All I want for Christmas...the swimmer's edition

(Clockwise from top left: Lisa Congdon's The Joy of SwimmingLisa Golightly's swimmer, Team Mermaid's caps and Minnow Bather's Guinevere Maillot in Lilies in Twilight suits). Photos from makers' IG accounts

All I want for Christmas is a good solid swim. Maybe an hour or so in a quiet pool. Santa? Can you hear me? I've been pretty good this year, minus the few tantrums I threw when the pool was unexpectedly closed (ahem).

In case you have a swimmer on your Christmas list, my fellow swimmers, Rhya and Laura, and I have some swimmerly suggestions (please note: none of these are affiliate links nor have been sponsored in any way)!

* Swimming books: I'd recommend Gillian Best's The Last Wave (god, I loved it!) and Turning by Jessica J. Lee (I reviewed it here!), Lisa Congdon's The Joy of Swimming, or if you're in the UK, Watermarks: Writing by Lido Lovers and Wild Swimmers (full disclosure, I have a piece in this amazing watery collection!)

* A fancy suit, perhaps one from the Canadian-made Minnow Bathers - lordy they're beautiful suits.

* New goggles (because Kerry Clare reminded me this week non-mouldy, fresh swimmin' specs are a glorious thing indeed!)

* A new bathing cap: perhaps a long-hair swim cap for the large ponytailed swimmer in your life, or a Team Mermaids cupcake-covered cap

* A Turkish towel: These are beautiful!

Wireless swim headphones: This is Rhya's ultimate dream

* Cute flip flops

* A swim bag

* A flutter board or a pull buoy

* Zippered pouches

* Mini shampoos and conditioner, maybe even some moisturizer to help combat the post-chlorine itch

Swim art (and I'd add Lisa Golightly's work to the mix! My sis gave me this print last year and it continues to blow my mind with its beauty and this gem is hanging in my daughter's room).

* This one's a big extravagant, but pret-ty next level for a swimmer in your life: The best gift I've ever received was a weekend in a hotel (that had a pool, obvs). I starfish-slept in the enormous king-sized bed and swam at least twice a day, and ordered room service, and it is still one of the next three days I've ever spent.

* And maybe the best gift of all: The gift of water therapy for a patient at Sick Kids' Hospital

P.S.: The UK Team Mermaid crew has a great swimmer's gift list here, too!
  • Lindsay
  • Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Swim art: Bringing the swimspiration indoors


Photo and clay sculptures by Isabelle Di Sclafani

If I can't swim outside these days, I've decided the next best things is bringing swimming inside and what better way than with swimming art...

I am in LOVE with Isabella Di Sclafani's swimmer sculptures (above). Aren't they incredible? And she'll be in Montreal at souk @ sat (Nov 28-Dec. 3) and in Toronto at City of Craft (Dec. 8-10).

h2o life jacket ink on kitakata, stitching, polyfil, 22x15x4”, 2014, photo Jeffrey M Bruce

And then there's Kristen Martincic from Columbia, Missouri. Holy GOD, I love absolutely everything she does. Look at these suits. And these caps. And this pool series. And this leisure pool series. And this water series. And these inflatables. I want to live inside her art. All of it.

And Kate Pugsley, a Chicago-based illustrator, who has such joyful swimmers, like the ones above, and like these ones! And there are even some amazing swim-wearables like these dresses!

From Swimming Pools series by Maria Svarbova

And Maria Svarbova's incredible swimming pool photographs. Each of them pictures a different pool, usually built in the Socialist Era, in various locations in Slovakia. How stunning are they? (And she even has a Swimming Pools book out now!)

There's more swimming art here and here!
  • Lindsay
  • Friday, November 24, 2017

Finding the swim-joy again


I have re-found the joy in swimming. I didn't even realize I had lost it until I found it again, but here I am, swimming with a ridiculous amount of joy – like summer levels of swim-joy. I have caught myself fully smiling mid-swim. It is glorious.

