USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘swimming’
Folk Beliefs

Don’t Swim After Eating

The belief:

“If go swimming after you eat, you’ll drown.”


The informant doesn’t remember where he heard this rumor, but he thinks it was probably from a friend’s mother during his childhood. He doesn’t think it’s true now, though. In my opinion, I think this is a popular statement told to children by their parents so that they let their food digest before they get back in the water to swim. Another popular belief is that you’ll get cramps if you swim right after eating, so maybe the parents who say this more extreme belief are just trying to protect their children from painful cramps.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

New Year’s Eve Polar Plunge

In the following, my informant told me about a tradition his family has of swimming in ice cold water on New’s Year’s Eve:

Informant: Starting from 2000 this group of old men and women from my close group of friends and families observe a tradition of, uh, cutting  a hole in the ice during the winter on news years day and swimming

Me: Really, where do you live?

Informant: I live in Michigan, so, uh…

Me: And that’s fun?

Informant: yeah every New Years, like, Eve like the evening before, we cut a giant like strip of ice out from, like, cause their dock is like an elephant, so we cut the strip off from there and, and everybody, and the tradition is to start on this uh, its like a deer skin like pelt, and one of the, one of my buddy’s relatives is is like, hes got a lot of Native American in him, which, I dont know what it has to do with anything really, but they start on, everybody starts on this deer pelt, and they jump into the ice water.

Me: How do you cut the ice?

Informant: Chainsaw, depending on how thick it is. Sometime it hasn’t gotten that frozen over yet 

Me: How long do you stay in for?

Informant: I mean, everybody does it differently, like, the kids will just like hop in and get out, some of the other guys will, like, stay in for a while… its its actually pretty dangerous… then you just get out, dry off, and wait for the rest of the people to go through, although when you get out you’re actually warmer; you feel warm because the air feels so much warmer than the water, and your body has this sensation of like, feeling almost numb.

My informant suggested this tradition arose from the Native American heritage of one of his family members. Although he said he was unaware of the specific traditions which led to its practiced, it is now something his family and friends have observed for the past thirteen years, and at least for them it has grown to represent the bonding of family and friendship before the start of the new year.

Folk Beliefs

The Ghost of the Lyon Center

The following is my informant’s own experience with a ghost story. Prior to telling me this story, my informant told me several stories which had apparently happened over the last few years, which tell of a specific swimmer seeing a figure on the bleachers watching him swim. Apparently this swimmer then approached my informant with the same complaint, and the following is what happened.

They [the lifeguards] radioed for us and said that again, there was a guy [the swimmer] out there who said he saw someone on the bleachers, and wanted us to go check it out. So we go out there, check the bleachers, no one there, and I make sure that I scope to make sure that it’s clear: there wasn’t a person there. Again I take a look outside up towards the pool and I kind of see him [the swimmer] acknowledge that I’m looking, and at that point I left, came back up here, and eventually, as he’s leaving, he comes up to us and says: “Oh did you catch him this time?” So I, of course, told him I was the one out there, I didn’t see anyone, and he’s like “no he was definitely out there” so I got to thinking: did he think that I was the one watching him? As when I was there watching for the person who he thought was watching him? But he was like “no I saw you too, he was definitely out there.”

The following is an example of an experience based of the stories of others, which have become folklore. My informant had heard about the existence of this swimmer and his apparent visions of a stalker on the bleachers. When he was then approached by this swimmer, apparently about the same circumstances, he acted based on what he had heard about him, and thus continued the myth of the mysterious Lyon center ghost.


“If you go swimming right after you eat, you will turn into an ugly mermaid.”

Name: Veronica Cohen
Nationality: Puerto Rican
Primary Language: English; Other Language: Spanish
Age: 31
Occupation: Housewife
Residence: West Los Angeles

“If you go swimming right after you eat, you will turn into an ugly mermaid.”
Veronica told me that this is something her mother said all the time when she was a child. She said that when she was younger, she loved swimming and would try to do it whenever she could. In order to prevent her from going into the water so soon after she ate, Veronica’s mother would tell her that she would turn into an ugly mermaid if she didn’t wait 30 minutes before jumping into the pool. For the longest time, Veronica made sure to wait after eating, since she didn’t want to become an ugly mermaid.
This can be seen as a sort of remedy because Veronica’s mother had to think of a way to prevent her daughter from getting indigestion in a fun and imaginative way. Children have a hard time remembering rules, especially rules that keep them from doing what they want. Since children are not going to realize that mermaids don’t exist, they are likely to believe that they will turn into ugly creatures when they don’’t listen to their parents.

Folk Beliefs

How the Irish keep from drowning

My informant told me of an old Irish superstition that he learned from his father:

“If you bless yourself before diving into the water, it keeps you from drowning”

My informant swims often, and he said that he always blesses himself before going into the water. He does not remember a time when he didn’t, and believes that he would surely drown if he did not.

