Benjamin Law: How I became everything I hated, and loved it


Benjamin Law

For me though, every week is an adventure in self-mortification at how little I know.

For me though, every week is an adventure in self-mortification at how little I know. Photo: James Brickwood

Like more than 80 per cent of Australians, I grew up within 100 kilometres of the sea. Actually, my family lived right next to it in Queensland, and from our beds on quiet nights we could hear the distant lion roar of the surf, reminding us that the ocean was never far away.

It scared the shit out of us. Why my parents, neither of whom can swim, moved from Hong Kong to a place surrounded by murderous beaches will always remain a mystery to me.

Despite weekly swimming lessons, my siblings and I were terrible at anything water-related. For years – 1988 to 1999, to be precise – I was that weedy Asian dude at swimming carnivals, near tears, always disqualified because he was unable to swim even one lap without holding the lane ropes.

Anyway, after stroke-correction classes, I stopped resembling an injured pelican trying to escape a bath and I now swim several kilometres a week. I reached peak smugness when I started swimming in the fast lane and scolding people who were too slow. That's right, I had become everything I hated, and I loved it.


However, nothing knocks the smugness out of anyone more quickly than first entering the Sydney Morning Herald Cole Classic charity swim, which takes place at Manly Beach this weekend. When I saw the advertisements for one-, two- and five-kilometre swims, I hit the enrol button without hesitation. Then I realised that a) I'd never swum a kilometre before non-stop, and b) the ocean is very different from a lap pool, kill me now.

I'm back to being that scared kid, convinced he's going to drown. The only thing that will make it better is if you support me by going to, where I'm raising money for PWDA (People With Disability Australia) in honour of my mate, the late, great comedian, writer and advocate Stella Young.

And if something should happen to me out there, please only release my most flattering photos to the media.