There was definitely heaps of swimming joy this summer. So many outdoor dips, but after the outdoor pools closed for the season, things started to go down hill. The pool near my home is only open for length swim for an hour on Saturdays and Sundays, so getting to the pool with a still-schedule-less baby and a toddler who finished swimming lessons at a different pool just minutes before length swim started was proving to be impossible. Combine the stress of just getting to the pool (while leaving often crying children to have lunch and be put down for naps), with lukewarm showers, often-sleeping-in-the-guard-chair lifeguards (and supervisors that didn't give a shit), and sexual harassment that was poorly dealt with by the City (and it took MONTHS afterward of me insisting on action), swimming was something I did, but there wasn't a lot of joy. It was a box to be checked off so that I could make it through the week.

But after one too many missed swims, and being stick in a months-long teething purgatory (both kids teething AT THE SAME TIME, WTF?!) and constantly feeling anxious that the man who had sexually harassed me would be there, I broke down.

I needed to swim, for my mental health even more than my physical health. And then I saw an Instagram post from a triathlete pal of a gorgeous, empty pool. WHERE IS THAT AND HOW CAN I SWIM THERE? I wrote to her. It was at a gym that opened up nearby and the pool was almost always empty, she told me.

And so, I went by later that day to see it for myself. A trainer took me on a tour of the gym, or tried to. He wanted to show me muscle-building machines and the cardio room and the basketball court and I was all, "Don't care. Never gonna use them. Where's the pool?" There there it was, a turquoise beacon of beauty. (That by some miracle is even cheaper than swimming at my former pool - !)

I've been swimming non-stop since. A few weeks ago my fella was sick and stuck working at home and though I would never wish him to be sick, it meant there was a warm body in the house during the baby's naps. That week I swam FIVE TIMES.

I know it sounds like hyperbole, but it's actually been life-changing – to be able to swim whenever I can AND feel safe. I am a better writer and a better mother and a better person to be around. I am so much happier. I do miss my fast lane friends, but having a lane, and sometimes even pool to myself is such luxury.

  • Lindsay
  • Monday, November 13, 2017

Team Mermaids: The Toronto contingent

I have been swimming. Not nearly as often as I’d like -- the 12-12:55pm windows are so hard to squeeze in with a baby and childcare, etc, but weekends are for swimming and on weekends, I swim.

The trouble with only having two days to swim means it’s hard to justify skipping a swim, even if getting into the water is the very last thing I want to do. (Sleep, I’d always rather sleep!)

But there are two things I hold onto to get me over that I’d-rather-be-sleeping hump -- one is the potential that my fast lane pal will be there and she is just so wonderful, and the other is that I get to wear my purple Team Mermaids cap I got from swimming internet pals, Katie and Manda.

Twitter and Instagram have connected me to some amazing swimmers, many in the UK (it's how I learned the word lido!!) and these women are no exception. Check out their London pool map and their open water swim map around London, and their swim cake study! It's enough to make me want to throw my suit in a bag and book a flight asap!

And thanks to a package in the post, Laura, Rhya and I get to be the Torontonian contingent of Team Mermaids! Purple caps abound!

  • Lindsay
  • Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Thanksgiving swim

It's Thanksgiving here in Canada, which usually means turkey and stuffing (my favourite) and mashed potatoes. But it's hot and sunny and we're having Thanksgiving brunch (aka croissants instead of turkey) this year instead.

As I was swimming today, I was reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for—my wonderful little family; my body that brought my daughter into the world earlier this year; Toronto's pools, the coffee I drank this morning with my love in a post-hike parking lot; the words I get to write; the sleep that sometimes happens, and sometimes doesn't; my dear, dear friends, old and new, who fill my heart and my days with such kindness and grace and hilarity (and chips); watching my kid and his cousin yell "I love you/I love you too" as they said goodbye tonight under a pink-orange sky; the brilliant swimmers I've met through this blog; and my brilliant, radiant, inspiring swimming ladies, who keep me grounded and remind me to breathe and swim and make things. My swimming pals who understand the healing power of water. We are joined by this love of lakes and pools and ponds and rivers. It buoys my heart daily.

To swimming friends and all of our adventures ahead...
  • Lindsay
  • Sunday, October 8, 2017

Grown-up Swimming Badges: Part Three

Summer has returned, at least in weather form, though the outdoor pools are depressingly empty. Those pale blue painted bottoms, water-less, fill me with a deep sadness. I wish I was exaggerating, but I am not. 

