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Swimming at the Elephant

Feeling deadline-induced stress, along with the vague sense that you don’t do enough with your evenings that doesn’t involve said stress? I did, until I started weekly sessions at Out to Swim, an LGBT+ swimming club with classes in London and Brighton.

I hadn’t swum for 20 years before joining the club a few months back. Now, I leave a brightly-lit council-run pool in Elephant and Castle each Wednesday night with a definite spring in my step, the day’s worries forgotten. On Sunday (sometimes) it’s an early evening hour in Victoria, just enough exercise to blast impending work worries out of my mind.

the pool Feeling the high after class…

Since joining, I found out that Out to Swim is surprisingly big, with its own synchronised swimming and water polo teams, as well as 10 lanes of swimmers.

Of these lanes, there are 18 sessions per week, split from lane 10 (beginners) upwards. I’m lane eight, and I’m proud of myself, even if I can’t breathe properly during front crawl and will likely never have the hip action for a proper butterfly kick.

I love to complain about things that are net positives in my life, so here are a few about the club: the membership tends to white, male and middle class (snap, snap, snap), surely due in part to the £450 you need to pay up front for membership each year. It’s not exactly a social occasion - though they organise lots of social events, it’s difficult to get a conversation going when you spend most of your hour’s lesson with your head in the water. And the months-long waiting list almost put me off from joining altogether.

But whatever, it’s massively outweighed by the positives. The membership fee is worth it and then some. For one thing, it’s nice to be in a non-aggressive, non-judgmental space with other queer people. We’re not discussing politics or sex, but there’s an abiding pleasure in being in an organisation for us, by us. As in all these kinds of spaces, it’s the little things that matter: like the coach asking for our preferred pronouns before class, or the club’s presence at Pride.

Though again, the biggest single positive from the club is the big exercise high I get from simply propelling myself through the water, a little more efficiently each week. That’s the biggest reason why I’m smiling to myself as I leave the club behind and pass through the Elephant’s fabulous clash of odd-shaped skyscrapers, Colombian food stands and the glowering yet stately pillars of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, on my way to the station.

I’m not pretending that this has been a life-changing experience. But it’s become a little high point for me each week. And I’m looking forward to next Wednesday…