Swim qual is another one of those things that would be fun if it wasn’t in the Marine Corps. In theory, jumping into a pool with your closest friends and swimming around should be a grand old time.
However, trying to swim across a pool or tread water for 5 minutes in boots and cammies is a lot harder than it initially looks. These training events more often than not devolve into a panic-attack of splishing and splashing while a cold-hearted instructor watches you drown.
Me personally: I consider myself a relatively strong swimmer, and had no real problems passing swim qual “2” (the old system pre-2012) in boot camp. I occasionally surf as well, and I can tell you personally that water has a way of separating the real men from the boys. As big and tough as you may think you are, you’re no match for the domain of Poseidon. A big body of water will quickly humble you in seconds if you’re not ready for it.
It was interesting to see the wide range of proficiencies and deficiencies aboard the Recruit Depot. I was a weak body that couldn’t do 10 pull-ups (tall and lanky), but I could shoot Expert, never fell out of a single hump, and passed Swim Qual with flying colors. Conversely, my platoon guide could run a 300 PFT, but he unq’d on the range and nearly drowned in the pool.
The Marine Corps is truly a place of unmatched diversity. But never forget, Marines are first and foremost expected to be amphibious.