But before fall takes hold and the heat and the humidity disappear, it's time to commemorate the Summer 2017. Here are this year's grown-up swimming badges:

Rhya got one for her summer of incredibly cold swims. Seriously, there were no temperatures too low to keep this one from swimming this summer. (Maybe it was this dip that inspired her non-stop chilly swimming?!)

Laura got the Most Incredible Bathing Costume Badge for her 70s-tastic Charlie's Angels wetsuit that started off the summer swimming season.

Patrice got her Newfoundland Swimming Holes badge for some epic east coast dips (including one at La Manche, one of my very favourite Newfoundland dips!)

And I got a badge to commemorate The Fouling - the cocktail invented to commemorate the most depressing, and in retrospect hilarious swimming day I had all summer...

Farewell Summer 2017! You were fickle and chilly, but still carried memorable dips...

Past badges:
  • Lindsay
  • Monday, September 18, 2017

Summer 2017: The swimming highlight reel

It's been a strange summer for swimming – so many thunderstorms, and chilly days (not a single Extreme Heat Alert to keep the pools open till midnight this year!). There were foulings (the only good part of that was the delicious cocktail created to commemorate it!), thunderstorm-thwarted swims, and small windows between feeding my baby. The (only?) good part about the frigid fall temperatures was that I often got a full lane to myself for much of August.

I did succeed in writing about swimming every single day (!) the outdoor pools were open this summer, which made even the swim-less days manageable, and I swam a lot this last month – gracious friends and family watching my baby while I got a swim in. I even read on the deck twice –  not usually a rare occurrence in the summers but with small windows (babies!) and frigid temperatures (brrrr!).

I watched four Harvards dive and split off and re-find each other during my penultimate swim at Sunnyside, and thought a lot about my Papa Doug who used to fly Harvards and my very last swim of the season was pretty anticlimactic, a cold, fast swim under a grey sky. Definitely a whisper, not a bang.

But amidst the chilly, utilitarian swims, there were some stand out gems this summer:

1). After a long swimming drought, I got this text from my brother-in-law:

And so, he wore my 4.5-month-old baby and pushed his 4.5-month-old baby in a stroller up and down the boardwalk and my sister and I got to swim together. We had the fast lane to ourselves and the sun shone and it was glorious. Truly one of the best swims of the summer.

2). A Sunnyside swim where, mid-swim, a Great Blue heron flew over the pool, its neck folded over itself, its wings enormous, reaching. It was spectacular.

3). Another Sunnyside dip close to the end of August in which the air above the pool was filled with the darting, meandering flights of monarch butterflies. I lost track after I hit 30!

4). The deep end dip and interlock brick deck hang I wrote about here. I'm still thinking about that 1980s oasis of a pool and can't wait to make it back next summer for the 50m length swim.

5). My happy hour swim up at a cottage.

Even with the chilly swims and the numb fingers, I already miss swimming outside. My indoor bag is packed – farewell, sunscreen, sunglasses and bikini. I already can't wait for next summer...
  • Lindsay
  • Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Waterside Sketching

All summer long I’ve been traveling from one watering hole to another, with my daughter by my side and a sketchbook in tow, repeating what I am calling 'A Waterside Sketchfest' at every swimming hole we hit!

  • Swim, sketch, swim - repeat!

This has been a winning routine for me and my girl, and I have to say for the reluctant swimmer, which my daughter is, sketching is a great in between "dip" activity, (I use the term "dip" loosely, as with my little bean, it's more a "flash of water" and then out!) And best of all, me and my kid, and whoever joins us waterside, get to collaborate creatively!

So here are the keys to hosting your own successful Waterside Sketchfest:

1. Ziplock bag of markers, pens, pencils… or anything that makes a mark on a page. Next year, I’m hoping to be brave enough to bring some watercolours… then I’ll be able to write a "Waterside Watercolours" post! Fun Fact: Crayola markers run like watercolours when they get wet! Super cool effect.
2. A sketch book that is not so precious… because it’s going to get wet! You are waterside… it's kind of a guarantee that your pages will end up waterlogged and soggy. But water splotches can add some unpredictable beauty to your work!
3. Snacks –totally unrelated– but totally awesome!
4. Comfy towels to sketch on!
5. Oh and a beach umbrella if in full sun... and lots of suncreen!

