Friday, February 7, 2014

Sublime swimming


There's an extract of How to Think About Exercise in The Guardian today, 'Why swimming is sublime'. So, if you're swim, think about swimming, or are tantalised by the idea (because of weather or geography), here's a sample:
My first memory of the sea: slugs and snails inside my Wellingtons. Actually, my boots were full of sand and water, but to my pre-school mind the gritty squelch was because of slimy gastropods, crawling into my shoes. My lesson: the water is indifferent to seams, borders and barriers. It invades us, as we invade it. 
Aged about six, I stood at Noosa beach in subtropical Queensland, grinning as the warm sea frothed at my ankles. Then suddenly I was on my face, sand in my gap-toothed mouth, hacking up a lung while the waves pushed me over and over. Another lesson: the water is not kidding around. 
Boats and submarines
At primary school, my father tried to teach me to "swim like a boat" at the local pools. I answered that I was a submarine, and stayed underwater, looking at the strange world of doubly rippled adult bodies: folds of fat and skin warped by waves from older kids jumping in the deep end. I loved the way the pool's chaos – kids’ screams, splashes, parental monologues about food and stitches – was muted by the water. Everything became a warm, fuzzy, blue-green noise. 
I learned to be a boat, but the submariner remained. The water, for me, was always something to be in, not simply above. It was more a site of secular pilgrimage than a thoroughfare. 
As a teenager, I spent weeks on end at the beach. I usually swam to the third reef of our local cove, marked by a high wooden pole stuck with mussels. To me, this marked the end of the beach and the start of the bay: the sand below dropped away. At this point, dry land was suddenly absurd – the whole world was waves, blurry blacknesses and solitude. 
For hours, I floated and looked: at the unsettling, unnameable nothing of it all. Translucent, eerily quiet, a monolith of constant movement, the sea always suggested more than I saw. Treading water in fogged goggles, a tiny little hairless mammal without gills, dorsal fins or blowhole, I was scared and never happier. 
What was I seeking in the pool and sea? I had no word for this waterlogged bliss. Perhaps English literature, which I studied absent-mindedly in year 11, might have suggested the word: swimming in the sea was sublime.
If you enjoyed that, do read on here, and perhaps even buy the book here.

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