Creating Beauty (getting speed in return)
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on October 19th, 2012

I spent the first week of October at a TI Open Water Camp in Turkey. On our last full day, we did an ‘adventure’ swim. A group of nearly 30 swimmers and coaches left our base at Ugur Pansiyon, near Cirali, and swam north, around a nearby headland, to a remote bay, usually accessible only to intrepid hikers. I wondered if we might have been the first group to ever visit the bay that way. We swam in three groups, organized by speed, escorted by kayaks carrying snacks and water.

I swam with the fastest group-several campers and two coaches, our ages ranging from 40+ to 60+. We followed the least direct route, not only to coordinate our arrival with slower-swimming groups, but to explore the rugged shoreline. We swam over submerged boulders and crevasses, beneath looming cliffs and, once, between the rock wall and a rock pillar. At times there was barely room–vertically and/or horizontally–to squeeze through in single file. With our leisurely pace and meandering route, it took about an hour and 40 minutes to reach our destination, where we shared our good fortune in being able to explore ‘Planet Water’ in ways that only a vanishingly small number of our species are able.

But the best part was yet to come. After hydrating and snacking (we had kayak support) we returned by the most direct route and at a brisk pace, taking just 50 minutes to get home. What I love most about open water swimming—even more than exploring hard-to-reach places—is a form of collaboration or teamwork not possible in the pool. On our return, we swam for nearly two miles in a tight formation–five abreast. I was in the middle with two swimmers to each side. The entire time we were separated by inches, regularly brushing arms, hips or shoulders, yet never distracted or impeded by contact. For long stretches we also swam in near-perfect synchrony—five hands entering the water at the same moment . . . that looked like this:


(Video shot and edited by Johnny Widen)

But the best part was the sheer beauty I observed each time I took a breath. Whether I looked left or right I never saw a single droplet of splash and each arm was poised identically—gracefully–for a deft, clean entry.  And though we were swimming into a stiff breeze, which pushed waves against us, below the surface I glimpsed four identical, sleek-and-stable bodylines, and not a single bubble–looking more like aquatic creatures than human swimmers. As I told my partners after we finished, staying in formation and synch that way for 50 minutes made it the best swim I’d ever been a part of.

Reflecting on this later that day, I recalled the first day of my coaching career, just over 40 years earlier. Within the first 10 minutes—standing on deck surveying 15 swimmers, rather than with my face immersed as it had been the previous seven years—I noticed that every swimmer In the pool appeared asymmetrical. Those who breathed to the right (bilateral breathing was still rare in 1972) twisted their bodies toward that side and those who breathed left torqued that way.

The next day I instructed the team to breathe on the ‘wrong’ side and all were symmetrical. While I can say with complete confidence that symmetry enhances speed, I found it more enjoyable to watch swimming—something I would spend tens of thousands of hours doing in ensuing decades–when the movements were more esthetically pleasing.  And seeing how quickly I could improve the esthetics of my swimmers encouraged me to perform more such experiments and led to an extraordinary team performance at season’s end.

Forty years later, TI Coaches now have a detailed understanding of human biomechanics and fluid dynamics and can precisely describe the mechanical advantages of a balanced bodyline, fluent strokes, seamless breathing and well-tuned kick. Yet our strongest motivation remains that which I discovered on my first day as a coach—that creating beauty in a swimmer is even more satisfying than producing speed. We know, for instance, that a Geometric Recovery and Mail Slot entry improve lateral stability, channel more power from the weight shift into propulsion, and maximize natural leverage in the armstroke.  Yet the most satisfying aspect of teaching them is the far deeper pleasure of creating beauty.

If there’s one thing more satisfying than creating beauty in other swimmers, it’s doing It with others.  While swimming in the middle of the group, I also strove to reflect back the graceful lines I saw to either side and am certain the others did too. And that all of us likely thought about how we looked to observers on shore as we left the beach starting our swim or approached it at the finish.

L to R: Lennart, Johnny, Jai, Tomas Terry, following our synch-swim.

In swimming beauty consistently leads to speed. Two of us have won open water national championships in middle age–Lennart in Sweden and me in the U.S. Yet, while both of us talk frequently about how much we enjoy swimming in synchronized grace with fellow swimmers, I can’t recall any mention of how it feels to beat others across a finish line.

