Tag Archives: swim team

Swim Team Bleaches Their Hair


My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).


AK: Every year, the guys on the swim team would bleach their hair. I’m not really sure why, but no one ever questioned it, it was just kind of what they did. Maybe it was so they looked more unified before league finals. 


I hadn’t realized until after I came to college, but the swim team bleaching their hair at the end of the season was not unique to AK and I’s high school. In fact, it was common practice all across the country. Others I’ve spoken to about this can’t explain the reasoning either, but they all do it. While I would like to know the reason why, I think it’s kind of special for this tradition to be so widespread. This is something that anyone who swam in high school can relate to and remember and bond over. This is an excellent example of how folklore connects people who may not connect otherwise. 

Swim Team Shaving Party

Main Piece

Informant: When I was on the Dive and Swim team we would always grow out our body hair for prelims, which is the race that qualifies you for finals. So you would grow out our leg hair, arm hair, armpit hair haha. Sometimes boys did facial hair. But, if you made finals then we would have a shaving party. The finalists would have a shaving party, so you were seen as like a star if you were invited. It was an honor to go to this party, so everyone would help each other shave to get ready for finals. 

Interviewer: Where did you learn this from?

Informant: It has been going on at my high school for a very long time, probably decades before I went there. 

Interviewer: Why would your team this?

Informant: Shaving helps you swim faster, and I think it was a mini celebration that you made finals.

Interviewer: Did you ever get to go to one?

Informant: I did! At first I was a little weirded out, but when I went it was surprisingly fun. 


My informant is a good friend and housemate of mine from USC and is a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention with a minor in Health Care Studies from San Dimas, CA. She says that a lot of her mannerisms and sayings come from growing up in San Dimas which she describes as being a very small town outside of Los Angeles that feels more midwest than the West coast. She attended summer camps throughout most of her life, starting as a camper and becoming a counselor in high school. 


After willing to participate in an interview to collect folklore, the topic of sports came up with my informant and me. She disclosed that she was on the Swim and Dive Team and we began to talk about our experiences playing sports and how some of those celebrations and traditions of sports teams relate to folklore. This celebration got brought up in the interview and the informant gave me more details. 


This folklore celebration is akin to rite of passages celebrations, as it is intended to congratulate and prepare the swimmers who qualified for the final races. In another sense, it also promotes unity and cooperation within the swimming team as they are doing something that has potential benefits for their results taking into account the belief that less hair on the body allows swimmers to swim faster. 

After some research, I discovered that many swim teams have similar shaving parties, and some have been documented online. One of these parties is mentioned and written about in the  following article:

Bara, Scotty, and Sapir Frozenfar. “Shaving In Sports.” The Viking Magazine, vikingsportsmag.com/features/2011/10/10/shaving-in-sports/.

Burlington High School’s Swim Team

This story was told during between friends when talking about weird high school traditions. The informant told us of a story that intrigued me because of the small town aspect, that the legend of the swim team would be able to rise and fall in popularity due to the school’s changing population. It also shows the dynamic between siblings and how families can affect a small community.

“Um so, a tradition at my high school is that you tell the incoming freshman about the swim team, and you gotta join the swim team because there’s a pool in the high school, and everyone’s like “why would there be a pool in our high school, why would there be a pool in our high school, like buh buh bah” and then you get there and some freshman asks on orientation day and some freshman asks where’s the pool and everyone’s like haha we got you awe got you we got you! And because of older siblings the joke kinda gets ruined and I do remember like hearing like, it never worked on my class because everyone had a sibling who was a year or two years older, and so we all, and because it had been pulled on them , we knew that it couldn’t be pulled on us. but then we like, and then kinda like, because it wasn’t pulled on us it kinda died out a little bit and then we were like, a big thing we talked about since 8th grade was to get BHS swim team shirts and wear them back to the middle school and be like guys you gotta get on the swim team, there’s a pool, oops there’s rumours that there’s not a pool? well there is a pool and we’re running fifth in the state, um, but we never did it”

Swim Team Initiation

My informant is a third generation Chinese American male  student. He grew up in Irvine, California. He was on the swim team for one year on his high school. During a casual interview (with other friends around), when asked about any sort of tricks members of the swim team would play on each other, he said:

Informant: Like with the thing where you reach out for someone’s dick and if they flinch…then you put out your hands and uh…give them a titty scoop, which is basically you, you flick their man boobs [lots of laughter]. No really, if someone flinches, when you’re gonna hit them in the balls, it shows that uh…inhibitions…I don’t know what’s a good word…their…their doubtful of their manliness, they think they don’t have balls of steel that could withstand like a simple hand tap. So you have to, uh, flick their male breast to remind them that their not as manly as they might think they are.

Interviewer (me): Is it like an initiation ritual? Do you do it to newcomers or what?

Informant: Well, the more experienced people kinda know the routine, so they don’t flinch. No one actually hits another speedo-ed man’s balls [lots of laughter]. I guess everyone has to accept that no one is going to touch another in the balls so if you flinch it’s kinda saying you don’t trust your teammates.

Interviewer: So uh, what do you think is the importance of this…uh…

Informant: It builds trust among teammates, ’cause you know, if you’re all giddy and you flinch all the time everyone is going to always flick you in the tits [laughter], you’re going to have to learn to accept your teammates or you know, your tits are going to be like jiggling all over the place and you’ll be known for not having balls of steel.

Interviewer: Ok, uh, did you have this done to yourself, or?

Informant: No, I’m a man, I have balls of steel.

Interviewer: So uh, nobody ever touched you [laughter] in the balls?

Informant: No, uh, they tried to do it, but I wouldn’t flinch…I learned fast.

While the informant makes this sound like a folk game (prank) that tests one’s masculinity, I would consider this item occupational folklore because it is an initiation or team bonding ritual for a swim team. While the game itself tests what my informant calls “manliness”, throughout the interview, my informant made it sound as if this prank was something the experienced members of the swim team pulled on new members. As suggested by my informant, new members would most likely flinch when the experienced members reached to hit them in the testicles and therefore would have to undergo the “titty scoop” punishment. But, experienced members (such as my informant) knowing the game, would stop themselves from flinching and therefore escape the “titty scoop” punishment. Thus, this prank becomes a initiation ritual where new members gradually learn what it is to be an experienced member of the swim team. In another way, it is also a trust building exercise, as my informant points out, where new members learn to trust that their teammates won’t hit them in the testicles.

However, interestingly, as my informant shows, the swim team has an emphasis on masculinity and what it means to be “manly”. This implies that the male gender identity continues to hold significance in terms of power and strength for the swim team and perhaps, because of this, the swim team thinks that to be successful (a powerful and strong swimmer), one must be masculine.