In my first posts my editor kept changing “my fear of deep water” to “my fear of water.” I insisted on the distinction: I love water but can’t swim and fear being in deep water. Some people who are afraid of deep water won’t go near lakes or the ocean — others, like me, enjoy being near water a great deal and though terrified, have pushed our limits by snorkeling or kayaking.
Most of my adult life I lived along the Pacific Ocean in Santa Cruz, California. I walked along the steep cliffs or long beaches daily watching the waves, the surfers floating on their boards or rising and falling with those waves, the otters resting on their backs, and, when I was lucky, breaching dolphins or a whale. I loved the ocean but rarely entered the water other than to get my feet wet a few times a year.
During my last year in California, I started to kayak in Elkhorn Slough off the Monterey Bay — zipped into my wetsuit and wearing a life jacket — always in a state of terror-adrenaline at being in the deep water, mixed with intense joy about being on the ocean and not letting my fear control me. Curious otters peered into my kayak and pelicans flew overhead as though I belonged on the rocking surface of the sea. When I was in the kayak, I didn’t think about learning to swim (this was brave enough) – swimming in the ocean seemed out of reach.
During my third lesson, Beth had me work on “the head float.” I rested on my back, letting my legs dangle below me, keeping my head afloat. Later practicing I was so relaxed that I closed my eyes, almost falling asleep. I thought of the mother otters leaving their babies floating in kelp beds, rocked by an ocean lullaby. Beth says, “Let the water hold you,” I think the otters do.
In the days after my lesson, I practiced at the Spruce Street pool, watching the sun create moving ribbons of light underwater. While practicing blowing bubbles I could see legs of little swimmers moving with ease through the light and water. I remembered snorkeling in Kona many summers ago with my daughter — it was a new world with many different kinds of brilliantly colored fish and enormous sea turtles floating over and under us. Sea creatures in all sizes and type shared the ocean. I didn’t go out deep, wore fins, a life jacket, and still spent hours in the ocean mesmerized. I let the waves rock me, though I was afraid, the beauty was too great a temptation to resist. Next time I hope to snorkel without the fear (or the life jacket).
By taking swim lessons with Beth, I’m claiming my right to be in the water with the other sea creatures. Letting the water hold me, with the sun creating ribbons of light all around me, and in the pool for now.
Dear Shoney: My love of water is something that I came into the world with, and it’s why I am a swimming teacher. It’s what fuels my passion to pass on to all of those who have yet to discover the joy and magic of water. I am thrilled you are beginning to claim your rightful place in the water realm! ~Beth