Science: Understanding Our Affinity for Water

Bonnie Tsui on Why We Swim and what keeps her afloat.

bonnie tsui
Lynsay Skiba

Sometimes swimming is a wormhole through which to escape the grinding machinery of everyday life,” writes Bonnie Tsui. “I get in a lake and swim away, as far as I can.” Tsui explores our love for jumping into bodies of water and keeping ourselves afloat. Her book uses shipwrecks in Iceland, swim teams borrowing Saddam Hussein’s pool, and story lines of athletes, daredevils, and a person or two who nearly drowned to offer a cultural and scientific explanation for our relationship with water. The book is structured by five themes that attempt to answer the title question: survival, well-being, community, competition, and flow.

This article appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Alta Journal.

Where is your favorite place to take a dip?
Hawaii. Closer to home, Tomales Bay is especially magical. But I will basically swim anywhere.

What did you discover about your own affinity for swimming while writing this book?
That my swimming life is more tethered to my writing life than I realized; the health of one is directly related to the health of the other. A morning swim always provides clarity and calm, and it sets me up for creative practice.•

Algonquin Books


Algonquin Books
Ajay Orona is an associate editor at Alta Journal.  He earned an M.A.
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