Chrysalis Effect: Metamorphosis Of Open Water Swimming

Chrysalis Effect: Metamorphosis Of Open Water Swimming

Philip Slater, the author of The Pursuit of Loneliness, a bestselling book in America published in 1970, lives by the Pacific Ocean and is admittedly addicted to the beauty and drama of the ocean.

The Santa Cruz-based transplanted Californian is a sociologist and Renaissance Man with stints as a merchant seaman, professor at Brandies University, lecturer at Harvard, actor, business consultant, cookie salesman, marriage officiant, and president of a theater.

In his book The Chrysalis Effect: The Metamorphosis of Global Culture, he writes, “Incivility and chaos arise when an old system is breaking down and a new one hasn’t yet fully taken hold.” The chrysalis, the pupal stage of butterfly on its transformation from caterpillar, is a transitional state.

Slater explains its relevance to man’s social structurs, “…[integrative culture] breaks down mental walls and boundaries and celebrates interdependence…it has a dynamic vision of the universe, a democratic ethos, and sees order as something that evolves, as it does in Nature, from spontaneous interaction...”

His thoughtful writings and observations of mankind’s actions and organizations remind us of the contemporary aquatics history, especially over the last decade. When the International Olympic Committee announced the addition of marathon swimming to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, open water swimming began a massive transition from a niche sport practiced by a few to a lifestyle embraced by many.

Open water swimmers not only possess a dynamic vision of their sport – from individual passionate niches such as ice swimming and marathon swimming to mass participation events and ocean swimming for fitness and fun – but also have developed a global democratic ethos. Open water swimming is a sport where not all sizes fit one. Whereas pool swimming has four definitive swimming styles (strokes) that are performed in specific distances with defined rules, open water swimming is, literally, all over the map. Distances vary from venue to venue as do rules and traditions. Boats range from skiffs to yachts, buoys range from small salmon eggs to large tetrahedrons. Feeding stations are never standardized and are rarely the same from race to race. Even on the FINA-governed 10 km Marathon Swimming World Cup circuit, the 4-loop courses are always of different dimensions.

If variety is the spice of life, the open water swimming offers an entire aisle of every flavor and color where different tastes are quenched around the world. And while the sport offers different distances, different venues, and different conditions for swimmers of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds, it continues to evolve to the whims and wishes of its global community.

If pool swimming competition relishes in the precision of the military uniformity; open water swimming can be likened to celestial objects spinning around and away from each other in intergalactic space where the universe is growing in size, changing in shape, and enduring constant change.

Photo of the 2013 Midmar Mile courtesy of Andrew Martens.

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming