Why Swim? – Deborah Nedelman, 2014

Deborah Nedelman

Why Swim?

One Saturday earlier this summer I sat at a booth at the bustling Bayview Farmers Market and asked folks to tell me their swim stories. Being a swimmer myself, I was pretty surprised by how many island dwellers had no such stories, by how many were non-swimmers. Here we are surrounded by the wet stuff and if you’re ever going to get off the rock you need to cross it somehow. What do people all do, cross their fingers and hope for the best every time they board the ferry? Must be tough to stick crossed fingers in one’s ears to avoid hearing the ‘important safety announcement’ that does reference something about water, I believe.

There were a few folks with swim experiences who had not only lived to tell them, but who recalled them with great enthusiasm and even joy. Yes, swimming can be fun! In fact, being proficient in the water can become positively addictive and life changing. Take the story Dan Falkenbury told about his childhood in Hawaii.

Let me take a moment here to register one of the most common responses I got when I asked folks if they were swimmers: “It’s too cold to swim here!” Yes, well, Puget Sound is a bit chillier than the waters that surround the Hawaiian Islands. But, as Dan informed us, the numbers of non-swimmers in his 6th grade class in Honolulu, where no one worries much about hypothermia, significantly outnumbered the swimmers. In fact, in a class of 30 plus students, only 3 kids raised their hands when the teacher asked who knew how to swim. This seemed to explain the number of recent childhood drownings. The school began requiring to all their students to take swimming lessons. One of Dan’s classmates took those swimming lessons to heart and became a lifeguard. And Dan, whose father had swum with Johnny Weissmuller, went on to become a competitive swimmer. “Living on a island, you’d think everyone should know how to swim.” Dan told me.

Don’t let the cold water scare you off. Start in a pool and you just might discover your inner fish.

Like a fish to water… Sharon Betcher 2014


Like a fish to water…
Most humans are drawn like a fish to water, we say. That magnetic pull might be explained in many ways: the enchanting mirror of the waters, capturing the beauty of the self; the watery womb remembered. Intriguingly, well over 80% of humanity lives within 50 miles of water’s edge. We’re like waterbags—the human body itself composed mostly of water—carrying water back to its source. Or, more pragmatically, we’re smart enough to know that to take up residence, to set up home, we need a good source of water.
But honestly, I—like many humans–grew up more like a dragonfly drawn to water: water was always in my orbit, but it was not my element. I liked being near it. I enjoyed catching creek chubs along my little tributary of the Mississippi River in Minnesota. I liked water gazing on a hot summer day, letting the water carry me in daydreams of futures I would like to live. But beyond splashing through puddles on a spring day, I was not into diving into its elemental deeps. Not only did I convince myself I was gratefully landlocked (In Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes? Not!) and not only was I a “sinker” (despite the floatation devices also known as “lovehandles”), I was afraid—especially after my high school comrades decided to give me a swimming lesson by throwing me over the edge of the canoe and telling me to make shore.
But to live now as an islander, this seems to me to admit that I need a new relationship with the water. We love this moat that separates and communalizes us. But to love it is also to admit that we live with it and on it in a vital and daily way. Admiring its beauty is only one part of wisdom now. Only when we have certain skills, it seems to me, are we well suited to the island life. Those skills involve respect for the risks and dangers of water—that which has long left me afraid. But it also involves learning to adapt myself—like a fish to water. Swimming, in other words, is a discipline of wisdom for one who wants to live as an islander, one who considers the island their element.

Saturday Swim Lessons – Deborah Nedelman 2014

Deborah Nedelman    (www.Soundviewwriters.com)

Saturday again,
another Shabbat,
I churn down the pool
coming up for air at the blue end

There you sit, knees to chest
an eight year-old
in the flimsy armor
of a pink swimsuit
the fear in your eyes
like a mirror–

Fifty years float between
me and my reflection–
the lonely girl
back against the echoing wall
overwhelmed in the chlorinated air

Jewish fathers are admonished:
“Teach your child to swim”
an odd religious dictate
unless, perhaps, the Red Sea
did not actually part.

Sure and duty-bound
not a pray-er, a weak sinner
not religious but for this:
each Saturday, each Shabbat,
my father drove me
to the public pool

abandoned me
to the women’s locker room
caustic smells, icy showers,
exposed flesh shivering in towels
draped over shoulders like prayer shawls

Shy and bookish
not a splasher, a weak kicker
I clung to the pool’s edge
each Saturday, every Shabbat,
and begged for reprieve
from this strange wet business

I watch you rise,
and fifty years collapse.
You are gathered into parental arms
eyes gleam and you boast
“I put my head in!”

