story by Becky Maltby
photos by Wayne Levin
Nice height on that eggbeater!” The comment goes to Rachel Finn.
“Go into your combined spin and then a rocket.” That’s for Susie Rodenkirchen.
In the middle of it, I’m trying to keep in mind whose legs are whose. I do know Rachel’s a brunette and Susie’s a blonde—but since their heads and torsos are both underwater at the moment, that doesn’t help me much. All I can see are calves and thighs—and both women have the muscular builds of veteran athletes. I stand on the pool deck at the University of Hawai‘i at MAnoa, trying to figure out how these two are keeping themselves upside down, perfectly straight, spiraling and holding their breath all at the same time.
“Dancing Cheek to Cheek” begins to play from a CD player, evoking the elegance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Susie has surfaced, and as her face lights up, she begins her solo routine. Her arms strike quick poses in rhythm before she disappears underwater and her legs form into splits. “Get your upper body into it so there’s a bit more expression!” her coach Lisa Velez shouts over the music. Susie darts from one side of the pool to the other in a quick succession of stylized back and side strokes. When she’s finished, she receives some tips from her coach. “You’re not engaging your quads,” Lisa says. “You’re hitting a ballet leg, then you’re trying to arch.” Susie nods in agreement, but I don’t get it. It looked flawless to me.
On the other side of the pool, “The Hukilau Song” starts to play, and Rachel begins a precisely executed swim-hula. Her coach, Lianne Cameron-Vrielink, talks to her through a microphone hooked up to an underwater speaker. “Keep your legs centered about your body,” she urges upside-down Rachel in a voice that’s
both assertive and encouraging.
As the sun beats down on my shoulders and I admire the strength and grace I’m witnessing, I’m certain of one thing: Synchronized swimming—or “synchro” as it’s widely known—feels like a perfect fit for Hawai‘i. “The sport is really taking off here, isn’t it?” I ask the coaches. They exchange pleased smiles. “That’s what we think,” says Lianne. “The sport is really making some headway.”