Chuck Klosterman did an interview with The A.V. Club in which, in honor of Halloween, he discusses his fears. Here is an excerpt:
A few years ago, that movie Open Water was out. I can’t swim, so of course the idea… It’s really hard for people who can swim to relate to this. If you can’t swim, the idea of being in nine feet of water is terrifying, much less the ocean. So when I saw the trailer for that movie, I just couldn’t fathom seeing it. I get no pleasure from that. People who can swim just can’t get it. They’ll push you into the water, assuming that you must be lying.
The interview is, as all interviews involving Klosterman are, very much worth reading. But I don’t want to talk about Klosterman right now; I want to talk about people who don’t know how to swim.
For some reason, it seems unreasonable to me that some people don’t know how to swim. I don’t know why. Swimming hasn’t been essential to the survival of the human race for a few millennia now, and unless you’re a lifeguard, a pirate, or an employee of the Coast Guard, I don’t see it really being integral to your day-to-day life. And it’s not like I swim very often myself.
But for some reason, swimming seems like something every adult human should know how to do. If not for its obvious practical applications, swimming seems key to being a self-reliant human being. Once, as I’ve mentioned before, I went on a cruise. At some of the ports, a shuttle boat would have to take us from the ship to the shore. It was about a two minute ride, but if you couldn’t swim,* the cruise staff made you wear a life-jacket; there were grown adults wearing those bright orange vests while small children looked on unencumbered, probably thinking What kind of learning disorder does this person have?
*This does, of course, bet the question: Why the fuck would you go on a cruise vacation if you can’t swim?
As Klosterman points out, if you can’t swim, then any depth of water you can’t stand in is literally frightening. It seems silly to allow that kind of subservience to 2/3 of the Earth’s surface go on when it’s so easily correctable.
Learning to swim isn’t very hard. Most people who learn how to do it learn before they’re in second grade;* the only other things that’s really true of are speaking, walking, and dressing yourself, which seem pretty fundamental. And, unlike speech, swimming isn’t something that actually gets harder to learn as you get older. If you have a human body, then you can float, and if you can float, you’re practically halfway to swimming anyway. The rest you can probably learn in half an hour.
*This is speculative.
The closest analog to swimming is probably bike-riding: You either learn it early, or you never learn it at all, and once you’re old, most people only do it as a way to exercise. But bike-riding isn’t nearly as imperative. It’s a hobby—it’s not the only way of traversing part of the planet.
It’s true that, for most nonswimmers, not knowing how to swim will never really hurt them; only a small fraction will die horrible, water-soaked deaths. But just because you can survive a certain way doesn’t mean it’s ideal to live that way. First of all, even if you don’t drown in the ocean (or a small, above-ground pool), you still have to live in fear of deep water. Secondly, while the chances of drowning are low, the payoff is one of the most terrifying deaths I can imagine, and the cost of learning to swim is low. Plus, it can be fun.
So don’t live in fear of deep puddles; learn to swim.