Parisian Aquatic Acrobats - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Parisian Aquatic Acrobats

By Cyril Marcilhacy/Cosmos/Redux


Because Aquaman was a superhero for a reason.

When I first met the Paris Aquatique team, I knew very little about synchronized swimming. The images I did have in mind were mostly of the women’s Olympic teams curving into graceful feminine shapes. But after several weeks of photographing this French men’s team, I discovered synchronized swimming is, in fact, a very demanding sport, requiring strength, endurance and flexibility. 

“We like to combine swimming, dance and acrobatics,” says 34-year-old Jean-Philippe. He and his nine teammates participated in an amateur competition in Paris that brings together synchronized swimmers (male and female) from all over Europe. Formed in 1998, the all-male team — comprised of engineers, designers, computer techs, sports instructors, real estate agents and police officers — is one of the few men’s synchronized swimming groups. In the Paris tournament, the men competed against 20,000 women from clubs affiliated with the French Federation of Swimming.

“We want to offer something explosive. Girls are in the grace and virtuosity. Us — strength and technique,” says Jean-Philippe.

Male participation in the sport has long been limited globally, except in France, where it’s on the rise. Men still don’t compete at the Olympic or world level, but in France, there’s movement to change that. 

I saw the fruits of that effort on May 18, 2013, at the Georges-Vallerey swimming pool. What I captured during that competition was four minutes of the aquatic version of a street fight.

That day, the boys won.

Man in swim trunks stretching by the pool

Marco, a 50-year-old former dancer at the Lido, warms up before going into the water.

5 men wearing swim trunks with backs to the camera by the pool

The Paris Aquatique men’s synchronized swimming team at a training session

Men in pool and woman out of pool instructing them

Solange, their coach, prepares them for the “tournoi de Paris” competition, held May 17–21.

Men underwater practicing sync moves

One of the last training sessions for the Paris Aquatique synchronized swimming team before the international Paris tournament

3 men in pool with caps looking at video camera

Team members watch themselves on camera to perfect their technique.

Men training in pool with caps and goggles on

The training is grueling and rewarding at the same time.

Men underwater practicing sync moves

Paris Aquatique synchronized swimming team members practice their upside-down underwater technique.

Men underwater practicing sync moves

The team practices its routine countless times to ensure perfection.

1 man underwater kneeling on pool floor looking up in goggles and swim cap

The swimmers work hard and are focused in each of their roles.

Men holding another swimmer up above the pool while standing in the water

Training takes many hours, and this is done in addition to their normal work hours.

Men standing with arms up in air stretching

The team warms up before getting into the pool.

Men looking at documents with serious looks

The French male synchronized swimming team checks the results of the international Paris tournament. Their team finished 5th in the main competition (male + female) and 1st among the male-only teams.

Men hugging each other

Jean Philippe and Marco celebrate after their successful routine during the international Paris tournament.

Men smiling shirtless with all the hands in the center celebrating

The Paris Aquatique team members celebrate after their successful routine during the international Paris tournament.


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