*Small side note, might I also recommend some waterside stitching... and even though your sunscreened fingers may fumble and slip with the hand sewing needles, and you will probably get sand under your applique... it's totally worth it!

We’ve also been lucky to be have some pretty awesome guest stars on our swimming/sketching adventures, I’m talking about you Auntie Jo, Lo, and Meena-Mo!

Here are a few of the fun poolside/bayside collaborations we've had over this summer, and the bodies of water that inspired them:

The Alex Duff Eclipse Art!
Joined by our good friend Jo, we hit up the Alex Duff outdoor pool in Christie Pitts and sat on our beach towels sketching water spirits, and eclipse inspired characters! Then we bobbed about in the kiddie pool, one of four pools at this SUPER kid friendly outdoor oasis here in Toronto. I seriously love this pool!
Also... saddest pedicure ever... this is what happens when you paint your nails, two seconds before heading to the pool on your bike. DOH!

The Giovanni Caboto Poolside Summer Memory Map

Just last weekend Nomi and I dared to dip during another cold snap, something that we've been getting very used to this summer. We hit up our local outdoor pool, the Givovanni Caboto, which I've definitely mentioned once or twice on this blog. The water was so warm, but MAN it was cold when you got out.

Bundled up in our towels we put our heads together and sketched out this scene, a "mapshot of our summer", including the adorable wading pool up the street from us that we've never been able to get to when it's open and full, but have spent many a night running around in its empty state under a setting sun.

Nomi also snacked on KD... pretty sure that is a certified swim snack, but I'll need a few other of my swimmers to weigh in on that.

Wasaga Beach In Blue

For this Sketchfest, we were joined by fellow swimmer Lady Lo. We took off on a rare hot and sunny Sunday this August, for a road trip to one of my favourite Ontario beaches, Wasaga (you can read Laura's amazing recap of our day here!) Nomi and I collaborated on a large beach scene which essentially just turned into a page of blue crayola marker... but it felt on point...

...because when you are at Wasaga looking out at that beast of water, all you see is blue! Lo, also did one of her patented stone doilies.

And I have to feature the snacks from this trip... because they were off the hook!

Stitching at Shebeshekong Bay

This picture says it all. Traveling sewing studio for the win! This is one of my many returns to Shebeshekong Bay this summer, visiting my dear friend's cottage. And that classic Aperol Spritzer would be my Docktail selection for this summer, if we hadn't already crowned it one of the official Docktails of 2015.

Finally, I leave without mentioning the Shebeshekong tannin rich water, which is out of sight: "Like swimming in silk!"

Meaford's Loose Threads
I'll be following this post up with one fully dedicated to the beautiful beaches we found in Meaford  in early August. Absolutely stunning water scenes!

But here is a small sneak peek at where I sat and sewed beachside until someone had to drag me away! I was so inspired that weekend, and below is my attempt to stitch my state of water full-mind.

In conclusion, bring a sketchbook along for the swim, or really whatever creative project you have on the go, or that you can risk getting wet. Who knows what will come out of your waterside musings? I suggest getting out there and finding out!

  • Rhya
  • Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Summer's last gasp: Smythe Park Pool

There is only one week of outdoor pool swimming left in Toronto (gasp! sob!) but I have found a brilliant gem of a pool in which to spend the next seven days: Smythe Park Pool.

My winter fast lane pal tipped me off about this quiet, west end 50m pool, but it took me until now to check it out. Pro-tip: Don't listen to Google maps, you have to enter in off of Scarlett Rd, then take the winding road in. It'll feel like you're in the middle of nowhere, but it's coming, I promise.

And just like that, it appears in all of its chlorinated glory. It is 50m of perfect turquoise chaos, the shallow end packed with frozen tag and cannon balls, the deep end nearly empty, a tinny radio set out near the staff room blasting "Karma Chameleon." I felt like I had time-warped back to the mid-80s, where I idolized my swim teachers and learned to stride jump in the deep end.  The sun presses hot against the HUGE, expansive interlock brick deck (perhaps the most generous deck I've seen in any City of Toronto pool!)

