maroubra Ocean Challenge.

Each wears a specially designed swimsuit for Muslim women - it's a full body swimsuit, with a long rashguard and hood.

Burkini Babes founder Yusra Metwally says the ocean swim is something she never considered they would do.

"I don't think I ever had in mind to enter an ocean swim, because I'm not a very strong swimmer myself. And I've never really spent so much time in the ocean, I've just sort of paddled along the shore. I enjoy the concept of getting out of your comfort zone, taking part in a challenge and just that feeling of accomplishment will be worth it."

Ms Metwally founded the group last year, when women were banned from wearing Burkini on beaches in the south of France.

"We're just a bunch of girls out for a swim; and the more people can see that the more people see diversity on our beaches, diversity in different activities that will hopefully change perceptions that we're just like everyone else."

She says some of the girls have been concerned about growing Islamophobia in politics in Australia and overseas.

But she says the girls like to use their ocean swims as a way to take a break from their worries, and just enjoy the simple pleasure of swimming.

"There's a lot going on globally. There's a lot going on politically, and I like to think that when we're in the ocean we get to get away from that. We also appreciate that we're not immune to what's happening around us. And there is a sense of fear in response to recent events, whether it's feeling that, Muslims are under the microscope; and anything Muslims do in a public sphere is under scrutiny."

But Ms Metwally says they have had a lot of support for signing up for the ocean swim competition.

A Burkini Babe swimmer, Danielle Fasi, says a spontaneous conversation she had with a man on the beach was encouraging.

"He was giving me tips on how to enter the water during winter because it's a little different. And then he was just giving me a pep talk about his history and he's been coming here weekly and about his national championships as a younger boy. It was really nice, it was very encouraging. I walked away with confidence because I know that you know, there are probably other people thinking, you know, it's good to see people dressed like myself out here, so it was reallly nice, it was good."

Fellow Burkini Babe and new mother Anisa Buckley says part of the reason she's getting involved in the swim is so that her child has confidence to follow their passion no matter what.

She says the Burkini was an opportunity to be seized.

"When it first came out it was revolutionary, yeah it was really amazing, because before then, friends and I would only be able to swim at women-only pool times, and maybe only go to secluded beaches where... or there's things like the women's baths here at Coogee and so on. But it's definitely changed how accessible things have been made for us."

Swimming instructor Fadila Chafic says the women competed in the 500-metre competition but some will be doing a one-kilometre swim and they are also in training for their first triathlon later this year.

"It feels great. I'm really proud of the girls. We're training really hard and we're hoping to go out and just have a little fun. It's our first ocean swim together so we're hoping to just go out, finish and come back safe."


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