Don’t go in the water!

Why aren’t more locals able to enjoy our surrounding seas by actually swimming in our beautiful waters?

Why aren’t more locals able to enjoy our surrounding seas by actually swimming in our beautiful waters?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. It can also evoke a thousand comments as well. Case in point one of my recent WhatsApp profile pics, in which I am sprawled on the sand in a polka dot bikini,with the sea and sky merging to form the perfect backdrop as I do my best to channel my inner Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition model. Immediately I am bombarded by my contacts.

“Uhm what is this hotness called your profile pic..what’s causing this?”

“But I see we’re on fire from basking in the Lucian heat.”

“Looking all Victoria’s Secret-esque.”

But for those who know me oh so well there was a deeper question. Wait, did you actually go in the water?

Now I’m not exactly an aquaphobe but it is widely understood that my appreciation extends only as far as drinking water. And bathing of course.

So I pretty much opened the floodgates, pun intended, by uploading my vanity shot.

“Remember that time you almost ‘drowned’ while wearing a life jacket in shallow water? Or the time you spent a boatride to Martinique gripping the floor while laying on your stomach? Or the time you had to be carried into a dinghy practically docked on the sand?”

Ok. I get it. I will not be challenging Michael Phelps anytime soon. Or my five-year-old cousin for that matter.

It’s not for lack of trying though. I have attempted lessons before but don’t have a stroke to show for it. So deep are my fears that I refused to take swimming as my P.E. credit at university lest my grade actually depend on my ability to float. Yes folks, the struggle is real.

Last week threatened to add another chapter to the ‘Nasha can’t swim chronicles’ when our misguided but well-intentioned Tropical Traveller editor suggested that I try flyboard racing for the magazine. When it became apparent that I could not participate she went in search of a new target only to return rather flummoxed. ‘Did you know 95% of our staff can’t swim?’ she asked incredulously.

No I did not but you know what they say, misery loves company, so I was secretly thrilled not to be the only member of the subset ‘people who live on an island but can’t swim’.

But that does beg the question, why? We are surrounded by water and very fond of beach parties; although the latter moreso for the chicken and rum.

In a recent Flashback, we featured an article with a group of young swimmers who were determined to get St Lucians to part with their landlubber status back in 1987. So what became of that?

I know why i’m not, but why are my fellow countrymen wary of the water? Are we that afraid of ruining our ‘coldpress’, ladies?

During a recent photoshoot and interview, one of our national swimmers, Mark Emmanus,15, offered his theory on the matter.

“It’s probably the fear of the water. Hearing stories of people drowning. That automatically just turns you off. When you go in the water what’s the first thing people say to you? Make sure you don’t drown. Don’t go out too far. You might get pulled under. There’s sharks in the water. They won’t say it’s nice, you can float, you can see all the fishes under water. They always point out the bad things first.”

His mom Catherine also shared her opinion.

“Do you think it’s people not going in the water young enough? Mums not taking their kids to the beach to take them into the sea? What I notice is that on the beach the mums will be saying ‘come away from the water!’ whereas you should be taking your child in the water and just holding their hands, trying to get the child to paddle and get used to the water. I think it’s leaving it too late to get used to the water. You build up a fear. There are lots of swim clubs. I think maybe there’s not enough done through the schools to make parents aware that you’re on an island, you’re never far away from a beach. Children need to swim.”

The two were headed to the Aquatic Center to log some training time since, despite being the home of a swim club with three current national swimmers, the south of the island has no actual pool. Seriously.

Anyway, I decided to tag along and pick the brain of our most decorated swimmer and former Olympian turned coach, Jamie Peterkin. Apparently it’s not only good looks or debilitating diseases being passed down through family bloodlines. He thinks fear of swimming may be genetic.

“For instance if your grandmother is petrified of the water then in all likelihood the grandchild, without even hearing a story, or being put in a situation where they would encounter fear in the water would naturally have fear.”

Sensing my skepticism he added, “I am dead serious.”

“There’s three things that cause fear in the water. One is somebody striking the fear of God into you when you go near the water. Two genetically passed down. And the third one is for most people a fear of something that is not known. The problem with St Lucia is I believe there are a lot of folk stories about things happening on the beach, like fishermen stories that drove people away from the water and kept them away from it. Because the last thing that they would hear was ‘If I find out you were in the water i’ll cut your ass!’ The fear was put into them so when they went to the beach they never had any enthusiasm because they were told they would get in trouble. I think another reason why people don’t go in the water is for some reason swimming has been labelled a bourgeois sport. So people automatically think if you not a bourgeois, swimming is not for you which is ridiculous.”

After a brief foray back to the pool and his class, Peterkin was still teeming with possibilities.

“Another problem with swimming here is lack of facilities around the island and lack of coaches. You see the profession of coach here, especially swim coach, has been taken for granted for too long and the problem is people don’t see it as a feasible or viable option as a career. Also with the lack of facilities and the facilities being centralised up here it takes away from the potential of development in the East, West, and South. There’s two good coaches in the South but you’re saying that two people are supposed to handle the entire development of not just the southern constituencies but the east and west coast too from Dennery down. There’s not enough manpower and that’s where most people won’t swim; in the south more than the north. However, there was a time when that wasn’t that way.”

Hmmm. So when did that shift take place to change things? A sea creature maybe? And what are these mystical folk tales?

I’m about to wade into this story way deeper than I expected. Without a life jacket no less.


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