There's a length swim from 7-7:55 every evening – 50 whole metres of swimming before turning around – but a baby + a toddler + bedtime make that impossible this year. (NEXT SUMMER!!)

And, if that wasn't enough, next to the 50m pool is a shallow kiddie pool, and beside all of it, is a playground AND a splash pad.

Note: there aren't any lockers, and you have to leave your bag outside the deck. There did seem to be a staffed coat check-esque area, but no one was working there when I was swimming...

Hours and exact location here!

P.S.: Shawn Micallef's brilliant ode to summer swimming in Toronto. Get thee to the water!!

  • Lindsay
  • Monday, August 28, 2017

A happy hour swim

I swam after dinner in a corridor of sunlight.

The lake was black, but not forboding, and the loons had disappeared – two paddled beyond the point and the other flew to join them, its solid bones making it impossible to get airborne until the thwack of feathers on water stopped and suddenly it was possible, so I didn't have to worry about them diving under me (yes, that is my lake swimming fear!)

The top layer of the water was bright with sun, my arms gold-green. One-two-three-breath, with a view of the trees on the far side of the lake. I swam for five, six, seven cottages, counting the docks and the tethered boats.

When I turned around, the sun was what traffic reporters warn highway commuters about this time of year – the sun low and directly in my eyes, a blinding light.

I swam without knowing where I was swimming, and kept on until the dock appeared, with the docktails and the happy hour (the happiest hour, really).

It took me forever to warm up afterwards and I wore all the clothes I packed...but it was the most glorious lake swim of the summer.

  • Lindsay
  • Monday, August 28, 2017

Wasaga Beach: Learning the Pro Tips

I had never been to Wasaga Beach, even though it's a short road trip from Toronto. Its reputation as the Daytona Beach of the North kind of kept me away.

But winter is coming. And I needed a swim.

And luckily, so did my co-swimmer Rhya, who having grown up in Grey County, is a Wasaga Pro. We packed up my little car on Sunday morning with snacks and beach blankets and her kiddo, Nomi, and away we went.

I am now in *official* possession of the Pro-Tips, and she said it was okay if I shared them with you too. So here you go.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

#1: The Drive

Don't take the 400. Just don't. It always sucks, it's never as fast as you want it to be and there's a reaaaaaaalllllly pretty side-road drive that takes you through Ontario's stunning Greenbelt -- from Mono Hills up to Stayner. GORG.EOUS.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

#2. The Strip. AKA “Beach 1”

Rhya said I should see it, since I'd never been. She said it in that “this-is-going-to-be-a-test-of-your-basic-human-abilities” kind of way that made me feel like I was about to cliff-dive into one of the Dangerous Wonders of the World and we'd see if I made it out alive or not.

We lasted 20 minutes.

The word that comes to mind when I think of that stretch of Wasaga Beach is CHAOS.

It was wall-to-wall people and EVERY SINGLE PERSON had their own umbrella, inflatable unicorn floatie, picnic cooler, lawn chair, frisbee, portable barbecue, musical device, beach towel and loud motorcycle.

When I think of beautiful beach umbrella scenes, I think of this instagram photographer I love who flies over the ordered, uniform, highly glamorous Italian beaches... Wasaga is not that. (CHAOS.)

But whatever, it was a spectacle worth 20 minutes of my life, and I was more than happy when Rhya and I looked at each other and said “OK! Let's move on!”

(*I also do want to acknowledge that, within the chaos, the wonderful wonderful melting pot of cultures that Ontario is famous for was on full display, and I once again felt so grateful to be shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow Canadians in our great land of freedom and acceptance.)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

#3. The Umbrella (Part 1)

The thing that The Strip was incredibly useful for was that we stopped and purchased a beach umbrella from one of the little shops. This is a Pro-Tip that you MUST pay attention to. You need an umbrella at Wasaga Beach!! Full stop.

You can also get yourself a Unicorn if you want. Put that one under Life Goals, if you must.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

#4. Far from the Madding Crowd: “Beach 3”

A short drive down the main street of Wasaga you can pop through the neighbourhoods of houses and old cottages and get to much, much quieter stretches of beach. Somewhere around 27th Street, in between Beach 3 and Beach 4, is the MAGIC.

