GENERAL ARTICLES

Get in the Swim

Toss away those water wings, slow foot . . . You too can be an aquabat

JANE HUGHES August 1 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

Get in the Swim

Toss away those water wings, slow foot . . . You too can be an aquabat

JANE HUGHES August 1 1945

Get in the Swim

JANE HUGHES

BY SEA beach and lake shore, in tiled pools and country ponds, Canadians of both sexes and a truly amazing diversity of ages are learning how to have fun in the water. Holiday time is swimming time, whether you’re a spry urchin in a pair of cutdown denims, a lovely in a wisp of wool or lastex that does well by your hull lines, or a gaffer operating on the three strokes, pause and puff system.

If you haven’t already discovered the pleasures that wait you in those waters beyond the bathtub and the drinking glass, it’s high time to get in the swim. So let’s tag along with some of Canada’s oui standing mermaids and mermen for a dog-day session of diving, swimming and general dunking.

Jumping on bedsprings might be considered an unorthodox way of launching on the course to aquatic fame, but that’s just how Evelyn Buchanan, Canada’s reigning Queen of the Diving Boards, got herstart. Evelyn, an attractive 20-year-old blonde, winner for three consecutive years of the Canadian Women’s Diving Championship and junior diadem wearer for two years previous, is a diving “natural.” She was the despair of her parents when, as a tot, she broke bedspring after bedspring practicing flying take-offs.

A veteran in aquatic experience, Evelyn—“Pud” to her intimates—fell in love with the water when she entered her first competition at the age of six. She caught the eye of Alex Duff, mentor of

the Dolphinet Club of Toronto, whose divers have held Canadian titles almost continually for the past 20 years. Coach Duff says: “Evelyn was just a mite

when I first saw her but she had more nerve than any youngster I have ever known. Why, at seven she entered the mile-and-a-half Toronto Humber River s vim and was the youngest to finish. And a two-mile across-Toronto-Bay swim, she took in her stroke.”

Swimming held Evelyn’s attention for several years; and she accumulated enough silverware and medals to overflow a cupboard in lier room. Then one day, when she was 13, Alex Duff said: “I think a girl like you, who will tackle anything, has the makings of a real diver. If you’re willing to work and work hard, together we can make you not only a good diver but champion of Canada!”

“Pud” took up the challenge and entered her first real competition a week later.

In that week she had to learn half a dozen new dives, a feat that seemed impossible. Hour after hour she practiced. In one session she walked more than two miles just climbing out of the pool and up the steps to the diving board. When the big day finally arrived her body was covered with black-and-blue water bruises. But, undaunted, she refused to withdraw her entry; and when the event was over she had won second honors in the Ontario Junior Women’s springboard championship.

Today “Pud”and neither she nor her family remember how she came by the nickname—would rather dive than eat. She prefers a three-metre board (10 feet above the water), and because there is no indoor board of this type available to girls for regular practice in Toronto, she doesn’t do much winter diving. As soon as the outdoor pools open, however, she practically makes them a second home. Almost every day at five o’clock she goes straight to the tank from her job as cashier in a Toronto department store. Supper just has to wait until she arrives home around 10.30. She confesses to sometimes having a sandwich and glass of milk in the afternoon.

Diving has meant a lot of hard work to Evelyn, but

Toss away those water wings, slow foot . . . You too can be an aquabat

it has rewarded her handsomely. In the first place, diving has heen fun—and the occasional miscue, with its inevitable stinging slap from the water, has all been part of the game. Other rewards have been trips across Canada and to a number of American cities, and a well-knit, supple figure on a five-foot-four frame.

Evelyn emphasizes that you don’t have to be a champion to get fun, health and a trim shape from diving. A springboard, a pool of water and a congenial gang are all the props required. The wonderful thing about this group stuff is that it provides bloodtingling exercise along with your pleasure.

In addition, a dive is the easiest and fastest way to get you into the water, doing away with the inch-byinch torture of a gradual dunking.

In these days instructors have a beginner diving even before he can swim 50 feet. This is to get him over that first hurdle of fear more quickly. Learning to swim, after all, is about 95% confidence. Suppose you’re at the side of a pool or on a raft and you want to get that first dive in. Here’s Evelyn’s easy system.

Just sit with your feet over the edge, dangling in tin* water, and your arms straight overhead. Keep your thumbs together, but not your palms. Now look down at your stomach and bend forward, stretching your finger tips toward the water. Bend over more, now a little more, slowly, just as you’d squeeze the trigger on a rifle. Suddenly, swish! You’ve made your first dive. Water won’t go up your nose if you blow out gently while under the surface. And don’t worry about coming up again. Your hands will act as rudders. Just point them upward and the resUof you follows.

After a few fall-ins like this, Evelyn suggests trying the same thing while down on one knee, curling the toes of your other foot over the edge. You’re doing fine! How about trying it standing up? Remember to keep your knees slightly bent, and aim for a spot about two feet from the side of the pool. Just as your feet leave the ground, throw them up from the hips and you should go into the water with hardly a splash.

