Book review: Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui


The untranslatable word ‘ama’, which in Japanese means ‘women of the sea’,

refers to the legendary female free divers of Japan and Korea.

I spotted it in one of my favourite bookshops in Bristol: Arnolfini. I love going there to leaf through their books and magazines (and the children’s literature too!). I’m an eager wild swimmer: wild swimming gives me this wonderful connection with myself and with nature and it makes me more alive. So when I saw the title: Why we swim, I knew I wanted to read it!

The book starts with this incredible story of the survival of an Icelandic fisherman, Guðlaugur Friðþórsson. Bonnie, the author, returns to this story in more detail later in the book. It’s fascinating to read what our human body can do to survive and how we become stronger when we decide to go this extra mile to overcome our fears, stresses or weaknesses. We also learn a fascinating history lesson about the Sahara, and that once, around ten thousand years ago, it was all grass-covered and enriched by this interlinked system of lakes. We also read about swimming as healing: to become stronger and healthier. The biggest advocate for cold swims I know is Wim Hof. The sight of him getting to the icy cold water and actually enjoying it gives me a smile every time I want to have a sea swim and the water temperature is definitely not tropical! Swimming can also form a community, rise above human divisions, as the example of a coach called Jay who taught many different nationalities how to swim in places of danger and unrest illustrates.

Swimming can be used as a form of meditation or quite the opposite, a competition to increase your adrenaline. Swimming is a beautiful gift which can help overcome some weaknesses, heal our bodies and minds, or feel the flow as part of our swimming routine.

I highly recommend this book to all swim lovers. Have you recently read any books about (wild) swimming? Please let me know in the comments below.


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