The Silver Swimmer
First let me introduce myself, I am in my fifties, going grey and growing my hair out.
Although still an apprentice longhair (I would describe myself as being well and truly "in the thick of it"), I have been a club swimmer for nigh on 20 years and know only too well how harsh the chemicals in a swimming pool can be.
Up until a couple of years ago I was a card-carrying member of the Buzzcut Brigade. I had dark brown hair which I kept in a number 2 in the summer and a 3 or 4 in the winter (I live in the west of Scotland where it can get pretty chilly in the winter - mind you it can be pretty chilly in the summer too! But I digress).
It was only when I saw a picture of myself taken once I was well on the road to grey hair (or silver if you prefer) that I realised the buzzcut was no longer working. Don't know if it was the angle of the sunlight, the angle of the camera or the colour of the background, but I looked bald! This came as a bit of a shock as I have a full head of fruitful follicles, so I decided to do something about it and began the long hair journey.
The ultra-short hair was of great benefit when swimming, one bottle of shower gel did me from top to toe and once I had showered, one flick of my fingers and the hair was dry. Being so short and trimmed so often the hair was always too young to sustain damage. For a competitive swimmer this is Heaven!
When Long Locks Become a Drag
Then I started growing it out. After a few months I had uncontrollable straw sticking out of my scalp, random bits of stiff bristle growing at all angles except the desirable ones. That prompted the first change in the contents of the swim bag and the daily routine, please welcome conditioner into the story and my graduation from the One Bottle Shower Club to the Two Bottle Shower Club.
I had heard of conditioner but had no idea about what it was or how to use it, so I bought the cheapest non-girly smelling one I could find (think it was £1 for 500mL) and found it made a difference. Now after a swim my head smelled of a cocktail of chlorine, apples & mint but at least the hair was behaving itself (sort of).
Fast forward several months and a few futile haircuts, I still have no acceptable shape to my hair, the crown is permanently tufty, triangles appear above each ear so I try for a little more length. It now starts to become apparent that the current regime of shower gel on the hair is no match for the pool chemicals.
Time to get more radical! Please now welcome to the story that well-known duo of swim cap and shampoo, and cue graduation to the Three Bottle Shower Club. At the same time, I ditch the bargain basement conditioner and start buying proper branded product, swimming is now getting more expensive!
The Swim Cap Conundrum
Having mentioned the swim cap, a few thoughts on the pros and cons. I'll start with the downsides first of all:
Firstly, they are a nightmare to put on! The amount of high quality slapstick comedy I have given fellow members of the swim club is incredible. They are designed to be tight fitting and are made of very stretchy latex or silicone.
The routine is as follows: fingers inside, stretch cap, bring down onto crown of head, ease edges down to hairline, PINNNNGGGGGG, ask person in the next lane to give you the cap back, repeat exercise several times.
Secondly, they make you look like a conehead. Nothing further to be added to this point, you look like a conehead.
Thirdly, they are very uncomfortable at first and also remove the feeling of where your head is in the water. This is very important for freestyle swimmers as a fractional lift of the head causes a significant drop in the hips and legs, thus increasing drag in the water, slowing you down. Not good if the coach has the stopwatch on you.
The Wrap on The Cap
They stop you from going blind. Breaststroke swimmers with longish hair and no swimcap can't see in front of them! Their fringe (bangs) drops down over the goggles and acts like a set of curtains. Swimcap cures this immediately.
You suddenly realise that nobody in the swim club is bothered by the conehead look, in fact you start making new friends as the female members of the club begin to offer tips about swim caps in particular and hair care in general.
They stop the pool water from getting to your hair. Suddenly you're not having an hour of total immersion in the chemicals and your hair starts to recover. Life as a longhair swimmer starts to seem a realistic choice.
Another odd upside is that as the hair grows longer the swim cap fits better! At first the short bristly hairs push it up and off after a few lengths of the pool, but as the hair grows longer and more pliable it fits inside the cap neatly and the problem diminishes.
Swimming with long hair can be summarised thus: for swimmers wanting to grow your hair long or longhairs wanting to spend more time swimming, you’ll do well for yourself by upgrading your cleansing and conditioning products to protect your new locks from the harsh pool chemicals.
Also, swim caps are your friends. Just think of them as waterproof beanies! If anyone is still concerned about "image" and uncool swim caps, ask yourself whether Michael Phelps felt concerned about looking like a conehead whenever he smashed a World Record or won Olympic gold. If it's good enough for the best swimmers on the planet, it's more than good enough for me!