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by Rich Burns

June 7, 2011

My family has a beachfront summer home on Lake Michigan. We’re just a stone’s throw from a state park. A couple of years ago, on a crowded July 4, seven people drowned within one-quarter mile from where I was sitting. The water was a bit choppy but hardly rough. While I wondered what could have caused that concentration of swimming deaths, I recognized the importance of the USMS Swimming Saves Lives Foundation’s lifesaving mission.

I have a theory. Although highly unscientific (perhaps a Foundation grant could corroborate it), I believe that a significant number of drownings result from men’s swimwear. My few attempts to swim while wearing those stylish calf length “baggies” always results in tremendous discomfort. I have the feeling of lugging an unwieldy weight and there’s that annoying giant air bubble that gets in the way. These suits hang way below the knee and when wet, are heavy. I am a strong swimmer but clothed in a baggie I feel like an awkward beginner. On a weaker swimmer they could very easily drag one under.

I was therefore heartened to read a recent Wall Street Journal article (Show Some Leg, May 14) on a trend toward shorter men’s trunks. The opening read, “Is it the economy? Better workout habits? For whatever reason, the American man is embracing shorter swimwear.” Imagine my excitement at this important safety development. But to my dismay, this was an article about fashion. The best we can expect from this couture trend is a couple of inches. In fact, the article’s author reports that, “There’s little evidence that Speedos will be wildly popular anytime soon.”

A Master’s venue will unfortunately remain the only place a 68-year-old man can unabashedly wear a skimpy racing suit. But since I consider swimming in a baggie both uncomfortable and dangerous, for modesty’s sake I will continue to wear them over my brief suits when in public, and slyly sneak them off each time I enter the water for a real swim.