Most of your first plunges will be straight headers-— “bellyflaughts” if you muff them. Evelyn Buchanan says the cardinal rule for these elementary diyes is to keep your head down. The tendency is at the last second before entering the water to pull the head back and up. It’s a simple nerve reflex but it can have disastrous consequences, especially if you have a bare midriff. But head down makes for a neat entry and no water smacks.

Evelyn has another tip. This one is for overcoming a frequent difficulty in elementary springboard diving —keeping the legs straight. The trick, she says, is to point your toes. Then your knees just naturally straighten out.

Here are a few simple dives Evelyn suggests for beginners and duffers. They can be picked up without too much effort, and can be performed off a board or wharf.

First, working from your straight running forward header, you can do the swan. On the lift from the board, following the take-off, arch the back and lift the head while stretching the arms out horizontally from the shoulders. Just before entry bring the arms together in front of the head. Remember, lots of

height gives you time for twisting and turning and means less splash as you zip into the water.

The jackknife is another development of the straight header. At the apex of the dive the hips are lifted sharply, with knees straight, to form an inverted “V” or “pike” and the fingers touch the toes, or try to! Then you straighten out for the usual clean entry.

Most dives can be done in the pike, the straight or layout, and the tuck positions. The tuck means drawing the knees up against the chin, grasping the ankles and making like a ball.

Next, standing on the end of the board facing inward, try a back dive. The trick is to throw the head well back and reach for the water with the back arched. Then incorporate this into a back somersault. Or, with the same starting position, bend the knees as if you were going to sit in an overstuffed chair. Keep leaning until you’re ’way back, then throw your feet up and over to enter the water first.

Want to do a little showing-off? Nearly everyone does. Here are a few stunt dives that are good for a chuckle. To give a reasonable facsimile of a cannon ball take one of your lustiest springs, to get the height you’ll need, and go into a tuck. When you hit the water without opening up, the splash is terrific!

Again, you can imitate Freddie the Frog by putting your palms together with elbows out, and do the same thing with your feet

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and legs. You assume this position after the takeoff and straighten out just before entry.

A “handstand cutaway” is spectacular but a cinch. Take a handstand position on the end of the board. Then as your body overbalances cut the legs down on either side of the body and the entry is feet first. A standing-sitting dive is not too difficult, but if you do it very often you’ll be dining off the mantel. From a standing position on the end of the board you drop to a sitting position and bounce over into a headfirst entry.

A swimming pool is the best place to learn diving, hut if you’re at a summer resort and have only a raft you can still do most of the simpler dives mentioned here. And even a makeshift rigid board will widen your scope considerably.

The tougher the dive the better Evelyn likes it. “I like to have something to do on the way down,” she explains. Her latest accomplishment is a dive that’s considered so hard and dangerous for women that it has never been included in their diving competitions. It’s called the Gainer-and-a-half. In this toughy, after a forward run on the hoard, you take off and immediately somersault bachward one and a half times, entering the water headfirst. A diving coach’s heart invariably does flip-flops when his protégé goes into this one, because of the precision judgment involved. Many divers have missed the board with their head by a hairbreadth; others have actually hit the board. When this happens a diver is apt to lose his nerve unless he gets right back up there and does some more diving, preferably the trick he has just missed.

Evelyn is waiting impatiently for the day when the program for women’s competitions will be extended to include all the dives the men are allowed to do.

For ail her dives, be they simple or complicated, the young champion has one safety rule that she follows faithfully. She nerer dives into a strange body of water until she has first tested the depth. Sometimes even printed signs listing the depth may prove wrong.

Only a few years ago a casual swimmer decided to take a running dive from the beach. A sand bar had formed during the winter— he landed in less than a foot of water, and died from a broken neck.

Even the most experienced divers sometimes forget their training, however. A 24-year-old medical student at McGill decided to go for a swim in an outdoor pool with his chums one sultry night. He was first ready, and although it was so dark he could scarcely see the end of the diving hoard, off he leaped.

It would have bt!en a perfect feet-first entry into the water ... if there’d been any! The pool had been drained that afternoon. Although he didn’t break any bones it was several hours before he could walk »gain. That student was George Athans of Vancouver, present Canadian men’s diving champion.

George has a few tips for fellow divers that bear attention. He says to get the easy dives down pat. It’s combinations of these that form the breath-taking aerial spins which dazzle spectators. And the short cut to perfection is to get a good coach. Novices should stay away from feet-first dives because water is forced into the nose at great pressure and can cause sinus trouble unless you perfect the technique of blowing out hard at the time of entry. Of course, plugs of rubber or absorbent cotton or nose clips do the job. Some lucky divers use none of these devices and are never bothered.

There’s an old saying around aquatic clubs that “a diver is just a swimmer with his brains knocked out.” Divers disagree, of course, but the fact remains that you can have lots of water fun without diving.

Just the other day I dropped in at a YWCA pool where a class of women swimmers were going through their paces. They were somersaulting, swimming under water, gliding through complicated formations and acrobatic sequences with all the grace and ease of young seals. I was amazed when I met them afterward. Most of them were mothers and even grandmothers!

