Let’s Swim!

This return of warmer weather has me thinking about swimming – dipping my feet in a lake,* seeking out a pool. I’m still feeling cautious about being in proximity to people, even as pandemic precautions wane, which means that while I scope out swimming spots I’m also finding books to satisfy my urge.

Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey by Roger Deakin
Originally published in Britain in 1999 and now being published for the first time in the US, Waterlog is Deakin’s thoughtful reflection on swimming in wild places. Inspired by John Cheever’s story “The Swimmer,” Deakin began with a dip in the moat behind his farmhouse, and then conceived of a plan to swim the waterways of Britain, pristine and polluted alike. Swimming in seas, springs, rivers and ponds, he reflects on the history and geography of the waterways he visits, and on the general responsibility of environmental stewardship and maintenance of natural places that are open to all. Deakin’s work launched an international “wild swimming” movement; it’s good to see it published on our shores. (For a fantastic, in-depth review, check out Anelise Chen’s story in The Atlantic).

Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui
Beginning with the unlikely survival of an Icelandic man who became an accidental celebrity for surviving six hours in freezing winter waters after his boat capsized in 1984, Tsui examines the human relationship with water and swimming. Broken into five sections, Tsui looks at how and why humans swim for survival, well-being, community, competition, and “flow,” reaching back into human history, evolution and mythology to explain our history with water. From a swim club in Baghdad that uses Saddam Hussein’s palace pool, to the Bajau free divers of Indonesia, to marathon open-water swimmer Kimberley Chambers, from the meeting of Tsui’s parents at a Hong Kong swimming pool to her own experiences visiting the beach while growing up in New York and swimming in the Bay Area as an adult, Tsui ponders the pull to swim.

Want even more? Check out the surfing memoirs Rockaway: Surfing Headlong Into a New Life by Diane Cardwell or Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton is composed of vignettes and watercolors that detail and reflect on her swimming life. And Splash! 10,000 Years of Swimming by Howard Means is an entertaining social history of humans in water.

*As our friends at the National Weather Service remind us, even if the air is warm the water in lakes and rivers can still be cold! Take precautions when swimming in natural bodies of water. King5 has a few tips and considerations.

~ posted by Andrea G.

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