Other Swim Groups
Tsunaminousby Jim Provenzano
Bay Area Reporter
San Francisco’s Tsunami Swim Club deserves an ocean of praise for having produced an utterly inspiring weekend of sunny competition last weekend at IGLA 2003, the 13th International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics Championship.
With up to four different events occurring at any time, Stanford’s Avery Aquatics Center made for a veritable mini-mall of sports to choose from. San Francisco events included a Welcome Party on Thursday at the Center (an IGLA donation recipient), hosted dinners, a women’s cocktail party, and Tsunami Polo’s Splish!, a club night on Saturday. Viva Variety 33, produced by Steve Murray (also a Tsunami swimmer), included a vocal performance by Shamey Cramer, who’s also on WH20’s water polo team.
When not warming up, lining up for their races, or recovering from the previous evening’s festivities, swimmers hung out on the inclined lawn area, or cheered on teammates.
Fashion statements ranged from floppy hats and cargo shorts, to colorful full bodysuits, and amusing team T-shirts and bathing caps. The bevy of butts with Speedos bearing team logos, and the ample array of athletes of all ages and sizes showcased the diversity of this amazing event.
Certainly, there was plenty of beefcake on display, but moreover, the sense of convivial spirit was more prominent, as swimmers from Walnut Creek to Wisconsin communed, traded stories, and enjoyed the extremely sunny weekend (or saved their skin by crowding under the shady tents).
Many records were broken, and personal bests took place at each race. For full stats and scores, please visit the www.IGLA2003.org web site.
Among the record holders, Lorenzo Benucci, now living in Atlanta, didn’t break any Masters records, as he did at IGLA ’99, where he broke the US record in the 100 Individual Medley.
"I was defeated then by a hundredth of a second on the 200-meter by another guy," he said. "But we were both below the world record, but hey, whatever!"
Following a back injury, though, he took a break, and just got back in the water last October. He now swims with the Trout’s "spin-off group," the Atlanta Water Jocks.
Synchronized swimming enjoyed its first appearance at IGLA in solo, duet and group performances, most notably by a ten-man team from Paris Aquatique.
Yann Fraval said that, "almost 30 swimmers came from Paris. This competition is well-organized with a wonderful facility, and the weather is perfect, so everything’s running smoothly."
Paris enjoyed hosting a higher number of European swimmers at its IGLA in 2000, as well as the usual herd of Americans and Canadians visiting. Fraval said that London may bid for an upcoming IGLA, but facility limitations in Europe are a problem.
"We try to be serious, but we don’t have Olympians. We have good swimmers, though."
In contrast to the risky demands of the sport, announcer Ivan Gordan, a diving coach himself, announced synchronized divers with a bevy of daffy drag names, including "Ivana Slapyerpuss," "Nadya Comaneatme," and "Gloria Hole."
The serious divers with a sense of humor included 1984 Olympic alternate Scott Smith, who won five gold medals and a silver. Australia’s Stephen Shaw and Kim Mo, and local young talent Adam Gutierrez (interviewed last week), among others, provided a unique balance of camp and quality athleticism.
Gordan also led a diving exhibition before Pink Flamingos, which explained basic diving terminology to the audience.
Although a gay & lesbian event, some competitors were straight, too. Ona Wang plays with Team New York Aquatics and helped out with West Hollywood’s team. "Some of the players are gay/lesbian, some are masters," she said. "We kind of hobbled them together for this tournament."
"It is growing," she said. "But Team New York still has only two women. I’ve been on the team for about five years."
Of her other team organizational efforts, "Mostly it was just a way to play water polo, so I called myself the coach," she said. "We lost every game, but it was just great to see a bunch of people out there playing."
When she and her husband started dating, he started getting into swimming for fitness, and inspired his interest in playing as well.
"It’s very hard to play and take up water polo after college. You have people who’ve played all their lives, or not at all."
After moving to New York City, she said, "When I first joined Team New York, I didn’t know it was a gay team. It’s kind of funny. I’d just come from playing on two men’s teams. It’s always a struggle, because I was the only woman on a team. The guys looked at me as a sex object, rather than a teammate. I kept with it, because I like to play."
Looking for a team that "wasn’t too crazy, that respected the fact that you have a job," she found Team New York on the web through USA Water Polo, the official governing body.
"I realized, some of these guys are pretty clearly gay, and what I liked was that everybody was okay with it," said Wang. "They were welcoming and friendly, unlike any other team I’d been on before. All the men’s teams were unfortunately pretty homophobic."
Joining Team New York, "felt like coming home," she said. "It was so comfortable. Playing water polo in a club situation is extremely difficult. If you’re the only woman in the pool, they’ll never pass the ball to you. You’re also getting clobbered by guys twice your size."
Men’s water polo included three days of competition among the much more experienced players. Seattle, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and even Sydney (among other cities) brought teams for the tournament.
David Armour of the Sydney Stingers, when asked how it felt to be at Stanford, joked, "We’re all jetlagged. Now we know how you guys felt when you came to Australia."
