If Leonardo da Vinci Were An Open Water Swimmer

Courtesy of WOWSA, Venice, Italy.

Thinking imaginatively, the great scientist, painter, inventor, engineer and sculptor Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) would have enjoyed open water swimming in modern times. There are various hints in his writing, drawings, quotes and thinking that led us to believe so.

Based on his most famous drawing, the Vitruvian Man is where he presented the ideal proportions of the human body. It would have been interesting to see a study by Leonardo on the Vitruvian Swimmer, the ideal proportions for an open water swimmer.

During Leonardo’s life during the Renaissance, the study of art and science was not perceived as mutually exclusive. Both build upon the other. This combination of art and science seems to be where the global open water swimming community currently finds itself. While we know the distance, average water temperature and wind speed of any given open water course at any time (the ‘science’ of open water swimming), there are other issue to consider (the ‘art’ of open water swimming like selecting a coach or members of escort crew or the type of hydration) in order to finish the swim as quickly and efficiently as possible.

As a scientist, Leonardo’s approach to science was one of intense observation and detailed recording. His tools of investigation were almost exclusively based on his vision while his journals give insight into his investigative processes. In the modern world, Leonardo undoubtedly would have observed the motion of water and the progress and technique of the swimmer, written carefully in an Observer’s Log, in order to make suggestions on how to swim faster or select a better course or pace.

Leonardo’s integrated, holistic views of science would have enabled him to not only paint and draw gorgeous artwork but would have advanced the current schools of thought of open water swimming where research using modern technology and tools is still in its infancy.

Leonardo’s series of journals in which he wrote almost daily, as well as separate notes and sheets of observations, comments and plans would have found their modern-day equivalent in blogs and websites enabling conversations and comments on online social network that would have enhanced his reputation.

Leonardo’s study of the motion of water led him to design machinery that utilized its force. His study of hydrodynamics was also consistent with his tinkering of the idea of swim fins. If he lived during the era of the modern Olympics where success in the field of athlete competition can bring fame and money, it is entirely plausible to imagine Leonardo would have further develop aids for training and in the propulsion of swimming.

But what may be the biggest hint of all that Leonardo would have been interested in swimming is his quote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Swimming from point to point or along a shoreline is a ideal example of simplicity: humans working with or against nature under their own power, both physical and mental. However, if a swimmer considers the water temperature fluctuations throughout the year, lateral and oncoming currents, waves and swells, the battle against marine life, tidal flows, and competition against the clock and other athletes, there is a level of sophistication that open water swimming has that would be fascinating for Leonardo to consider.

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