“The water is taller than me” or How I Learned To Swim

There is a line from Frightened Rabbit’s Swim Until You Can’t See Land Swim Until You Can't See Land - The Winter of Mixed Drinks “the water is taller than me” and that is exactly how I viewed deep water, as not simply taller than me, but in being so, was also threatening.

Growing up I had a deep-seated fear of water. I loved water. I wanted to not be afraid, to be a competent swimmer, sailor, diver. I also had these recurring, graphic drowning nightmares which lasted through high school. In the mix, my first swimming lesson, with a group of other little kids, I was pushed into the water by a palm at my back…the shock and surprise of being shoved by an adult, an instructor and the blow on my back resulted in a huge intake of breath just as I went into the pool. I never went back and I suspect the instructor lost her job over that. Nevertheless, year after year I tried, my dad patiently tried. I took adult swimming lessons at the YMCA. I took private lessons at a sports club. I got coaching from a co-worker who had finished 11th in her class at her first Ironman Triathlon.

So eventually I learned the motions of swimming, but not the comfort or joy of swimming. I’m still no lap swimmer and I might have difficulty passing a swimming test for a dive class but I now not only love the water and want to go out but I do go out in water that is taller than me and find joy. Thanks to Klee, fish and Rachel. I’ll start with Rachel, we used to run together and walk together. Rachel had been a swimming teacher and a lifeguard. She once said to me “water is your friend”, now this is a voice with a smile and comfort embedded in it so it is this voice I hear and this phrase when a little of the old habit-panic starts to creep in. Klee: I think Klee was born knowing how to swim. One vacation, we were heading to Cabo San Lucas, he invested in fins, mask and snorkels for the two of us. One day at the beach he came out of the water and told me that there were a bunch of fish in so close that I could stand in the water at knee-level and just put my face in the water and see them. So in we went up to my knees and I put my mask, snorkel and fins on. Klee held my hand and promised to continue to hold it and I bent down, put my face in the water and sure enough! Fishies! Quite a number of them. I was captivated and immediately got water in my mask from smiling too much…I stood up, cleared the mask and put my face back in the water. The fish were swimming around and eventually began to swim away from shore…I walked after them, and as the water got deeper Klee suggested I just float, he would remain standing next to me. I floated and watched the fish. I was delighted and as they once again swam further away from shore I started gently sweeping my finned feet to follow…I tugged at Klee’s arm and he said he was going to continue to hold my hand, but he was going to float too and swim beside me. We followed the fish out further and eventually I got too cold so we went ashore and ordered some tacos pescado y te helado for lunch. While we were eating Klee informed me we had eventually been out to a depth of about 15 feet. So for me, all it took was trusting Klee’s strength and ability to get me out of the water if I needed out quickly and my trust that he would not let go of me, fish calling to me and Rachel’s voice playing in the background “water is your friend”. Our next snorkeling vacation we added for me a full length 3.2 mm wet suit. Yes, maybe a bit much for some, but I get cold easily and when I get cold I am more prone to anxiety so the warmth and added buoyancy of this wet suit greatly extends my time in the water. I no longer keep a death grip on Klee’s hand, I’ve finally learned to clear my mask in the water and the water being taller than me is no longer intimidating.

Lou Nell on beach in Maui in wetsuit

Lou Nell in Wetsuit, Maui

1 Comment

  1. Rachel

    Water is your friend! XO


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