My school swimming carnival, I crouched on the blocks, waiting for the crack to start the race, terrified and completely unsure of how to even dive into water. Why was this compulsory? Don’t they know how weak I am in water? I’ve never been a strong swimmer, the chlorine hurt my eyes, and I’d seen enough movies that made me certain there was always a creature lurking beneath the surface. In this instance, the chlorine free eyes of my entire school were on me, and my soon to be chlorine filled eyes (due to my inability to wear goggles properly) stared at the surface of the water ready to destroy me. My plan was to pretend to swim, after all what’s the difference between doing the techniques and simply moving in the same way, what could go wrong. Crack! The race starts. I half belly flop with a sickening slap.
Swimming carnivals (and associated lessons) made me hate swimming. Before jumping into water, I would say to myself “ok, I guess…”, a compromise, a deal, to force the enjoyment. But a part of me has always wanted to enjoy swimming, thus creating a lifelong Sisyphean relationship with the water. It was worse on a so called “beautiful day for a swim”, because to not swim on said day made me the villain. I wasn’t a fan of my weedy lanky migrant body with bonus hairy stomach either. I assumed wearing a rasher shirt was only for surfers. These were the deluded rigid laws I held of an aquatic culture that I desperately wanted to be a part of.
I wasn’t a fan of my weedy lanky migrant body with bonus hairy stomach either. I assumed wearing a rasher shirt was only for surfers. These were the deluded rigid laws I held of an aquatic culture that I desperately wanted to be a part o
The race was well and truly under way as I slapped the water. The sound of the crowd, the agitating crackle and woosh of water filled my ears, I was swimming “freestyle”. My main issue was breathing. How do you even breathe with half your face submerged? Nevertheless I was moving, swimming the requisite 50m of length. I felt a presence in the other lanes, so maybe I was doing well… it felt right… I was half drowning myself, but the adrenaline (due to my embarrassment) kept my body moving. Unfortunately I was well aware that these thoughts passing through my head meant I wasn’t actually focusing on the task at hand. Pretending to swim isn’t like like being on a stage acting, it’s very much like being in the actual situation where pretending may not work.
In Australia, the enjoyment of swimming seems compulsory… beautiful beaches, warm weather, ample access to towels. You need to love swimming and the beach. On occasions I would love it. In high school, on hot Friday afternoons, I would walk to my friend’s house through bushland trails around my suburb, over hot asphalt streets, lugging my bag. We would play handball on my friend’s driveway in our board shorts until we were so hot and exhausted we’d jump in his beautiful cool saltwater pool, so I get it… but that’s the exception. What is the norm however, is the dreaded tri colour sickly blue Olympic sized pool at aquatic centers, an ecosystem where used band aids are the apex predator and an unknown but high percentage of the water is urine.
Back at the carnival, the breathing got harder, and I could feel myself slowing down, almost giving up. My arms started to flap like a clumsy Pelican trying to take off. The slap and kick of my legs felt futile. I could hear the crowd, I had to finish… maybe I was ahead, who knows… I can’t see me… I’m still moving, I may very well even get a healthy fourth (the losers equivalent of a gold medal). Soon I’ll know what glory feels like.
I reached the end, grasping the frustratingly small ledge that weak swimmers like me are desperate to love and hold, almost sinking. I frantically looked around, the others had well and truly finished, I was dead last. The peculiar thing about dead last is that it doesn’t feel like last, because you’re so last that really… second last was last. You also get the wooden spoon… which made me feel like I’d achieved something.
I reached the end, grasping the frustratingly small ledge that weak swimmers like me are desperate to love and hold, almost sinking.
My complex about swimming is linked to my identity as an Australian. If it’s a warm day, the “Aussie way of life” compels one to consider the beach at a minimum. No, I want to sit in a dark room and watch films. But to not conform would be to waste something many other people don’t have and even worse, be un-Australian. I’ve come to accept the aquatic life’s not for me, but I desperately want it to be. So I’ve kept “embracing it” and going along with it because of how integral it is to Australian life.
I don’t like swimming but I feel the need to like swimming because I want to be more carefree. It’s a peculiar aspect of an ideal version of myself. And with all my discomfort with swimming, I feel in a past life I was a dolphin or a frog… so I’m sure there’s a part of me that belongs in the water, after all, our bodies are 99.999999% water right?
Cyrus Bezyan is a filmmaker, comedian and writer. You can follow Cyrus on Twitter @cyrusbezyan.