Aquatic Confessions

5 min read

This was originally posted on my newsletter.

I have a… confession to make. I’m an adult that doesn’t know how to swim. I spent the majority of my childhood in one of America’s wettest states: Florida. As is tradition in the swamp, my parents put me in swim lessons. Though, my 8-year-old self decided that he preferred video games on land and my parents didn’t fight it, not knowing how to swim themselves. If only they knew the depths of fear & fomo that this decision would instill within me.The following is an account of my swimming journey up until now.

Throughout middle & high school, I avoided friend’s houses with pools, social outings at the beach, and water parks like the plague. It wasn’t until college that I decided to dip my toes in and recruited a friend of mine who was on the swim team to teach me how to swim. That old Aristotle quote rang true in this case — knowing how to swim ≠ being able to teach it.

“Those that know do, those that understand teach."

— Aristotle, probably

I kept at it and eventually learned how to freestyle in the shallow end of the pool for ~25m thanks to YouTube and a healthy glob of anxiety. I learned how to use the kickboard and bought myself a dapper pair of goggles (and a pair of speedos, before promptly returning it once my 25m-freestyle-high wore off). The summer after my sophomore year of college, I interned in South Florida, just 15 minutes from Miami. I had decided that enough was enough and scoured the local area to find a swim instructor.

None of the instructors I found had much experience with adults because for someone growing up in Florida, learning to swim is synonymous to learning to walk. Eventually I found someone that seemed friendly and open to teaching someone over the age of 8. I went to the local YMCA twice a week to flounder in the pool and she attempted to teach me the basic strokes & how to tread water. After a month of this, I felt much more comfortable and added lap swimming to my comfortable repertoire of exercise.

My internship ended and I felt much more confident in a pool, assuming I could touch the floor. Unfortunately, the confidence to swim in the ocean or dive into the deep end still eluded me. After this promising start, my swimming growth took a backseat to school and the internship hunt. A few more summers of missed opportunities in the Pacific Ocean and Lake Tahoe flew by, and I gave it another shot and signed up for adult swimming lessons at my University during my final semester.

It was comforting (minor schadenfreude to see grad students and professors that were far more fearful of water than I was — one even struggled to dip his toes into the water. I remember what it felt like to be in that position, and I feel for him and respected his tenacity as a tenured professor with glittering accolades that should have it “figured out”. Unfortunately, the lessons weren’t that great and yet again, I learned that an excellent swimmer does not make for an excellent swim instructor.

I continued to practice and pushed my boundaries whenever I could, occasionally venturing into the deep end and practicing my treading. My school had a program at a nearby lake (Lake Wauberg) that gave you a sailing certification after a few classes. The only caveat was that you had to be able to swim 50m in open water and tread for at least 3 minutes. I made it close to this amount but alas, was swept away from my practice yet again by the demands & vibes of the semester.

there be gators

there be gators

Since then, I’ve managed to jump into Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay (albeit with a life jacket on) and surf in Hawaii. Though, Covid-19 had other plans and the public pools of the world closed down for about 1.5 years. Things are opening up, and I’m swimming again at the pool in my local Crunch Fitness. It’s a slow & steady process but between tread-offs with Mack in the Scottsdale public pool to learning how to breast-stroke at Crypto mansion parties, I’m getting there. More importantly, I’m realizing that learning to swim as an adult doesn’t have to be scary — it can even be fun. I have a feeling that this is the last summer that I’ll be a landlubber.

Why does any of this matter? I thought that I was an anomaly (and maybe I am as far as Floridians are concerned) but it turns out that > 50% of Americans say they cannot properly swim. That’s an insane metric, and considering how nourishing the water can be, too many people are missing out on the healing that time spent in water can bring. I hope to learn how to swim confidently as an adult and document my experience along the way for anyone else that struggles with this. It’s possible, and I will show you the way.

From Melon Dash, the creator of the Miracle Swimming School for Adults:

“Panic doesn’t happen in my class,” Dash said,

“because I start by saying ‘Your job is to have fun.’ It’s not that they need to learn how to tread water, they need to learn how to be here."*

Here are the skills & milestones that I am focusing on:

  1. Learn all of the major strokes (freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly)
  2. Master the breath control necessary to be effective
  3. Be able to tread water indefinitely
  4. Swim comfortably into deep water and feel at peace
  5. Venture into open water — waves, sea critters, and all

Above all, I think Mary Roach from the New York Times Play Magazine sums it up best:

“… I don’t care about form. All I want is to be one of the people who can jump gleefully into deep water and remain there, splashing and laughing.”