Armour explained that the Stingers were a new team formed shortly before Gay Games VI. "We pulled together quite well," he said. "We were beaten by Tsunami’s B team in Sydney, but defeated them here. We were pretty happy about that."
"We just wanted to come here, and get the biggest fan club," he laughed. "We see it as a diplomatic mission!"
Armour played water polo for years in Sydney, where it’s very popular, and included in schools at nearly all levels. Nationals take place each year, and Sydney teams even play New Zealand, where Armour said, with Aussie whimsy, "Of course, we beat them."
"It’s very popular in Australia. Everybody swims, even in-country. What else do you do in summers when it’s hot?"
But, as expected, the competition came down to the two California teams in a battle for the gold.
The final fierce match between rival A-teams of West Hollywood Aquatics (WH20) and Tsunami Polo enjoyed a grandstand’s western side filled with swimmers having finished their races, and more aquatics fans, making it the largest gay-inclusive water polo audience since Sydney’s Gay Games VI.
Tsunami started off in the first period with ferocity, scoring two goals in the first period. But WH20 soon caught up to tie before the half, and scored three more times, leading them to a 5-3 victory.
Shortly after the finish of all competition, the main pool’s grandstand continued to fill (at least the shady side), as preparations wound up for the always amusing Pink Flamingos Relay.
A pre-show exhibition of dazzling chore-aquatic skill by the Santa Clara Aquamaids wowed the audience. With six women in one-piece suits and golden headdresses, and one gorgeous man in a gold bikini, they enacted a tribal hunt ballet with brilliance.
Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus led the audience in a participatory rendition of the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of the Village People classic "Go West," and SF Cheer tossed and raw-rawed poolside as well.
Along with Stanford Athletics’ facility manager Mandy McEntire, Michael Fricke of American Airlines (IGLA’s Platinum Sponsor), Doren Martin of Shanti (an IGLA donation recipient), Rachel Click of Bonny Doon Vineyard (an event sponsor), yours truly was honored to be asked to judge the dragtastic event.
Being asked to score costumes, choreography, use of theme and audience response was no small task, but at least my BFA in dance came in handy.
Pink Flamingos was MCed by IGLA co-chair Brian Fitzgibbons and the wacky Peggy L’Eggs, whose fuschia party dress with a stuffed pink flamingo stole fit the event perfectly. "I had to kill Bjork to get this dress!" she joked before performing a song in her trademark loopy style.
Berkeley’s Team Fuego offered a Clif Notes "Wild, Wild West Side Story." While amusingly veering from the theme, their aquatic choreography was fantastic. Gang members, recognizable by small inflatable sharks and jets on their heads, "rumbled" in the pool in formations that even Jerome Robbins would have appreciated. The campy "Maria" (actually a straight new father in real life) felt pretty, oh so pretty, and the audience cheered to their mini-finale set to the Leonard Bernstein’s "America."
Toronto’s Triggerfish parodied Alcatraz’s prison blues with hunky inmates and a drag dominatrix lip-synching Queen Latifah’s rendition of "When You're Good to Mama" from the ‘Chicago’ soundtrack, while "sharks" circled the waters below.
Salt Lake City, Utah’s QUAC dared to two-step on the pool divider, and the Long Beach Grunions frolicked to Shania Twain’s "Feel Like a Woman" with a lot of bump and grind.
But Washington’s DC Aquatics Club best captured topical themes with their campy display celebrating the Supreme Court overruling of the Texas sodomy law by tossing the three "Nay"-saying justices into the pool.
"We worked on this for six months!" effused a French team member after the event, and it showed.
With so many organizational duties of their own, Tsunami wisely didn’t compete, but finished off the show with a rousing number, which included surfers, the Hollywood sign, missionaries, cowboys and Indians, flag-bearing hunks, and even Tsunami president Steve Martel waddling out in a cardboard Transamerica Building costume.
The weekend finished on Sunday night at the ornate nightclub Ruby Skye, where athletes and their fans feasted on an array of courses, appetizers, and desserts. Board co-chairs Joe Healy, Brian Fitzgibbons and Casey Cheung handed over the reins of IGLA to next year’s host, Florida’s Natadores, and new members of IGLA’s board were introduced. Despite costing over $100,000, the entire event was kept in the black, and able to raise $4000 each to beneficiaries Shanti and the SF GLBT Center.
Following the presentation, most swimmers enjoyed the groovy music as they filled the dance floor, while others flirted or observed from the balcony above.
Next year’s IGLA will be hosted by the Nadadores of South Florida at the Hall of Fame Aquatic Complex in Fort Lauderdale. Experienced swimmers have said it’s as fabulous a facility as Stanford’s. Expect a lot of swimmers to escape the autumn chill October 8-11 for another weekend of gay and lesbian swimming. They’ll be adding another event to IGLA, the first-ever ocean swimming competition.
For more info, visit IGLA2004.com