West Hollywood is generally considered to be the beating gay heart of Los Angeles, so it’s no surprise to find that it’s also the home of one of the world’s biggest LGBTI aquatics clubs – WH2O.
We spoke with Olivia Karlin from WH2O to see whether we have what it takes to pull on some speedos and dive in.
When was the club established?
We were founded in 1982. We’ve just celebrated our 35th anniversary.
Why is there a need for a specific LGBTI swimming club – why not just join the existing swimming clubs that are open to everyone?
I think what’s amazing about an LGBTI swim and water polo club is that we’re serving so many different needs — there isn’t one specific reason why our members swim with us as opposed to an existing swim club.
What I will say is that there’s a special relationship between our members — a bond, a sense of purpose, and a support system that goes so far beyond the pool — a bond that you just don’t have with a normal swim team.
Also, our workout playlists are better — way more Lady Gaga and Carly Rae Jepsen.
How many members does the club currently have?
Between swim and water polo, we’re around 150 members.
You really notice how big the team is at 7:15 practice on weekdays — being crowded by five or six other swimmers in your lane has its challenges, but I think it’s a testament to the strength of this team.
What’s the gender mix?
The team participation leans male, but we have members of all gender identities on the team.
Is membership growing?
Our membership has been expanding, and we’re also picking up a lot of young members who will be the next generation of WH2O swimmers and water polo players.
We have people of all abilities on the team, from former Olympians and Division 1 athletes, to people who are totally new to the sport.
We’re continuing to accept new members – we’re always excited to see new people on the pool deck.
Do you have to be LGBTI to be a member of the club?
You don’t have to be LGBTI to be a member of the team. WH2O is inclusive in every sense of the word — gender identity, orientation, age — we’re happy to have you. Just be ready to get wet!
What are some of the biggest challenges in running the club?
We’ve got an amazing coaching staff, but all the behind-the-scenes work is done by a network of volunteers. This ranges from arranging pool time, to running the team’s finances, to fundraising, and planning social functions like our holiday party. All of us have full-time jobs, so it’s tough to also help run a team in your spare time.
But if there’s one thing you need to know about swimmers, it’s that we’re ambitious to the point of being crazy — who else do you know who gets up at the crack of dawn to jump into a freezing pool?
What sort of standard of swimming does the club offer?
We encourage members to compete — there’s nothing like spending a weekend with your teammates at a meet or a tournament. Swimsuit bonding time is the best bonding time, but what’s great is that members compete at will.
We have athletes who compete at multiple meets or tournaments a year, some who compete in open water races, and others who simply don’t compete at all but enjoy the challenge our coaches give us at workouts.
What sort of competitions or events do members take part in?
Since we’re an LGBTI team, a whole range of events and competitions are open to us that most other aquatics organizations won’t compete at.
There are competitions against other masters teams. For example, we competed at a regional meet against other Southern California teams in December, and at Nationals in the spring — Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian were also competing.
At some tournaments we compete against other LGBTI athletes, like the Gay Games and the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics annual championship.
We also have a lot of swimmers who compete individually in open-water competitions, or other events like triathlons.
What are some of the key events or competitions coming up for the club?
We’re focusing on training for nationals next year in Indianapolis, and the Gay Games in Paris. The former is a United States Masters Swimming event with top-level national competition, and the latter is an LGBTI-focused competition.
Our water polo team is the defending gold medalist at the Gay Games.
Does the club take part in any community activities or outreach, or is the primary focus the swimming?
While WH2O’s primary focus is on training and competition, we do have a vibrant social calendar. These range from fundraisers that help the team operate, to our annual anniversary party, to a beach day, to a holiday party. We’re also always looking to expand our community outreach efforts.