Another lap
on this Saturday, this Shabbat
at the blue end of the pool
Again I inhale and push off
into the forgiveness of water

The Forth Annual Whidbey Adventure Swim

The forth annual Whidbey Adventure Swim (WAS) was held on the quiet morning of August 2, 2014. The low cloud cover seemed to soothe Saratoga Passage into a smooth gloss, with clear visibility across to Camano—perfect and unusually calm conditions for a swim in Puget Sound. By 8:45 am, the near-capacity event had all 37 swimmers registered, wet-suited up, and ready to hit the water. After swimming out to a deep-water start buoy, swimmers waited for the race signal to start. Per WAS custom, the starting horn was…unique. At the blast (well, really, a loud yell of “go!” from shore) 37 pairs of arms began slicing the waves, heading north toward the first turn buoy.

The yearly event is sponsored by the South Whidbey Parks and Aquatics Foundation, a nonprofit organization started in December 2009, dedicated to making parks and aquatic activities accessible to all. All yearly race proceeds go to sponsor aquatics programs and activities on Whidbey.

This year the course was changed to one large rectangle, which followed the shore. The expansion of the course route allowed swimmers competing in the 1.2 mile race to complete one lap. Swimmers opting for the longer 2.4 mile swim circled the course twice. The change was well received by all participants, both short and long course.
“It was nice to do just one loop this year. Scenery was beautiful!” said Danielle Rideout, a four-year veteran of the race.

Top finishers included Chad Hagedorn from Tacoma, with a short-course time of 26.53, and Eric Dolven of Bothell, with a time of 55:08 for the long course. All levels of experienced, open-water swimmers participated, with many simply swimming for the fun and camaraderie of the sport. “It’s always good fun to see who comes out for the race,” said Jeff Jacobsen, WAS committee member. “We get swimmers from all over the country and Canada signing up once registration opens.”

Some of our voluteers; kayakers and life guards on paddle boards.

As with any open-water swim event, safety was tantamount, and organization took time and talent. The 2014 race once again had many invaluable volunteers—from healthcare workers to lifeguards to sponsors and committee members—all of whom made the 2014 WAS fun, exciting, and safe for all participants.

Also new this year were event t-shirts, designed and individually colored by internationally acclaimed glass-artist and Whidbey resident John deWit. A limited number of mixed sizes remain available for sale; if interested, please contact us at info@swpaf.org.

When asked about the perfect swim conditions before the race, event coordinator Emily Weinheimer said, “We just got lucky. You never know when it comes to Puget Sound. It’s both beautiful and wild. And that’s what makes this race an adventure.”

A happy winner of one of our door prizes.

Wetsuit 101

We received a lot of questions about renting and buying wetsuits as we gave our open water swim clinics, so here’s a brief Wetsuit 101:

  • Swimming wetsuits are different from surfing or scuba wetsuits. Read product descriptions for ‘smooth skin neoprene.’  The chest and legs should be about 5 m thick and the shoulders should be about 1.5-2 m thick. Here’s a short video that discusses what to look for.

  • Sizing: it should be snug, tight even.  You don’t want water to trickle down through the neck. Sleeveless v. Sleeved depends on water temp, length of swim, and swimmer build.  Those with broad shoulders may be more comfortable in a sleeveless.  Wetsuits come in more specific sizes than just S, M, L or 8, 10, 12.  It’s worth trying on a couple of sizes to ensure best fit.

  • Just a few of the good brands: Blueseventy, Orca, TYR, Aquasphere, Promotion, Xterra, and more.

  • Putting on & taking off a wetsuit: Apply any non-petroleum lubricant like Body Glide, cooking oil spray, butt balm, et cetera on neck, wrists, ankles to prevent chafing and aid faster removal of the suit.  Start with pulling the suit on your calves and slowly work your way up to torso.  You want to pull from inside the suit because nails easily puncture the outer layer.

  • When to buy a wetsuit: Best prices are found in the fall and early winter when retailers are clearing older inventory and selling the previous season’s rental suits.  If there’s a specific brand you like, it may be worth it to get on their mailing list so you are notified about sales and deals.  And check local list serves like craigslist for used suits.

  • Just a few of the places that sell swim gear: Endurance Sports (Mukilteo), Speedy Reedy (Seattle), REI. Online: swimoutlet.com, kiefer.com, wetsuitrental.com.

Supports parks and aquatics activities on Whidbey Island, WA