Getting in synch with a growing sport
FOUR facts about synchronized swimming:
1) Yes, they can hear the music underwater. There's an underwater speaker down there, attached to the side of the pool.
2) It's unflavored Knox Gelatine that gets their hair to stay slicked back like that.
3) There is solo synchronized swimming, though you would think that goes against the whole point. But no, apparently it isn't an oxymoron. Maybe soloists synchronize with the music.
4) It's impossible to watch synchronized swimming without thinking of the famous "Saturday Night Live" sketch, during which Martin Short famously says, "I don't swim."
SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING IS fun. Of course it's fun. It's music. It's water treading. It's sudden, sweeping, jerking motions set to said music. Quirky choreography. High kicks.
Of course it's fun.
"It's like running a marathon while holding your breath at the same time," and sometimes, "carrying someone," Hawaii Synchro Club coach Liane Cameron-Vrielink says.
It looks like a combination of popping and locking, underwater dancing and kung fu. (OK, maybe a little ballet, too.)
"You can kind of see it's all teamwork underwater," says Cameron-Vrielink's husband, Ramon Vrielink, who has an underwater camera, and dons goggles, and takes photos for the team.
I forgot to ask him how the music sounds down there.
Yes, you've got to see it live.
Yesterday, the Hawaii Synchro Club's Oceania Games All-Stars went through one of their last run-throughs before they leave Tuesday for Australia and the Oceania Games.
(They will also practice today in a joint demonstration with the Mermaids of Hawaii at the Nuuanu YMCA at 3 p.m.)
Funny story. Some members of the Hawaii team just got here. They're looking into attending the University of Hawaii, where Cameron-Vrielink and Lisa Velez are also coaches of UH's club team. They're taking this opportunity to check everything out. The new team members will "probably" enroll at UH.
Not that anybody probably cares.
This is the first year Hawaii has been invited to This is the first year Hawaii has been invited to the Oceania Games. (The Oceania Games isn't exactly the Olympics. It isn't for official national teams. Hawaii is eligible, but the United States isn't. The Hawaii Synchro Club was specifically invited to take part.)
Synchronized swimming is still growing in Hawaii.
When Velez and Cameron-Vrielink got here, they didn't see much of the sport.
Now, La Pietra and Punahou teach it in PE. The Girl Scouts, too. They do a program at the Kokokahi YMCA. The Oahu Club has sessions. Synchro has been taught as part of Aqua Camp at UH.
Velez started and they both coach UH's club team.
These two are continuing to grow the sport here.
Both are former national team members. Cameron-Vrielink, who has dual citizenship, swam for Canada, then later, this team. She's currently a manager and figure coach for the USA junior national team.
She started out as a race swimmer.
"I was bored of looking at a black line at the bottom of the pool all the time," she says.
Her parents saw an ad in the paper. Her big sisters took up the synchro sport. Soon, she was loving it, too.
"It had gymnastics," she says. "It had dance, it had water."
It had Knox Gelatine. It had everything.
Velez got into it growing up in California when her big sister got a Girl Scout merit badge in the sport. They made her wait until she was 7 to try it. She's been at the pool ever since.
The team they have looks good, live. Of course it's fun. The best parts are the duals and the full team's routine. Music. Water treading. Choreography. Synchronicity. Twists, lifts. Underwater speakers.
"They're still pretty synchronized under the water," Ramon Vrielink says. His photos back this up.
(Synchro solo doesn't do much for me. Doesn't that go against the whole point?)
Athletically, it's impressive. They can't touch the bottom, or the walls. They come out of the pool smiling and breathing as if they'd just run a 4-minute mile.
"I like the camaraderie," Mary Ramsey says.
"Competitiveness," Samantha Larose says.
I like the popping and locking, and the underwater dancing (and the underwater speakers), and the water treading, and the sudden, sweeping gestures, and the dramatic music, and the kung fu.