Synchronized swimming is no doubt a beautiful sport. It was arguably popularized by the iconic Esther Williams in the mid 1900s, but it was shown more in an artistic and theatrical way. Since then, synchronized swimming, or synchro for short, has come a long way to transform into the intense and difficult sport we see today. Here are 14 things you probably didn’t know about synchro.
1. We don’t just wear flower caps
I had to start with this one because it’s the most stereotypical aspect of synchro. Admittedly, sometimes we do wear them, but those are only for commercials and “watershows,” events that we are often paid to perform at. Those are when you see the pretty float formations, red suits, and flower caps.
It’s not all fun and games though. For competitions, we wear “headpieces,” which are decorated little pieces that get jabbed into our bun and scalp by at least a hundred bobby pins. I still have scars.
2. It IS a sport, and a contact one at that
I can’t tell you how many bruises I’ve gotten from practices. Actually, I could tell you how many times my legs weren’t covered in bruises more than the other way around. There was also a time I had to get stitches on my lip because it got split open while practicing one our routines. And many girls I know suffered concussions.
That doesn’t stop us from working out butt off at practices, though. As my coach always described, synchro combines elements from different sports, like the endurance of a speed swimmer, the strength of a water polo player, the grace of a ballerina, and the flexibility of a gymnast.
3. We can hold our breath for up to one third of a routine
We train to increase our lung capacity by doing “unders,” which are laps of swimming underwater while holding our breath the whole way. We often couple these laps with a lot of freestyle beforehand so we can really maximize our lung capacity and increase our endurance, too.
It’s one thing to try and hold your breath on land while staying still, but it’s a whole different story trying to swim and hold your breath while you’re already out of breath. Don’t believe me? Try it one day, I dare you.
4. The sport isn’t easy, despite the smiles on our faces
We smile all the time during our routines, but on the inside, we’re kind of dying from all the cardio and having to hold our breath. The reason we smile is because it looks nice, and we get judged on it for competitions.
5. There’s more to synchro than the routines
During competitions, we have to do something else called “figures.” They’re defined as “completion of a body transition” that “occur(s) simultaneously with the achievement of body position and desired height.” Basically, we’re tested to see how controlled we are with our body. It was the most nerve-wrecking component of meets for me because the whole pool is silent and there are about 5 judges watching you, and only you.
6. As a team, we can get very personal
These are the girls you spend 12+ hours a week with. My team was (still is) basically my second family. When you spend that much time with them, travel with them, sleep in the same beds, and are half naked around them a majority of the time, you can’t help but get really comfortable. There are things said, done, and seen that I couldn’t imagine other friends being okay with.
7. You get used to looking like a (pretty) clown
For competitions, we have to put on a ridiculous amount of makeup. There is almost no such thing as too much blush, lipstick, and glitter. This is so that the judges and audience can see the makeup, since often times they are farther away and can’t see the makeup as clearly.
It often lingers for a few days after competitions, since we usually use waterproof makeup. I didn’t really mind that part, because it meant I spent less time in the morning before school doing makeup — #win.
8. Knox becomes your enemy
Ever wonder how we keep our hair in a perfect sleeked back bun? Two words: knox gelatin. A lot of people think of yummy homemade Jell-O, but utter those words to a synchronized swimmer and she/he will shudder.
After our hair is put into a very tight bun (thanks to hundreds of bobby pins), and the hairnet is in place with more bobby pins, we paint our hair with a thick layer of hot knox. When it cools, it hardens and tucks all the baby hairs away to make sure nothing falls out during routines while we flip our heads around. It’s a great way to keep hair out of your face, but it’s a drag to wash out.
9. We can’t use the bottom or sides of the pool
10. Nose clips are a swimmer’s best friend
Nose clips are the best invention since sliced bread. They keep the water out of our nose while upside down. A synchronized swimmer will never swim a routine without a few of these tucked in his or her suit just in case they get kicked off or fall off.
You might think goggles are more important, but they’re actually banned from routine competitions. Thank goodness for milk and its soothing properties to save our puffy red eyes from all the chlorine.
11. We can hear the music with underwater speakers
This is how we know the timing for all the routines. This is a little-known fact, but people are always really amazed when I tell them. Although it would be pretty impressive if we were just that skilled to keep up with the music…
12. There is about 10 seconds worth of deck work
Before we start a routine, there are 10 seconds of deck work, where we do some creative movements on land before we jump in. It’s kind of like an introduction to our music and the theme of our routine. What we’re really thinking during this time, though, is “I’m so nervous. The water looks freezing. I don’t want to jump in. Oh crap, here we go.”
13. Getting our suits is super exciting
This was always one of my favorite parts when competition season started. Every suit is designed specifically to match the music you swim to, and it’s made to fit your own body. Getting measured beforehand and then trying it on after it’s done reminds me of Say Yes To The Dress when the bride tries on their wedding gown after the tailoring process.
14. We are all very passionate
Despite the long practices, various wounds, and pressure from competitions, we’re all very passionate about the sport. You don’t spend your entire free time participating in a sport that isn’t worth your time. We love the artsy yet competitive aspects of synchro and seeing the hard-work pay off in competitions. We will do anything to defend our beloved sport.