Uncrowded sandy beaches to pitch your umbrella and unpack your picnic, and soft, blue-skied, sandbar-filled water as far as you can see. Warm, fresh, swimmable water. It is GLORIOUS. This was what I was hoping for.

*See the photo at the top of this post. This is what it's like.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

#5. The Sludge

I think it is actually technically, or maybe affectionately, known as "Beach Muck" by the locals, but one thing you need to know by heading over to the smaller Wasaga beaches is that they are not as regularly groomed as The Strip. This is a BIG BODY OF WATER. So a lot of sediment rolls in to the beach. It's black and slimey and mucky and gross. But don't despair! We just went for a short walk and found a stretch of beach that was perfectly great. You can walk right in, all sand, and the kiddos can play right at the water's edge, and it's all good.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

#6. The Umbrella (Part 2)

Once we were settled in at the new beach, we unpacked our beach blankets, our picnic, our sandcastle-building materials, and our sketchbooks and hunkered down for the afternoon.

I was so happy that I was in the SUN (after this summer of grey chilly days) that I regret to inform you I was extremely careless with my sunscreen. I *thought* I was safely parked under the umbrella, but that toasty warm feeling on my back was in fact a roasty, full-on screaming sunburn. I'm too embarrassed about it to show you. Trust me, it's a doozy. So the Pro-Tip here is: don't do that. Make sure you're covered, that's why you got the beach umbrella in the first place.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

#7. The Ice Cream

There's lots of it around. Have some.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
p.s. As we are headed into our final weeks of summer, if you need a swimming hole road trip guide for somewhere fun, check out my Harold Quarry guide, or Lindsay's Prince Edward County guide, or if you need a closer-to-home day trip, the Secret Grotto is a fun one too! Let me know if you go!

  • Laura
  • Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The summer of jumping in

Last summer, mid-way through July, I finally took the plunge (quite literally) and started jumping in instead of hanging off the dock ladder FOREVER before getting in... (cliff jumping, diving tower jumping, and just plain ol' joyful jumping...)

It's now been a full year and I'm officially a full-fledged JUMPER-INNER. I love it. LOVE IT. Everything about it. #cantstopwontstop

And I played the animal game where the person on the dock counts down from three and when you are mid-air yells the name of an animal you have to make in the air. (ps: BEST. GAME. EVER).

A snake:

I even tried a canon ball (though truth be told it's not my fav):

Here's to more jumps to round out the summer!

  • Lindsay
  • Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Swimlit: Gillian Best’s The Last Wave is a love letter to the sea

I don’t understand the sea. Not one bit. I grew up in my neighbourhood pool, and in Ontario lakes, and the thought of a shifting shoreline, not to mention undertows, is disorienting, terrifying even. I also can’t read a tide table to save my life. When I hiked the West Coast Trail at 18, I got caught not once, not twice, but three times on the beach with the tides coming in, scrambling up slippery ladders, soaked to my knees.

But if there’s anyone who could convince me of sea swimming, it’s Canadian-born, Bristol-based author Gillian Best. In her debut novel, The Last Wave, Martha, a devoted ocean swimmer who wears the second skin of her bathing suit tan for most of her life, never once steps foot in a pool. “The sea is alive, expansive; a pool is dead and confining. The sea is freedom. There is nothing in a pool: no current, no tide, no waves, and most of all, no history,” Best writes.

In the book, Martha swims to escape just about everything—the drudgery of motherhood, the mind numbingly boring tasks of being a housewife and is so well crafted, when I spoke to Best this week, I had to keep myself from asking how Martha was doing.

Best laughed. “She’s like an imaginary friend to me, too,” she says. “She’s good, she’s doing well.”

Martha doesn’t just swim in the sea, she crosses the English Channel nine (!) times (with one failed attempt). The book traces her swimming journey from 1947 until the present day and includes her Channel swims, estrangement, dementia and a devastating cancer diagnosis.

Best writes: “Gliding through the water almost completely submerged had always been a retreat to a different world for me. Swimming front crawl allowed me to focus inward, blocking everything else out—and the absolute quiet it afforded was unique. No other solitude—not going to the library, not sitting on a bench by myself—allowed my mind to wander so freely, roaming the wilds of my fantasies and the hundreds of other lives I imagined for myself.”

