Cygnus SC - Durban
Aquabear SC - Port Elizabeth
Kingfisher AquaSynch - Pretoria
Seated: Aileen Martin, Barbara Dowell, Vic Myburgh Beverley Martin.
1976 USA Champion Amanda Norrish
30 December 1953 - Beulah Gundling tour to South Africa cancelled.
1963 - Films deur die Departement van Onderwys, Kuns en wetenskap bekom. Educational films offered by the Department of Education, Arts and Science.
1971 South African Synchronised swimming Team Champions - Natal. Toni Parker, Aileen Martin, Gillian Buck, Beverley Martin, Lynette Danré and Kim Edwards.
Durban Girls' College pupil Shannon Crowder at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, came sixth in her solo synchronised swimming competition.
December 1st, 2007
Beautiful female bodies gliding effortlessly through the water in time to music gives the impression that synchronised swimming is an easy aquatic sport. Don’t be fooled. It is fun, it is feminine, but it requires strength, flexibility, endurance and exceptional breath control.
Synchronised swimming, or synchro, is one of the few sporting disciplines to be contested only by women – the others are rhythmic gym and softball. Originating as water ballet in Canada in the early 20th century, synchro became a full medal Olympic sport in 1984. Closer to home, Elaine Buck is credited with starting the sport in South Africa when she was requested to put on a water ballet for the 1954 Centenary celebrations of Durban as a city, using 50 bathing beauties in black velvet bathing suits!
In recent years, the hard work and discipline of the Russian synchro swimmers has rubbed off on the sport worldwide, and the standard of training, and difficulty of figures, has increased commensurately.
South Africa’s (KZN) Duet swimmers at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Durban twins, Derryn and Kendra Semple, are prime examples of how hard work and effort can take you to the top. Old girls of Maris Stella and Durban Girls College, [they went to different high schools], as coaches to the KZN synchro team, they are well poised to give advice to aspirant young synchro swimmers.
"Little girls as young as five can start synchro, but they must be confident swimmers or else they are wasting their time", says Derryn. Kendra adds that "in the first few lessons, we teach water awareness and floating, then we move onto basic propulsion techniques, known as sculls, followed by basic positions, known as figures. Once the girls have mastered these, they are ready to make up a routine to music."
Both girls agree that ideally a girl interested in taking up synchro should have musicality and flexibility. Exposure to a dance form is also an asset.
There are five different age groups – 10 and under, 12 and under, 13 to 15, 16 to 18 and Open. The figures taught to each age group have great marine names such as barracuda, porpoise, prawn and swordfish. There is even a beluga, like the caviar, but then synchronised swimmers are a rare and special breed of athlete!
These figures are done in progressively more difficult ways as the girls move through the age groups. For example, a flamingo bent knee in the 13 to 15 age group becomes a flamingo bent knee spin up 180′ in the Open division. Figures need to be perfected as they form the basis for selection of teams as well as needing to be part of the routines performed to music.
However, there are no pure figure competitions in the Olympics, World Champs and Commonwealth Games and other international competitions, as the Open category instead requires separate artistic and technical routines, performed to music.
Figures are always done in a plain black costume, white cap and goggles, to enable the judges to focus solely on the technical execution. The creative juices flow when the girls work on their artistic routines, choosing music and designing a suitably themed costume and hairpiece for their gelled back hair.
A little known fact is that synchro swimmers are big users of gelatine which doesn’t dissolve in the water like traditional hair gels would. That glossy wet look is achieved with a thick gooey paste of gelatine painted on with a large brush and allowed to dry to form a rock hard layer!
However, a synchro swimmer’s most important piece of equipment is a nose clip, for performing strenuous movements underwater while holding their breath for long periods.
Although waterproof makeup is applied to enhance the features, the nose area is avoided so that the nose clip does not slide off. Underwater speakers enable the swimmers to hear their music clearly under water, helping to achieve the split second timing that is so crucial to synchro.
Since synchro swimmers may not touch the bottom of the pool, FINA requirements are a 3 metre deep pool. Anyone reading this who is involved in designing an aquatic centre, please bear this in mind, as there are very few pools in South Africa that meet this requirement of a 3 metre depth. For example, in KZN, only Kings Park outdoor pool conforms.
