Fishbowl swimming


January, the month of Aquarius, the water bearer. I thought I’d construct a little “paean to pools,” a “song for swimmers.” Because it’s winter and there’s not much to do expect run in the cold and pound laps in the pool. Now, I’ve had my say about swimming in Germany before, and in order to avoid ranting repitition, I’ve decided to put the focus on characters instead. On types.

Not that everyone deserves to be pigeon-holed, but there are some interesting trends that apply to all the pools I’ve swum in here. So, let’s begin.

The Fishbowl
When an indoor pool is built in Germany, it’s normally 25 metres and it might have one lane rope, way to the side. Very few swimmers wear caps. Some women (and some men) are determined not to get their hair wet. People dive in without looking. People swim pretty much wherever they want, and get angry with each other when their swimming paths cross. The predominant stroke is breaststroke. The pool is packed during the dedicated times for actual lap swimming and training. But schedules change often, and you might have 50 school children take over the pool or an aqua-aerobics class will churn the water into a jacuzzi froth or there’ll be an unusual rehabilitation class featuring blue floaties tied around waists. Or you might get unbelievably lucky and have the pool to yourself (rare!).

The Whale
This swimmer is a little heavy around the middle and perhaps was once a strong swimmer. Now, he (and it’s often a man) struggles mightily in the water, swimming reasonably fast but creating a lot of splash and waves. The effort normally requires a rest after every 1-2 laps, meaning the Whale “beaches” himself at the end of pool, elbows hanging on the side, breathing heavily, and possibly in need of some kind of rescue effort.

The Eel
A slender woman who swims a strange kind of breaststroke, normally with a very wide kick, with her legs going through the water like an eel swimming. She’s extremely hard to get around (without getting a foot in the face) and appears to be unaware that anyone is trying to pass her, or even that there’s anyone else in the pool. It’s a nightmare trying to share a lane with an Eel.

The Rusty Robot
A curious swimmer. Just swims and swims, without stopping. Maybe freestyle, maybe breaststroke. Swims slowly and mechanically, like his/her joints are rusted stiff. Breathes on one side, often in a two stroke rhythm. Has trouble with direction, and so follows the black line on the bottom of the pool, regardless of where said line as in relation to lanes and other people swimming. A very anti-social swimmer. Ignores everyone and just swims.

The Wriggler
This swimmer has a specific style for freestyle. He/she really puts the “free style” in freestyle. His/her whole body seems to wriggle with each stroke, so it appears he/she is trying to get forward propulsion by using the spine. The arms are bent and cross over each other with every stroke. Despite a lot of stroking, this swimmer makes very slow progress, “slaloming” through the water rather than swimming straight.

The Dodgy Brothers
Two guys, reasonably fit, swimming very fast, often side-by-side. They’ll do a lot of sprints, some kicking drills, and they’ll swim most of their laps using hand paddles. They’ll also spend so much time talking at the end of the pool, you’ll feel the need to tell them to take it to a bar or cafe to discuss things in more apt surroundings. There’s also something about them both that’s not quite right; that they don’t look like swimmers at all, don’t really have the right technique, yet they can swim fast. Maybe they’re getting a bit more help than the hand paddles are offering.

The Tank
This swimmer makes a big splash jumping into the pool (without looking), then plows through the water (without looking), making everyone get out of his/her way. Then, he/she hangs on the wall, with his/her back to it, and starts kicking slowly (without looking). It’s not the nicest metaphor, but German pools have a lot of tanks.

The Jellyfish
Swims on his/her back, using two arms at the same time get some movement. Legs like tentacles, all over the place. And the whole movement resembling the slow progess of a jellyfish. So slow, you wonder if the person is actually swimming or simply floating and going with the movement of the water.

The Surveyor
Swims with utter, effortless ease. Is faster than anyone in the pool, but has to keep looking up with every stroke to be sure he/she doesn’t swim into someone else and/or to figure out a way to navigate from one end of the pool to the other: around, over, under or through all the other swimmers.

The Gorilla
A very, very hairy man. With hair that moves in the water like a sea anemone. You see him and want to get out of the pool straight away.

The Bademeister
In German, the word for lifeguard is Bademeister. But that first “e” can be removed because this guy/girl is so unbelievably bad at their job. And if you try to point out ways to make the pool safer and easier to swim in, they will become rather hostile towards you. They don’t look able to swim 50 metres, and don’t mind if people run around the pool or if swimmers take a running jump into the water without looking. It’s not clear what purpose these people serve, beyond sitting poolside in a high-chair and looking incredibly bored.