Swimming has also provided sanctuary for Best, the sea omnipresent in her life as well. As a 12-year-old, she spent time visiting San Francisco with her father. “I was always the first one in the ocean and the last one dragged out,” she says. She would collect small bottles of seawater and take them back to land-locked Waterloo with her so she could smell the briny sea during the “grim” Ontario winters and “be transported.”

She believed for years she’d be a professional surfer – something she laughs about now – but realized that it wasn’t surfing she was obsessed with, but the ocean. “It’s a holy experience, how people relate to water,” she says.

After years of swimming competitively, and lifeguarding and teaching swimming, Best moved to Toronto for university and was diagnosed with painful arthritis, a type in which, she describes, her spine and hips are trying to fuse. She began swimming again and says it has saved her time and time again. “I can be limping and hobbling on land, but as soon as I’m in the water, I can move again.”

“For me, water is physical freedom,” she says.

Though Best wrote about the English Channel, and ocean swimming and the power and fortitude of the sea, she admits she’s a pool swimmer herself.

“When I was living in London, I used to swim at London Fields Lido,” she says, a 50m outdoor pool in east London. It’s heated, year round and Best tells me about swimming in the snow on the few snowy days in London. (Check out these amazing photos from The Guardian!) 

“I prefer the wonderful incongruity of a pool in downtown London to Hampstead Heath or the Pond,” she says.

And because I ask every swimmer I met, I asked her if she has any other favourite swimming holes:
1). Her brother’s secret swimming hole in Guelph that he takes her to every time she’s home for a visit (I press for details, but she says she has no directional sense so this one remains a secret!)

2). The Hart House Pool at the University of Toronto: “It’s just so beautiful,” she says.

3). The 25m outdoor pool in her mom’s neighbourhood in Waterloo. “I went for a swim the day I arrived from the UK,” she says. “And it’ll be the last thing I do when I leave, on my way to the airport."

A swimming kindred spirit if I’ve ever known one.


Best will be launching the book in Toronto or Waterloo next week (swimwear option!):

Toronto: Monday, August 14 at 7pm at Glad Day Bookshop (499 Church St).
Free event; everyone is welcome.

Waterloo: Tuesday, August 15th at 7pm at Wordsworth Books (96 King Street South

  • Lindsay
  • Friday, August 11, 2017

Buckskin Lake revisited

I jumped in minutes after arriving at the cottage we've rented for the last two years, leaving everything packed, except my bathing suit, gin for a pair of docktails and some chips.

We were going to leave for the cottage after lunch, to coordinate with the toddler's nap, but my fella and I were up long before the kids (going to the cottage morning is apparently our Christmas morning) so we headed out the moment we could get everything stuffed into our wee car.

The lake was darker than I remember it. And colder this summer than last.

I immediately started swimming across the lake, leaving my family waving on the dock. But three quarters of the way there, I suddenly didn't know the lake and the dark water was made even darker by the tint of my new goggles. I turned around, treading water and clearing my goggles. But there was something in seeing my little family from across the lake that unsettled me.

Last year, I swam the "L" at least daily – across the lake, and the along the far shoreline until the red buoy – but this year, the "L" felt too far. The lake was empty except for the four of us (and one of them depending solely on me for survival) and somehow having a baby, not just a toddler on the dock. The what-if-something-happened thoughts started looming.

That's not to say I didn't swim – I did, just on our side of the lake – an "I" instead of an "L".

There was one beautiful post-dinner swim, where the sun burned the top of the water, and my legs kicked hard against the cold, an early morning swim before the wind had woken up when the water carried an exact replica of the sky, and another perfect mid-day swim where both kids slept and my post-swim snack was s'mores and beer.

There were molars and growth spurts and fevers and rainy days – not exactly the most relaxing vacation, but there was that lake, and a stack of books and docktails no matter what the weather.

Still, I was surprised at how hard it was to say goodbye to the lake I just started getting to know, knowing I might not ever see it again.

Farewell, Buckskin Lake.

  • Lindsay
  • Wednesday, August 9, 2017

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