I have seen my Irish relatives make similar gestures before doing things like: crossing the street, getting on an airplane, or even carving the Thanksgiving turkey, so it did not surprise me that crossing or “blessing” yourself before diving into water was also practiced. It again highlights the strong connection between the Irish and religion, and the fear that comes along with it. In this case, the fear is drowning.


Folk speech

Swimming Language – California

Folklore: Swimming “language”

One thing you ‘just know’ from swimming is the swimming ‘language’. Such as my friends would say to me “today we did 5 2’s and ten 1’s. Then we did 50’s on the 45. It was easy.”


Well, the numbers represent certain things like time and distance and difficulty. We have been doing it forever. This ‘swimming language’ has always been around and most swimmers know it. We use this language in and out of the pool, usually just when talking about swimming, or when comparing something to swimming. We do it because it is like a shorter way of saying things, like how the Hawaiians and beach bums talk in Pigeon. Also, we use it because we can tell who is a swimmer and who is not. Only swimmers understand what we are saying.

My Analysis:

These numbers are similar to Jen’s example of swimming lingo, except with a little variation. Amanda explains how frequently this language occurs and how indecipherable it is to non-swimmers. It becomes a natural form of conversation among athletes, and a measure of strength or easiness of the swim.  It can also be used as a measure of comparison to gauge the physical adequacy of a swimmer.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

Swimming Culture – California

Folklore: Swimming culture

What people just know:

-if you’re on the wall, you don’t push off right before someone is coming or is going to turn

-floating on the wall in the middle of a set means you’re “weak sauce”

-people usually don’t REALLY have cramps.

-being the lane leader means you can’t slack off.  If someone’s in front of you, you can’t just catch up and ride the drift …people in the front hate this

-if you’re slacking…its obvious. Cheaters piss people off cause everyone else is dying as they suck it up.

-the words “for time” or “test set”= instant dread

-the right most lanes are the “fast lanes.”

My Analysis:

The most interesting point that Jen made about what only swimmers know is the joke of “cramps,” usually used as a lame excuse for people to skip practice.  It becomes a phrase that everyone knows to be false, yet people have accepted it and are continuing to use it to ditch. When someone says they have cramps (menstrual cramps or stomach aches), they are usually mocked by other swimmers.

People who use excuses to be lazy are really frowned upon in swimming because the sport is so physically grueling: waking up at dawn, cold water, exercising all muscles in the water.  People who do not know or understand the unwritten rules of floating on the wall or being the lane leader are shunned and cause a lot of annoyance.  Everyone is expected to hold up their part and carry the same work load.

What people just do:

-changing in front of people is no big deal.  Panties and bras a basically the same as a suit, and for many, being naked is not much less. Even around non-swimmers, swimmers typically don’t really care about showing skin

-morning practice. if you don’t wake up early…you’re not that hard core.

-parkas, ugs, pjs, and sweats = standard swimming gear

-swimmers don’t know what to do in a pool with pool toys and no lane lines.

My Analysis:

The actions of many swimmers carry the same sense of commitment and also a sense of shamelessness. Being naked in front of each other is not humiliating because changing from street clothes to swimsuits is done so often. This is a unique social aspect because many Americans value their privacy, both personal information and their bodies. For instance, some families in older Japanese customs would bathe together. In America, anything suggesting inappropriate nakedness is shunned upon.

Folk speech

Folk Speech

Folklore: Swimming Language

-Will you cap me?

Explanation: “Will you help me put my swim cap on?”

-Do 10 2’s, descend each one by 50s.

Explanation: “Swim 200 yards, getting faster every 50 years. Repeat 10 times.”

-We’re tapering this week.

Explanation: (It means taking it easy to rest up for a big meet)

-Ones ready go!  Two’s on the bottom.

Explanation: “Lane leaders off the wall, second swimmers leave when the clock says 30 seconds.”

-Leaving on the top.

Explanation: “Start the set when the second hand reaches 60 seconds.”

My Analysis:

Because the pace of swimming is pretty rigorous with very early morning hours, strenuous workouts and frequent meets, time tends to go by fast. Swimmers are clocked by the hundredths of a second, so abbreviations of language are just an extension of that quick mentality.  Jen also mentioned that because only swimmers intimately know this language after years of practice, experienced athletes will instantly know who is not really an established swimmer.

The language is a pretty essential part of the swimming culture because everyone speaks this way all the time. It’s interesting to note how numbers become the center point of the sport, not as a measure of points but a measure of speed. So most of the words spoken at meets or practices are spoken in terms of numbers.  This contrasts greatly with other sports like soccer or basketball, where other terminology such as passing, goalie, slam dunk are the main words.