So next time you watch synchro on your television, know that the girls are not holding their team member aloft whilst standing on a secure pool floor – they are all "egg beating" like crazy to stay above water level and give the necessary boost to the girl performing the somersault or aerial move!
Youngsters interested in taking up synchro can join a club for group coaching or pay for private coaching. Some schools also offer synchro as a school sport and this would be a good way to start off . The main synchro provinces are: KZN, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng all of which have various clubs available for keen youngsters to join. Contact details for each of these provinces are provided below.
As an affiliated sport of Swimming South Africa, synchro swimmers compete throughout the year at club, school, national and international level in the following competitions run under Fina regulations: Provincial Champs in February, USSASA Interprovincial Primary and High Schools Competitions in March, SA Senior National Aquatics Champs in April, Johan Terblanche Gala in October, Provincial Inter-schools Competitions in March, National Clubs Age Group competition in December, Comen Cup mid year in Europe, the World Cup and Commonwealth Games usually mid year in the years they are held.
The 2007 Primary Schools competition was featured on Supersport 1 and the Senior Nationals on Telkom Splash.
The provinces take turns hosting the SA competitions and dedicated members of the synchronised swimming clubs around the country manage, administrate, judge and score. To enter competitions, synchro swimmers have to become members of their provincial Aquatics organization, as do divers, swimmers and water polo players.
Entrants all have to compete in the figures section of each competition, but can choose to perform one or all of the following artistic routines: solo, duet, trio, team and combo. A combo is not the latest fast food meal from your local hamburger outlet, but stands for "free combination routine" where a group of swimmers perform a series of group, trio, duet and solo routines to one arrangement of music – guaranteed to be more fulfilling to experience than a hamburger on an empty stomach.
Many members of the synchro community provide coaching and facilities to the development of synchro amongst previously disadvantaged communities. One such person is Sushie Singh of Ottos Swimming Club in Durban, who ferries children to the Kings Park pool in her own vehicle so they can avail themselves of regular free coaching at the Kings Park pool by synchro legend, Barbara Dowell. Sushie who is head of department of her school, Springfield Model Primary, also accompanies the Primary schools team to the inter provincial schools competitions as their manager.
The more advanced synchro swimmers regularly demonstrate the sport to previously disadvantaged youngsters to encourage them to take up synchro. One of the obstacles to teaching synchro to these children is that they have to become competent swimmers before they can consider learning synchro. The Swimming South Africa Learn to Swim campaign is going some way towards addressing this stumbling block.
Fifteen year old Tashnie Reddi, who started as an Otto’s swimmer, then learnt synchro initially with Otto’s synchro coach, Helen Ibbbetson, was identified as having potential, so joined the larger KZN synchro club, Cygnus. Tashni recently picked up the bronze medal in the KZN Champs this year, then went on to achieve 4th place in the National intermediate figures and 5th in the National intermediate solo routines.
Tashnie was also in the KZN Aquatics team which won the silver medal in the Junior section of the National Aquatics Champs in April 2007. Tashnie has twice represented South Africa at the Comen Cup – 2004 and 2005 – and has the dedication and ability to reach the top.
Although both studying, the Semple twins spend many hours daily at the pool, working on their own synchro training as well as coaching and holding fitness classes for the many young girls who want to emulate these older role models. They incorporate hip hop dance classes into their fitness routine, to break the monotony of regular strength and flexibility sessions.
The twins radiate good health and happiness and attribute their positive approach to life to the fact that they enjoy their sport so much "Synchro is a lifestyle – it’s not just about achieving in competitions – it helps us lead a fit, healthy life of regular exercise, being out in the fresh air and sunshine, playing our music, having fun with our synchro friends."
Their friend and fellow Commonwealth Games synchro swimmer, Shannon Crowder, is presently on a synchronised swimming scholarship in America, so synchro also gives swimmers the opportunity to study overseas.
Derryn and Kendra’s comment to any young girls who want to start synchro is: "Most importantly to have fun – it’s a great way to get fit, combines gym, dance and swimming, and you get to meet other girls from all over South Africa."
details for more information on Synchronised Swimming in South Africa:
Mozambiçue and Angolan swimming pools