Africans Are the Best Swimmers…At ANY Age

Little swimming champFor many years, conventional wisdom has held that blacks can not swim. (I use the term ‘black’ to apply to anyone of African descent. The term is meant with respect to encompass the broad range of cultures descending from the African continent) A widely discredited academic report years ago stated that the physiology of a black person leads to their sinking which explained why blacks couldn’t swim. Prejudice dressed up with academic credentials to support entrenched beliefs, accepted as fact, all real evidence to the contrary. Such is the insidious nature of prejudice.

I had the great pleasure of meeting with Bruce Wigo, President of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We discussed how cultural norms have kept African-Americans out of swimming lessons. The ISHOF, well worth a visit, has an excellent exhibit which explains how history really worked. The exhibit begins as: “In 1451, Europeans began their explorations of the west coast of sub-Saharan Africa and discovered that African people were by all accounts expert watermen and “the best swimmers in the world”. The Europeans attributed these extraordinary swimming skills to constant exercise and “from being brought up, both men and women from infancy, to swim like fishes.” The exhibit goes on to explain how valued Africans were in the Navy and on fishing fleets. During the period of slavery in the U.S., in the 18th century it was estimated that 80% of blacks could swim and only 20% of whites could swim, until it was determined that swimming allowed slaves to escape and was banned, relegating an entire cultural group to a higher risk of drowning deaths for many generations. If you’d like the full text, just e-mail me at

Indigenous people and minorities consistently drown at higher rates than whites in virtually every country, and yet many of these groups come from a rich heritage that understood and respected water. Native Americans. Maori. Aboriginals. Inuits. And Africans. There is no rational reason. Please tell your kids this…and then teach them to swim.

Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it – and die.

About the Author

Global water safety for children is my passion and I can't wait to get up every day to work at it! I blog about water safety regularly at, or you can follow me on Twitter at RebeccaSaveKids. Rebecca is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team


6 Responses to “Africans Are the Best Swimmers…At ANY Age”

  1. I can’t believe the stereotypes people come up with. I know plenty of people who can and can not swim. It’s not the body type, it’s simply that nobody taught them! How strange!

    • Stefanie Zucker sazucker says:

      Strange…and scary…and really, really sad that we allow beliefs like this to continue – even today. We need more open-minded people like you Julie!!

    • I agree Julie! Sadly these beliefs are deeply embedded in cultures now – shining a light on them is the only way to make sure they aren’t passed on to future generations!

  2. Naudine says:

    I’ve personally been stereotyped but thank God I learned how to swim at a young age. There are some African Americans that weren’t fortunate like me. Bruce Wigo included me in his exhibit a while ago and I was fortunate to learn of the drowning epidemic, and I’ve dedicated my life to teaching others, no matter the race, how to swim.

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