Water bonds
Water bonds
Image: 123rf.com

There are friendships that are birthed in the water, through the water and under the water. Lately bodies of water have been teaching me about the intimacy of friendship; particularly new adult friendships. Bodies of water have the ability to generate intimacy and vulnerability; however, this vulnerability needs our recognition and participation.

Since moving back to Cape Town, I have formed new friendships. I refer to these as adult friendships because they hold a different texture to childhood friendships, work friendships and even varsity friendships.

Adult friendships are the ones which take you by surprise: when you start hanging out with someone and you’re aware that you’ve only just met but there’s an ease to the connection. These are the kinds of friendships the water has been curating for me. These are the friendships which flow, much like water.

A few months ago I swam the Bridge House Mile for the first time. I had initially signed up for 800m but the ladies in my swimming group convinced me I could swim a mile, even though I am a slow swimmer. I signed up with a friend, Marion, whom I asked to swim alongside me seeing as it was my first long swim outside the safety and comfort of the swimming group. She agreed and she was true to her word. The mile (1.6km) ended up being 2.2km because the wind picked up on the final stretch. With every breath and stroke Marion was there beside me. She told me when we had completed 1km, which felt like a miracle. Her presence helped me navigate the choppy waters. When I struggled with freestyle and switched to breaststroke because the wind made it impossible to breathe, she slowed down to my slower pace.

Marion and I have had many open water swims together and she’s the reason I persisted in finding the right swimming group that works with my sensibility for swimming which accommodates my slower pace. While watching her adjust her pace in line with my slower pace, I remembered how the water had gifted me with new friendships. In the first few weeks of settling into my new life in Cape Town, the ocean seemed to be present as I was making friends with people. When Marion and I first met (thanks to a mutual friend, Khosi, who connected us on my first day in the neighbourhood; we discovered we lived a block apart) we planned our first date: a walk and a swim. We walked along the St James Walkway and ended up at Danger Beach.

Despite the fraught history... of segregation and racism at beaches and pools, there’s something so delightful and even healing about connecting and reconnecting with people at the beach

While walking, Marion asked if I knew anyone else in the area and why I chose False Bay. The answer to the latter was simple: I wanted to be near the ocean. I also remembered that there was a couple (Margie and Jaque) I had befriended while I lived in Joburg; they had since moved to False Bay not too far from where I was but I hadn’t reconnected with them yet. As we arrived at Danger Beach, I noticed two people, lo and behold, it was Margie and Jaques sitting against the wall basking in the sun! We squealed like teenagers with the excitement of reconnecting at the beach. I couldn’t believe that I had just spoken about them only to bump into them shortly thereafter, and effortlessly so.

The next day I went to St James tidal pool for an early morning swim. Unplanned, I bumped into Carolyn: a colleague who has since become a friend; Lebo, whom I had met on Zoom, and Antoinette (Lebo’s friend) who I liked immediately. I soon learnt that Lebo, Antoinette and I were also neighbours living within walking distance (and the friendship has since been sealed by a WhatsApp group).

Despite the fraught history (and the present; remember Penny Sparrow?) of segregation and racism at beaches and pools, there’s something so delightful and even healing about connecting and reconnecting with people at the beach. We’re all in our costumes and forced to be unselfconscious about our bodies. There is a tenderness and a care for each other. The masks are off, especially early in the mornings.

I have had swimming dates in Blouberg, a beach I seldom visit. I have been connected to new friends during quick morning dips. There have been planned and unplanned birthday celebrations by the ocean. I have joined too many WhatsApp groups which are communities of people connected by the ocean (one of them is the reason I found the swimming group). There have been spur of the moment “anyone keen for a swim” messages which turn into water dates.

There are friends I only seem to bump into when we’re at the beach and they introduce me to their friends and they become kindred spirits. I am constantly luring friends to the beach for long overdue catch up dates. The ocean has been a witness, sealing the bonds of friendship and reshaping community I didn’t even know I needed until they were unfolding.

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