You can participate in beautiful group swimming in beautiful settings at the TI Open Water Experience Camps at Maho Bay Campground  January 6-12, January 13-19 or January 20-26, 2013.

13 Responses to “Creating Beauty (getting speed in return)”

  1. Steve says:

    That conclusion says it all – winning may very well be a byproduct of swimming beautifully, but it’s not the reason we do it….

  2. Alex Schenkman says:

    Hi Terry,

    Is Lennart living in Sweden?
    How can I get in touch with him?

    I live in Stockholm and I’d like to learn TI.
    Thanks in advance!

  3. Bill Brennan says:

    Terry, thanks for shariAg. appreciate what you have done to help my body and mind through blissful swimming.

  4. Ralph Gohring says:

    I’m an older adult. Enjoyed reading and watching the video. Have used your 10 lessson DVD to learn how to swim from being a clutzy swimmer at best. Im on lesson 8. Never learned to breath while stroking; now it is natural and easy. Am working on Turn the TI Way now. Wished there was a IT workshop in Austin, Texas.

    Also, have used fins to aid with propulsion on the short practice exercises and need to wean away from that. Would like to hear your thoughts on how to do that.

    Liked: …creating beauty in a swimmer is even more satisfying than producing speed.

  5. George Doty says:

    Great article, Terry. Reading about that wonderful swim makes me feel as though I were there too. Having studied your self coached videos and practicing TI for about three years now, I was lucky enough to be swimming off Waikiki on a family vacation this August. Imagine how pleased I was to be complimented on my stroke by a lifeguard on a personal watercraft! He was out setting up buoys for the days events. On my return to the beach I was delighted to discover the Duke Kahanamoku one mile ocean swim was about to commence with about 450 swimmers on the beach. I got my number and joined in the fun. Right away I remembered your comments about swimming in close proximity with others. We were really squished together. I found out soon enough that not all the swimmers share your love of swimming close. The first couple of guys were content to stroke side by side and I was thinking how great it was. Then I drew alongside a swimmer on my left and he let me know I wasn’t welcome with a strong elbow and a frog kick that opened up some mountain bike scabs on my leg. Ouch. Lucky I could get past him but I tried to keep a little distance after that. On the home sprint I found myself matched with another swimmer stroke for stroke, and here we swam very close, side by side right to the beach. I have to admit it was a little tough getting my legs under me at the shore, but I did manage to get up to the timing mat. What a great race and the pleasure of swimming in close proximity with others was the thrill. Didn’t make the podium though, some guys from Australia and Hawaii beat me out in the 60-70 division. If I can put the money together, I’m signing up for Maho Bay for sure!

  6. robert kadar says:

    A beautiful post Terry and lovely video – I would have liked to see more! And a special thanks for chatting with me and giving me a few pointers when we met at Lake Minnewaska at the end of the swim season there. I was thinking about you when I was swimming, wondering if I would ever meet you and then… whoa! There you were! Thanks again! Robert

  7. Ben Lawrence says:

    Terry, What a terrific story! Your approach to swimming is something you’ve inspired me to carry over to nearly every other area in my life. It’s liberating to stop focusing on competition and replace that with a commitment to becoming the best I can be. Not in “standings” but rather in grace and excellent technique. The speed, the rankings, and the recognition don’t go away, it’s just that the journey to reach them is far more pleasurable. Thanks for sharing and welcome back from Turkey 🙂 -Ben Lawrence

  8. […] So to choose the winner of this video contest we ultimately decided to go with an objective measure — popularity on youtube. On that basis, Johnny’s entry came out on top.  But in addition, I was also tremendously impressed by the careful crafting of Johnny’s video, his inclusion of many graphic enhancements, and the overall professionalism of his production. (I should note though that making video is a hobby, not a vocation for Johnny, albeit one he does with keen interest and enjoyment.)  You can see another example of Johnny’s work in last week’s most popular blog Creating Beauty (getting speed in return). […]

  9. […] Johnny in Sweden and I in the U.S. (A third member of the 5- person synch-swim illustrated in the Creating Beauty blog, Lennart Larsson, has also been a Swedish National Open Water […]

  10. […] post from a year ago, Creating Beauty—Getting Speed in Return describes such an experience during a 3k swim at a TI OW Camp in Ciralu Turkey. It includes this […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.