swimming, the action of propelling oneself in water by natural means using arms and legs, can also be used abstractly as both a negative representation of a sensation, where one is floating or reeling and a positive one where one proves to not go under and surmounts difficulties in their path. a lot of meaning for one word isn’t it?
swimming, I’ve been in and around water since I was a child. the ocean and its surroundings a part of almost every childhood memory. in each memory, there is sun, sea, sand. the sun’s appearance dictating a Saturday beach outing where we would pile into the dusty green Datsun and drive east toward Rockaway. On longer weekends we headed west toward the Jersey shore. And during the weeks of summer vacation, my mom and I would travel by subway to Coney Island or by bus to where the end of Oriental Boulevard meets the sea.
It was the draw not only of the sun on the sea but the sun and the sand, and depending on what shoreline we found ourselves, each experience of the sand beneath my feet, defined by its texture, shape, and size was like time traveling. From the bay shores of Coney Island to beginnings of the ocean near Riis. The eastern shores of Long Island where the granules near Montauk Point are slightly larger and mixed with ground seashells to the north shores of Orient Point dotted with shiny smooth stones that glimmer like black and silver diamonds on the horizon, to the white shores of the lido in Sicily where the best swimming holes to be found are nowhere near sand.
swimming, if one were to ask me I would undoubtedly claim to have been swimming since the very first moment my feet touched sand all those years ago. And that would be a half-truth.
At a young age, my Mom and Dad dutifully taught me how to swim in a seaside kind of way. They introduced the ebb and flow of the sea gradually, first building sand castles and moats, then splashing in caches of water near the surf, slowly leading me closer and closer to the frothy water’s edge. With each visit to the beach we ventured a little further, and one day I learned to float, the next time the doggy paddle. I can still see their young faces full of pride, laughing. As I got older they flanked me on either side holding my hands, as we jumped over the crashing waves, eventually finding a spot where we cleared the sea floor enough to sail with the breaking waves body surfing along the surface. In this homegrown adventure, I learned to swim.
And then one day years later on the beaches of Cancun, I unlearned how to swim.
It was a gorgeous day, my friend and I were staying at the Krystal Palace and after a day of touring the ruins made our way to the hotel’s private beach just steps away from the infinity pool. The sea was translucent and turquoise, the sky above us clear with rolling puffy clouds way, way off in the distance. The water refreshing and cool in the Mexican heat, there was no incentive to leave the water and so I lingered. Nearby a few other beachgoers were looking out onto the horizon, it seems they had spotted something unfamiliar. Upon looking over I saw it too, a cloud far off in the distance with what seemed to be a tornado like a spout touching the ocean.
These funnels, or water spouts, as they are traditionally called, can induce storm-like conditions and its advisable to not be in the water when first sighted as they can move swiftly. I know this now but back then, I continued to tread water and swim, glancing backward at the water spout from my location and was quite taken by surprise when the undertow shifted. Caught in a tumbling wave like a rag doll, I lost all sense of gravity and emerged disoriented and shaken with sand burns on my skin, a torn bathing suit and a heap of sand in my hair. I left that beach seemingly unscathed only to find myself weary of any undertow or swirling current. Since that day I rarely venture beyond my comfort zone, preferring my feet to touch the sea floor regardless of what beach I may be on from the frothy surf waters at Ditch Plains to the mild green seas of Antigua, Barbuda, Aruba and Puerto Rico. This unrequited fear of the undertow has put a damper on any ocean side endeavors.
I finally decided enough was enough, a fear of the ocean is just not feasible for someone who loves the beach. There are so many things l want to do that involve the sea, like surfing and kayaking and even in my wildest fantasies, I dream of selling off all my worldly possessions and buying my own private island. I can’t do any of that if I’m too afraid to swim!
And so I’ve enrolled myself in a crash splash course at the Y, a swimming boot camp if you will that meets (1) hour a day, 4 days a week for a month straight. The instructors test you on your ability and place you in a group of students with similar swimming strengths. Then they teach you the basics starting with the swimmer’s form, or streamline position, and begin introducing you to each individual stroke, i.e., backstroke, freestyle, butterfly, et cetera.
Classes started last week, and I’m happy to say that I survived basic training. It takes some getting used to wearing a swim cap and goggles but it certainly makes for quicker, less invasive swimming. I would say the breath has been the hardest adjustment and a complete 180 after a dedicated yoga practice (in through the nose, out through the mouth); it’s no surprise really that I resorted to holding my nose all these years. I can already feel the benefit in swimming as a form of exercise, and as one friend mentioned it’s the one sport where you use your entire body. My upper body feels more awake and open, and even though my muscles are sore from under usage, I’ve never felt healthier. I’ve also noticed a change in my diet where I crave protein-rich foods more than sugar/salt/starch. And last but not least is the added benefit of sleep. After a full day at work, I swim vigorously for an hour, shower then I relax in the sauna for a few minutes before heading home for a long uninterrupted slumber.