To Swim Or Not To Swim

swimming with natural hair

So they say black people and water don’t mix but as naturals we really have no excuse to strip down and dive in. Our curls thrive when wet. Worried about the chlorine and salt water? Don’t fret. If diver Katura Horton-Perinchief can compete for 20 years and keep her gorgeous mane in check, there’s no reason the rest of us can’t test the waters. We wanted some of her tips for swimming with natural hair.

Katura is one of my closest friends and so I persuaded her (more like blackmailed) to do this interview. It’s quite an honor actually. Katura is the first black female diver to ever compete in the Olympics. That’s history! She hails from Bermuda and as well as the Olympics Katura has represented them in multiple Commonwealth Games and the Pan American Games.

Here she let’s us into the secrets of her hair care regimen…

1. How did you get into competitive diving? Who introduced you to the sport?

I did gymnastics as a tiny tot (started at age 3, actually) but I always loved the water. Coming from Bermuda where we are surrounded by water and water activities, there was always the opportunity to jump off high things into water. LOL! I was always the only little girl amongst boys jumping off of bridges and rocks. I took to this pretty early so my mom got me into the sport when I was 5.

2. You started competitive diving at the age of 7. Explains why you were so good! You’ve since stopped competing but how did your hair survive all those years of chlorine and water?

I was 5 when I started diving into chlorinated pools and I dove until I was 25. I probably didn’t get a hang of my hair regime until I was about 16. As the only little Black girl in the pool, I needed my mother to wash it, condition it, comb it and tend to it until I was at least 13. It got damaged, broken, bleached. My hair has been through the ringer.

3. Have you always been a natural curly girl?

No!!! At about age 14 I was thoroughly fed up and convinced my mom to let me get a relaxer in my hair because, by that point, I was training six days a week and oftentimes twice a day. She acquiesced and that lasted about a year. The chemicals on chemicals were making my hair dry and brittle so at age 15 I cut it all off (yes, I had about half an inch of hair on my head) and started over. It was really a revolution of sorts for me and definitely a turning point for my hair.

4. What’s your current routine? (How often do you wash/condition; deep condition; favorite products etc.)?

Since I don’t dive as much anymore, this is a pretty low maintenance process. I enjoy wearing my hair curly and letting it do whatever it wants. I condition my hair daily and wash it (with shampoo) about once a week. In the summertime, though, when I’m in the ocean a lot, I wash it more often but I certainly still condition it daily. I comb it out once every 3-4 weeks to minimize breakage. Admittedly I only go to the salon about once a year for a cut, deep treatment and just to get everything back in check but I get my ends trimmed more often.

For my day to day routine, I use Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner for dry and damaged hair (the blue bottle) since I’m a wash and go kinda gal. When I have an event, however, I use a series of three Ouidad products. After I condition and rinse thoroughly, I apply Ouidad climate control gel all over my head (in pieces, though, so it ALL gets control climatized). I then apply Ouidad’s whipped curls (daily conditioner and styling primer) product which, I must say, is a DREAM. It’s a very heavy cream based styling product which weighs down the curls and helps define them when I’m wearing my hair “out”. Finally, I spritz it all over with Ouidad’s Sun Shield leave-in spray and I’m good to go.

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5. Any special hair tips to share with fellow natural swimmers/divers?

Yes. Be gentle. :) Don’t rake, pull, yank…try to be patient with your curls. Finger comb to get rid of the knots and THEN use a wide toothed comb. Also, douse your hair in conditioner before you get into the pool. It’ll act as a kind of barrier between your hair and the chlorine.

Finally, try not to wash your hair too often. Your straight hair counterparts will do this but, trust me, it’s not for you. Just rinse out the chlorine and condition. Wash twice a week (if you’re in the pool every day). The chlorine will dry out your hair as it is so the whole point is to put the moisture back in.

6. For many naturals it’s a journey to fully understand their hair. It’s a process of trial and error. What was your “Curls Understood” moment (the moment you felt like, “I’ve got this!”)?

I don’t think that I’ve ever had a “Curls Understood” moment. LOL! As a curly girl through and through, I don’t think my hair revolution had very much to do with my hair itself. When I cut it off and allowed it to grow as it wanted to, it was an internal change for me. An acceptance that grew into a genuine love for who I am and what my curls represent.

When I wake up in the morning, I take a look in the mirror and sometimes my hair looks FABULOUS and sometimes it looks otherwise but either way, I’m in love with my hair. It started out as a love/hate relationship but now, it’s just love. My standard of beauty is my own and my hair is my crowning glory so I do my best to take care of it and allow it to be healthy. My hair doesn’t always do what I want it to do but it always does what it wants to do and it is always very, very Katura and that, in itself, is pretty cool.

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