CK, Bremerton swimming | Shaving legs and seconds

The Central Kitsap High School boys swimming team shows some skin after Monday at the Olympic Swim Center. The Cougars have a tradition of shaving before meets, which will continue this weekend at the Class 4A state tournament in Federal Way. - Mike Baldwin/staff photo
The Central Kitsap High School boys swimming team shows some skin after Monday at the Olympic Swim Center. The Cougars have a tradition of shaving before meets, which will continue this weekend at the Class 4A state tournament in Federal Way.
— image credit: Mike Baldwin/staff photo

Some athletes listen to music before taking the field.

Some write inspirational messages on their uniforms and shoes.

And some swimmers, hoping to trim seconds off their times, take a different approach.

They get together in hotel rooms and shave their bodies bare.

“It’s more than a tradition, but it’s also a prerequisite for swimming,” Central Kitsap swimmer Jason Soria said. “You’ve got to shave your legs and that’s your entrance into the manhood of the swimming world.”

Most preparations for the swim state tournament start in the pool, but often enough begin with a razor and can of Barbasol for Central Kitsap High School.

The Cougars boys swim team will compete Feb. 18 and 19 at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way for a shot at a Class 4A state championship.

While they’ve spent the last two weeks gearing up for the season finale with games of water polo and practicing strokes, the crew will also shave down for potentially quicker times as part of their own fraternity.

Soria will compete in the 50-yard freestyle Friday and said the team shaved prior to every significant meet this season. They’re playfully mocked on occasion by athletes in other sports, but the team bonds through its shared ritual.

“It’s just something we do as a team, we don’t care what others say,” said Central Kitsap Tyler Hirata, who will swim in the relays, 50 and 100 freestyle competitions.

Brendan Weiner, who also joins the relay, will swim the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly, and said his time in the 200 dropped 20 seconds when he started shaving at age 12. Though it’s unclear how many seconds can be trimmed with the help of shaving, Weiner takes pride in chopping hairs.

“Most guys say they’re men when they shave their face, but we’re all men when we shave our legs,” he said. “The real results can be negligible, but it’s really mental as anything when you know you can go faster.”

Senior Jeremy Torres is teased by teammates as the jungle hirsute guy on the team. The senior will swim the 200 individual medley, 100 breaststroke and relays, once he’s done snipping off hairs in the hotel bathroom with his teammates.

“Shaving definitely helps a lot, especially for a hairy guy like me,” Torres said. “When my legs are hairy, it tends to get out of hand, so it could make the difference at our meets.”

The effectiveness of shaving depends on the individual, Cougars head coach Steve Lahaie said Monday. Lahaie, who currently competes in adult Masters meets, hasn’t shaved for the sport since he competed in high school, adding that it wouldn’t make a difference anymore.

“There’s the feeling of no resistance that really adds to the effect,” he added. “I think it works for some and not others. It provides a little bit of an advantage because there’s a feeling that you’re going faster. There’s probably something to it, otherwise, people wouldn’t do it.”

The science of shaving involves drag from body hair that could potentially dampen swimmers’ times. Therefore, shaving might prove beneficial, according to a 1992 study conducted at the Human Performance Laboratory at East Carolina University in North Carolina. The data, provided by Livestrong, suggested that shaving increases a swimmer’s distance per stroke by about 5 percent.

Lahaie’s swimmers agreed, along with rival coaches from the area. Besides the Olympic High School girls swim team last fall and the Cougars, no other boys or girls prep squad shaved this past year. The Olympic boys trimmed in 2010 en route to an appearance at the 2A state tournament. Head coach Paul Henderson, and Klahowya Secondary School boys and girls swim coach Diana Smith, believe cropping provides a mental edge more than anything.

“Olympians shave down too, so there must be something to it,” Henderson added. “In terms of being more streamline and having less drag, it may depend on the level of hairiness.”

Central Kitsap girls swim coach Kristi Balant is a proponent of shaving for strokes. She believes swimmers should shave for championship meets to save time, urging her athletes to do so the morning of competition.

“It is ultimately up to the swimmer to decide what they want to shave,” she added. “For female swimmers, I recommend shaving knuckles, full arms, under arms, full legs and any other area on the body that has a significant amount of exposed hair, with eye brows and head hair excluded.”

Bremerton High School boys and girls swim coach Chriss Kuykendall shaved when he competed in high school, but doubts it helps much.

“We did it in high school and it was a part of the overall experience, a spirit of camaraderie, working towards a common goal,” he added. “But in the grand scheme of swimming, unless you have just a minute amount of time to lose, or a lot of hair that creates drag, I do not see that it will benefit you to shave.”

Pacific Lutheran University head swim coach Matt Sellman subscribes to the idea that shaving provides a greater psychological effect when competitors jump in the pool for the first time after a clean chop.

“When they go out and shave down and jump in the water for the first time, the feeling is incredible,” said Sellman, who was an All-American swimmer for PLU in the early 1990s. “There’s nothing holding you back, and that feeling of going fast is a big boost of confidence.”

Sellman’s swim squads have shaving parties the night before a big meet in what has become a bonding moment for the athletes.

“That process of hanging out with your teammates and having a great time together creates something great,” he added.

“They’re having a good time and it keeps them loose.”

Note: Quaid Williams will represent Klahowya at the Class 2A state tournament when he competes in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke this weekend.

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