They were enjoying one of the most recent and colorful developments in the aquatic art, a poetry of motion known as “ornamental swimming.”

No, these aquatic belles hadn’t been swimmers from childhood. Most of them had waited until their families were grown up and on their own before they learned even the rudiments of water play. Typical is one woman who first took up ornamental swimming when she was 43. At first it frightened her to get her face wet. Now she not only strokes off a mile with ease, but dives and performs all sorts of tricks that keep her children in open-mouthed admiration.

These water “babies” insist that ornamental swimming Ls the finest hobby a woman could have. “It gives you grace and poise and body control,” they

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j say. “Why, I feel as supple as a j schoolgirl,” one rosy-cheeked granny declared.

This branch of water sport, sometimes called “synchronized” or “ballet” swimming, is a combination of dancing, swimming and acrobatics. It’s smooth and swanlike, yet at the same time has a vivacity about it that makes it fascinating . . , both to perform and to watch.

One of its most expert and charming i exponents is Jean Mowat, Toronto, I current holder of the Frances Gale * trophy, emblematic of the Canadian

women’s championship in ornamental swimming.

Jean can even perform the perpendicular spiral—considered one of the most difficult tests in this branch of aquatic sport.

In case you’re not quite sure what a perpendicular spiral is, here’s how it’s done. You start off by taking a floating position on your back. Then you arch backward until your head is under water, directly beneath your feet, which just come out of the water to the anklas. Now, as if that weren’t enough, you must spin around, making 10 complete revolutions while remaining in the upside-down position and not swaying from side to side. About this time, if you still know which way is up, it’s time to surface for air.

Jean, a friendly, blue-eyed brunette, swims with an easy grace and assurance born of long hours of strenuous practice. Before taking up “trick” swimming—yet another name for ornamentalshe concentrated on speed. She still holds two Quebec 100-yard championships, one for backstroke and the other for breast stroke, and is also Ontario Women’s champion for the 100-yards breast stroke.

“Why do I like ornamental swimming?” Jean repeated my question as she boosted her streamlined self from the water. “That’s easy! I like it because it’s so much fun. There’s always a new trick being invented. Best of all, though, the average swimmer finds that it’s something that she can pick up without too much effort. Not everyone has the strength or ability to become a speed expert.”

“Aquabats”

It doesn’t, t ake long to become adept at some of t he easy tricks and from here it’s only a step to an aquatic chorus or group. Formation swimming really got going in the 1930’s after “Aquacades” attracted attention at the San Francisco, Chicago and Nc;w York World Fairs. Several of the water shows, starring such swimming personalities as Johnny “Tarzan” Weismuller, Eleanor Holm and Buster Crabbe, made transcontinental tours and some Canadian performers went along on these jaunts.

One of the finest ornamental swimming groups on the continent represents the Mermaid Club of Toronto, of which Jean Mowat is a member. The girls were chosen by Hollywood for a movie short featuring their “aquabatic” routines. The film has been shown around the world, and the war halted a proposed trip to the Bahamas to make a follow-up short.

When it comes to ornamental swimming it’s time for the girls to sparkle and the men to take a seat on the sidelines. Why? Because the basis of this specialized sport is floating, and women float better than men, since they’re lighter boned and therefore more buoyant than the male.

Of course once in a while you come across an exception. For instance, in 1937, Charles Zimmy, legless since he was nine, swam 150 miles down the Hudson River from Albany to New York City. On the way Zimmy smoked cigars continually and floated on his back to rest and sleep!

Here, girls, are a few tricks, you can try next time you take a dip. To “scull,” float on your back with your hands at your sides. Relax and bend slightly at the hips. To move along headfirst, just move the hands in a semicircular motion with palms down. The idea is to push the water toward your feet.

For the “Washtub” draw your knees up and apart and cross the ankles. Use that same sculling, or feathering.

motion and you’ll spin round. One hand feathers toward and the other away from the body.

For a back somersault tuck your knees up to your chest and stretch your arms out and hack underwater with the hands nearly in line with the shoulder. Now bend your head backward; one good strong pull toward the surface and you should get around. A forward somersault is started with the head on the chest. The arms are extended back, with palms down, and the pull Ls down and to the front. You’ll probably get water up your nose if you don’t blow out continually while you’re twirling round.

For your next feat take the floating position, with arms outstretched beyond the head. Then use the sculling motion, pressing your palms upward and outward. You’ll shoot along feet first. This is called the “propeller.” But to really fool the boys, try the “torpedo.” It’s the same as the propeller except that you sink the upper part of your body. Don’t be surprised if some well-meaning onlooker splashes to your rescue, as it’s rather a shock to see a pair of feet breezing along on the surface apparently unescorted.

When you’ve learned several of the tricks and have fairly good breath control, you can essay formations, chains, and tandems with others.

Before you pick up your swim suit and head for the beach, a note of soberest warning: swimming and diving are fine sport—but before 1945 is over, 1,000 Canadians will have met death in the water.

So follow the rules, don’t be rash, and never overestimate your own ability. Splash, flip and frolic, but; play it. safe.