Swimming While Black: Fear of the (Open) Water

Thursday, April 06, 2023

"And you smile when you dive in, like you're never coming back
So hold my body, yeah, hold my breath, See your face when I blackout, I'm never coming back

18 December 2022 

Thalassophobia is apparently the persistent & intense fear of deep bodies of water like the sea, oceans or lakes. 

Personally, I think inherited this fear from my mother, my father's father, my maternal grandmother's mother... 
I've probably had this phobia all my life.
A generational, inherited, cultural and societal phobia that left me constantly thinking about how I am going to complete the swimming part of a triathlon.

I'd like to think I conquered this fear on this day. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would find myself in waters I couldn't stand in. For perspective, digest the poem "Water" by Koleka Putuma from the  'Collective Amnesia' poetry collection. That poem lives rent-free in my head and is the inspiration underlying this think piece.

Thinking back, I was very nervous & anxious in the week leading up to this day. In my head, open water swimming was a late 2023/maybe early 2024 project. I tried to get out of it, by bringing up the "wetsuit is expensive" chat, it turns out, I didn't need a wetsuit & I was assured that Eleanor had a pool buoy to borrow me. Bhod ke sana! 

On the morning of this day, I woke up certain of 2 things.
1) I was definitely not driving 
2) This open-water swim was happening 

The sunscreen made me look purple, the water wasn't cold, it looked grey, just keep swimming was my mantra, I panicked and collected myself, I didn't think about how deep it was, I made it to the second buoy, I covered 399.41 metres, I didn't die... 

18 January 2023 

Thalassophobia is apparently the persistent & intense fear of deep bodies of water like the sea, oceans or lakes. There's still a bit of this phobia, that lives rent-free in a deep corner of my brain. 

You don't dive into the dam at PrimeView, Eleanor said. Actually, you never dive into open water like you would in a pool. You walk in and splash your body so that your body acclimatises to the temperature. I prefer to die once, so when we are about hip deep in, I submerge myself. 

Before we reach the first white buoy, my brain screams YOU ARE SWIMMING IN A DAM. I want to panic, I think I panic, I know I collect myself, I rreach back and hold on to my buoy, breathe... then I keep swimming... 

This time we do the full loop, her watch says 750 or so metres, mine says 0.57 km's. In this moment, Apple watch is not the gurl... 

PB: Longest Open Water Swim... 

18 February 2023 

Thalassopho... what is that hunny? 

I found a sunscreen that doesn't turn me purple. My Apple watch doesn't record my swim. I swim the 650m loop, with 0 stops, towards the end of our swim, my favourite Speedo (the pink one with the bubbles) open water swimming cap slips off. I grab it & throw it to Eleanor, you should have seen us, we could have been in a stealth/swift swimming advert. 

I thought swimming caps float on the surface of the water. After this experience, I know they sink and I could have lost my swimming cap, which is very scarce to find by the way. 

So now, I put my goggles over my cap to secure it. 

25 February 2023 


I felt strong in the dam on this day, we moved from buoy to buoy without stopping. I felt like we were swimming stronger for longer, but I didn't care I was comfortable & when we reached the inflatables, for the first time in my life. I was swimming in this large body of water ALONE. 

PB: Longest Open Water Swim... 

This time it was almost 1,2 km according to my Apple Watch (which I'm not sure is 100% accurate when open water swimming) 

24 March 2023 

Does the phobia really go away? 

The clouds were grey the whole day, I was at work looking at the skyline. Hoping for a spark of lightning so we could cancel this swim. But! there we were at 5 PM under grey skies, starting the swim. The seal on my goggles was not holding and I had water in my left goggle. It was a terrible swim, at some point I felt like there was something lurking, in the water. 

Not a crocodile, I haven't even seen a single fish in that dam. But I definitely felt like I was not alone 

Eventually, I changed my goggles and went out again for my remaining distance. my goal was a minimum 1 KM swim. 

Never in my wildest dreams did I think this could be me, swimming in a dam. Yet there's something about water that calls me, Something in me yearns to be within & when I am there, it's almost like I am home... 

Next Strokes?

I have always wanted to swim in the ocean.

Midmar 20xx is on the cards, Howick looks like a quaint town to visit. 

I would really like to try the Scuba diving feature of my Apple Watch.
When my lungs have the capacity, I feel like I could try freediving. Zandi, the black mermaid just keeps inspiring me with her work. 

Maybe sometime in my new life post masters, I'll be qualified to teach you how to swim.

My heart smiles when I see black bodies swimming, I am here for diversifying the waters.

x, Atlegang

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  1. Love it. Let's break the unfounded fears. #wecanswimtoo

  2. Very inspiring 🫶