Jumping Off the High Dive Board
Would I have the nerve?
I’ve never been a great swimmer. I can manage and all, but I never went in for having distance badges sewn onto my trunks, or diving board showboating. As a teenager, I enjoyed frolicking in the shallows, eyeing up girls, and performing illicit bombs when the pool attendant wasn’t looking.
My first ever trip to the swimming baths was with my class in junior school (as it was then called), and I remember it for several reasons, one of which is pretty gross. When we entered the changing room, pupils from the previous lesson were still getting dressed. I don’t recall which school they were from, but one of their number had left a pair of badly soiled white underpants under the bench, which the instructor, a body builder with a fearsome reputation, had discovered. As we waited, the instructor held up the noisome knickers and asked each pupil in turn:
“Are these yours?”
Even though I was not a suspect, I was so alarmed by the manner of the interrogation, I almost had cause to leave my own underpants behind. Not surprisingly, the soiled clothing went unclaimed and one lad went home minus his linings.
As we changed, I glanced nervously at the entrance to the pool, which was a narrow opening. At the base of this was a small square pool that was filled with dark liquid. I couldn’t tell how deep this was but, in my child’s mind, I imagined children stepping into it and disappearing into its depths. For some reason I thought that we would all be challenged to leap over this as some sort of test. Of course, the pool was filled with disinfectant to prevent the spread of verrucas, and it was only a few inches deep. Having seen others do it, I plodged through happily.
The pool was another matter. I had never been in water deeper than the paddling pool at the local park, and I gasped as the water came up to my chest. I soon adapted, though, even going on to win the breath-holding competition. As time went on I learned to swim with confidence, without ever becoming particularly good at it.
A Bigger Pool
When I switched schools, my swimming lessons took place at the local public pool. This had a deep end of twelve foot six, where stood two springboards and a high dive platform. During one lesson, when I was about twelve, the instructor marched our spindly legs up to the deep end of the pool, where we stood, shivering and clutching our own arms for warmth. We were told to split up into two groups: those who had gone in off the high dive platform before, and those who hadn’t. I fell into the latter camp.
As we shuffled into our respective groups, I looked at my fellow top board virgins with dismay. This motley crew comprised three girls, a boy with acrophobia, and the class geek, who had special dispensation to wear his glasses for swimming lessons.
At that age reputation was everything and sheer pride prevented me from joining the ranks of this less-than-robust bunch, so I fell in with the tougher ‘haves’. We were sent on our way to the top board while the instructor shepherded the other group to the low diving board where he would have them walk the plank.
No Turning Back
We gathered at the bottom of the steps that led to the top board and when I looked up at the climb ahead of me, I wished that I’d been honest and went with the other group. Too late now, I was half way up with people ahead and behind. These experienced top boarders discussed whether they would be jumping or diving off. I wondered if I’d be able to go off at all.
I got to the platform where I watched closely the two who went before me, looking for hints. When it came to my turn, I couldn’t be seen to hesitate, so I simply marched off the edge and let gravity do the rest.
I did not hit the water cleanly, although I avoided a painful belly flop. As I submerged, a feeling of exhilaration came over me because I hadn’t bottled it. I surfaced and then swam towards those who had jumped before me. As we larked about in the shallow end, I felt like I had joined an exclusive club. Yet to this day I have never felt the urge to repeat the act.
(Originally published in Medium)
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