There are many sports that I'm not good at. There are an even larger number of sports that I cannot do to save my life. One of the things that falls quite literally into the second of those extensive lists is swimming.

I, like most kiwis, quite like a bit of time in the water. My passionate hatred of sand means that I'm usually found in lakes, and I've spent a good amount of my childhood being towed behind a boat on some apparatus, and loving every minute of it. That's something I'm not too bad at. Despite that, I've managed to avoid ever developing any decent swimming skills.

At school, I was the kid who swam widths instead of lengths of the pool on swimming sports day, while wearing a nose clip (when you combine this with the info I mentioned a few weeks back now about how I was also the kid who came last in cross country, you can figure out for yourself how cool I was).

My family has a running joke that every one of my school reports would note, like clockwork, that I "would benefit from swimming lessons". And so my parents gave that a go, and for a little under a year I went to swimming lessons twice a week.


Now let's be clear. When I say that I moved through my childhood without picking up swimming skills through osmosis or lessons or however else everyone I know is infinitely better in the water than I am, I did so intentionally. I wasn't naturally talented at swimming, so I had an epiphany that instead of becoming good at swimming, I would instead remove swimming from the equation of my life altogether. I was a little idiot.

So I was still going to these swimming lessons twice weekly, and giving them about 40 per cent effort, unfortunately in the process ensuring my parents didn't get their money's worth out of each lesson.

Eventually I finally freed myself from them after months of constant and loud whining. My plan was almost complete. I now only had to carefully orchestrate a few sick days over the course of a few years to coincide with the annual school swimming sports, and I would finally be free! I had watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off a handful of times in preparation, so this would be a breeze.

Cut forward, and it worked. Leaving intermediate school, my 12-year-old brain flooded itself with childish joy as I realised that not only did I no longer need to do spelling every Monday and Friday, but I would also never again have someone test my ability (or inability) to get from one side of a pool to the other without getting out and walking around.

I had beaten the system. I had successfully outsmarted all these adults, who had for some reason been so insistent that I thrash around in the water in front of them like one of those rescue penguins which got clipped by a propeller and never swam right again since. I was smug. I had won. More on that later.

Snorkelling kids. Photo / Getty Images
Snorkelling kids. Photo / Getty Images

My girlfriend, like myself, can separate sports into two columns. Unlike myself, her two columns are things she is good at, and things she hasn't tried yet. Swimming inevitably falls into the good category.

Of the plethora of other things that fall into the former, I've since come to realise that they are there not only because of her freakish talent for anything she tries, but more importantly her hardworking personality and ability to stick with something and see it through. That's something I'd like to say I have now, but which I clearly didn't have as I begged to get out of swimming lessons every single Tuesday and Friday of 2006.

Now that I'm 20, I have finally come to terms with the fact that I've made a bit of a judgment in error here. It turns out that actively avoiding learning to swim is about as wise as actively avoiding learning to tie your shoelaces. It was a solution at the time, but it has proven to not be a long term one. I have not beaten the system at all. Instead the system has beaten me, with a blunt object.


No, my PE teacher is no longer shouting at me while I flail about in the paddling pool, but things aren't going as I had planned. For example, I just asked my girlfriend for a metaphor for something that is really ungraceful in the water, and she replied "you" without even a pause.

There's no one testing me any more, except myself, and life. It turns out life is even scarier than my PE teacher was, and it turns out swimming is something you need to get through life, just like manners, or table etiquette. Apparently I can't just lump swimming skills in with trigonometry and balancing chemical equations, as "things I will never need again after school". My lacklustre swimming ability still actively holds me back in life now, and I don't like anything doing that.

Not only did I fail to embrace the opportunities I was given to learn to swim as fully as I should have, I shunned them each step of the way. Like I said - idiot.

I missed the bus, but I still intend to catch up at some point. It's now my responsibility, and at some point soon, I'll dip my toes back into the waters. In the meantime, I'll be continuing to keep myself well away from anything deeper than shallow puddles unless I'm wearing a life jacket.

But if you've got kids, then for now it's your responsibility. It has to be one of the most valuable skills you can instil into them. Take them to the local pool, and nail down some basics. Get them enrolled in lessons and hope they give it a better crack than I did. I can't guarantee they'll thank you in time, but I can guarantee you they'll be better people for it.

And to my PE teacher, I'm sorry, you were right.