It’s now called “artistic swimming” in international competitions, but for the team members of Caymanite Synchro, synchronised swimming requires more physical stamina and coordination than a typical art form.
“Synchronised swimming is multiple sports all fused into one,” says Caymanite Synchro coach Alissa Moberg. “It requires elements of gymnastics, dance, competitive cheerleading and speed swimming. When you look at what it takes to be skilled at synchronised swimming, it takes all of those disciplines.”
The sport entails swimmers performing a routine synchronised to music, but also, when it’s not a solo performance, synchronised with other swimmers.
Moberg, who has been the synchronised swimming coach here in the Cayman Islands for two years this month, says she got her start in the sport in middle school the same way many children still do: she moved on from being a racing swimmer.
“I would say half of the swimmers [on the Caymanite Synchro team] came from a speed swimming background,” she said. “They love the water and the competition, but not the daily routine of speed swimming. They were looking for something more creative. In those cases, synchronised swimming is a natural progression from speed swimming.”
After participating in synchronised swimming in high school and at the University of Minnesota, Moberg began coaching.
Her coaching experience led to an opportunity in Kingston, Jamaica, where she became the head coach of the Jamaican National Synchro team. While there, she was recruited by Laura Ribbins of Fitness Connection on Grand Cayman.
Prior to Moberg’s establishing synchronised swimming at Fitness Connection, there weren’t any sustained initiatives with the the sport here in the Cayman Islands.
“St. Ignatius has a synchronised swimming club and in the ‘80s there was a group of women who did it, but that’s it,” she said. Moberg said she wasn’t sure how well the sport would be received at Fitness Connection.
“We had two clinics to see if there was interest,” she said, adding that she was very surprised when 40 children showed up.The Caymanite Synchro team, which has become the de facto Cayman Islands national team, attracted 10 children the first year.
“We now have 33 kids,” said Moberg. “The support from the swimming community here has been unparalleled.” The results in international competitions for the nascent Caymanite Synchro have been impressive and perhaps equally unparalleled.
Just eight months after its founding, the Caymanite Synchro team travelled to Coral Springs, Florida, to compete in the Novice and Intermediate World Championships in the Under-12 and Under-16 categories. The U-12s finished in third place while the U-16s won the gold medal for its age group. One of the team’s swimmers, Jade Barnes, also placed first overall in the individual skills competition.
“I had put some pretty aggressive goals in front of these kids and they met the challenge,” Moberg said. “They worked incredibly hard.”
The almost instant success was one of the reasons the team roster more than tripled in the second year.
“It was that and the fact that we travelled to competitions,” Moberg said. “The minute you say we’re travelling, interest goes up.”
CONTINUING TO GROW
Caymanite Synchro grew in more than just size in its second year; it also stepped up its competitive events.
Seeing the need to compete on an international stage, the programme became a part of Camana Bay Aquatic Club — better known as CBAC — in December 2017. That gave the Caymanite Synchro team the chance to compete internationally as part of the Cayman Islands Aquatic Sports Association.
In April, six Caymanite Synchro team members — Amber Barnes, Abbie Carnahan, Nicolas Isabel, Madison Van Duynhoven, Jade Barnes and Helena Frawley — travelled to Kingston, Jamaica, to participate in the 2018 CARIFTA Swimming Championships. It was the first time the Cayman Islands had sent athletes to participate in the CARIFTA artistic swimming events.
The results were astounding for a first-time CARIFTA entrant as the team earned one gold, one silver and two bronze medals. The gold medal was won in the age 13-15 mixed duet event by Amber Barnes and Nicolas Isabel, the only male member of Caymanite Synchro.
In May, the team travelled to Walnut Creek, California, to participate in a regional meet.
“The Walnut Creek Aquanauts are one of the top teams in the U.S. and continue to produce Olympians,” Moberg said. “I thought it was important to give our team competition outside what they would normally face in the Caribbean.”
Facing better competition is what allows athletes the ability to improve, something Moberg thinks is important for Caymanite Synchro.
“I think our goal should be to pursue a higher level of competition with each passing year,” she said. “I think the long-term goal of synchronised swimming for the Cayman Islands team should be the Olympics, but I don’t know if I’ll be the one to get them there. However, there are now many other opportunities for these athletes to represent their country at international events.”
Continuing to improve will take discipline and hard work from the young athletes. There is also a lot of practice. The 12-and-unders on the team have to practice three times a week at the Camana Bay Sports Complex pool. Those aged 13 and older practice six times a week, including twice on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Not all of Caymanite Synchro’s activities involve competition, though; they also perform shows and demonstrations for the public.
“The shows are a fantastic opportunity to gain exposure for the programme,” said Moberg, adding that the team enjoys performing at various events when asked. “The more opportunities to perform, the better.”
On June 20, 29 of the Caymanite Synchro members performed 22 routines for a crowd of about 150 people at the Royal Palms to mark the end of their second year.
“The show was really a celebration of their hard work,” said Moberg. “It was one last opportunity before summer to perform in front of a crowd and show off what they could do.”