When the surf used to crash near Punahou School in Honolulu. Dave Powlison's swimming coach would call off practice and take his team body surfing.
It was typical of the carefree approach the team had. Punahou hadn't lost any meets since 1954, and races were usually between good friends. There was no pressure.
"In a lot of ways it was more enjoyable than it's been here." Powlison said Tuesday night. He's a senior free-styler for Harvard. "Since being at Harvard there's been a dual meet pressure I've never really responded to. I really do enjoy swimming and I really do enjoy pushing myself. But seeing guys in other lanes really hassles my head."
Powlison was especially down on swimming last winter after the Dart-mouth meet. "I cared so much, and I tried so hard," he recalled. "I literally swam my guts out more than I had in my whole life." Nevertheless, he lost the 1000-free, and later in the 500-free folded after leading for 300 yards. Harvard lost the meet.
"It just had to change," Powlison said Tuesday. "I was killing myself worrying about races. Against Princeton the next week it was life or death." Assistant coach Benn Merritt agreed to put him in an outside lane where he'd be less aware of other swimmers, and Pawlison responded with a come-from-behind win in the 1000.
Since then Pawlison's been more able to suppress the competitive aspect and think about the aesthetic side instead. The rhythm has become the important thing. "This year in some way I've been reexperiencing it the way it used to be."
He's taking a fairly low-keyed approach to tomorrow's meet with Yale, when the Crimson has a chance for victory for the first time since 1962. "I really enjoy swimming against Yale," Powlison asserted. "It's almost as if we're all in it together, we're all on the same team. It's not cut-throat the way it is with Penn."
Similarly, Powlison has started to like running because there are no expectations to live up to. As a swimmer he had been a High School All-American for two years, and he holds the Harvard 200-free record of 1:478, so he had to worry about reputation.
Despite having no track experience, he entered the intramural mile last Spring and finished second in 4:35. Last October, after three days of practice, he finished second in the House cross country race. "I guess I've just got good lungs." he explained afterwards.
Even when drunk one day last summer he entered an AAU meet two-mile on the spur of the moment to see what he could do. Powlison, running barefoot on a cinder track in 90-degree heat, led for a mile before dropping out.
"I really like it," Powlison said. "It's that process of going towards the top again, and it's a wonderful process." He wants to go out for track this Spring.
But swimming was always the natural thing. Powlison's father was one of the nation's top freestylers in the 1940's, and Powlison learned to swim when he was three. As a boy he went to the beaches near his Honolulu home every day.
His father never pushed him, though, and Powlison is grateful for that. In fact, he is so fascinated by his relationship with his father that he wrote a 70-page paper on it for Professor Goethals last year. "Dave's a Soc Rel major, but he's smart." one teammate remarked recently.