“You will get dragged down by weeds!” Just one of many anxious thoughts that might go through a swimmer’s mind before taking the plunge. Simon Griffiths has your myth busting guide to swimming safely with weeds.
There is something about being in open water that nags on your subconscious. However comfortable you are in the water, and however competent you are at swimming, somewhere in the dark recess of your mind is a voice that says you don’t really belong here.
Normally, that voice is quiet and can be ignored. But if something brushes against your leg, or your hand touches something unexpected, it might shout at you, sending you into a panic.
Water plants can easily be the source of that panic. I don’t know where the myth that plants can drag you down came from, but it’s easy to understand why we might think they could. If you’ve ever accidentally plunged your arm into a clump of pond weed and then tried to lift it vertically out of the water as panic takes hold, you’ll know what I mean. Your arm is so firmly anchored to the water, it truly does feel as if it’s being pulled down.
Luckily, water plants won’t drag you to your doom. The way to escape their clutches is to calmly extract your limb. Just slide your arm back out, the same way it went in. Then swim around the offending plants. If you can’t avoid a patch of pond weed, stay relaxed as you swim over them. Gently push the plants aside rather than forcing your way through. Try to stay as horizontal and near the surface as you can and keep both your arm pull and leg movements shallow.
The danger with an encounter with weeds is that you panic, even when you rationally understand you are not in danger. Our brains don’t work like that. The good news is that the more you swim and encounter water plants, the less likely they are to make you panic. Instead, you come to appreciate their beauty as they reach for sunlight near the surface and sway with the changing currents.
Although they won’t drag you down, it’s usually better to steer clear of areas with thickly growing plants. Apart from making swimming more difficult, contact may irritate the skin in some people, and you’re more likely to encounter the parasitic larvae that cause swimmer’s itch. Stick to deeper water to avoid the plants, not because they will drag you down but because it’s usually more pleasant.