I had put it off for years. I had made it into a bigger monster than it needed to be. I had missed out doing it in such amazing locations as Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. Then finally, at the age of 28, after a long, frustrated summer spent in the Greek Islands, I got back to London and marched myself into the local leisure centre and did it. I signed up to swimming lessons.
I don’t know why I had never learnt to swim properly – I grew up spending all summer in the sea and swimming pools. But I never really swam.
Then as I started stepping out into far-flung corners of the world, my lack of ability at staying afloat in water became more and more of a vital issue. What if this rickety boat that’s bouncing across the waves to an isolated Pacific island doesn’t make it? What about on that experience-of-a-lifetime Ha Long Bay trip where everyone else is ecstatically jumping off the wooden junk boat into the aquamarine waters while I dangle nervously from the ladder?
And as for the time just I and a boyfriend were deposited somewhere in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra to do some snorkelling, only to see our “tour” boat disappear into the horizon…
So that day back in London was a life-changing one. I had decided to bite the bullet and face those fears of feeling humiliated, of being too old to take lessons, of looking stupid, of wearing a swimsuit in front of the general public, and – naturally – of drowning.
Those 12 weeks I spent – at first thrashing and eventually swimming – under the watchful eye of a patient teacher in a Covent Garden pool were the best investment I ever made.
Being able to swim opens up another 70% of the world to you – how cool is that? And this time when I departed for my travels in South America, I knew I could happily and confidently jump off any boats and plunge into any pools that came my way.
If you haven’t learnt to swim yet, just do it.