As I understand it, nearly every lifeguard certification requires a feet first surface dive. For American Red Cross, you execute your dive, recover the brick and then swim back to the wall in less than two minutes. For Starguard, it is a dive down to the bottom of the pool, usually twelve to thirteen feet, to recover the brick and bring it to the surface.
These dives used to give me endless fits as I built up toward my own qualification. However, there are a few tricks I’ve learned which help.
1. Ankles together or ankles crossed.
When you launch yourself up, you use one powerful kick of your choice to build upward momentum. As you drop below the surface it is best to either keep your ankles together or ankles crossed. If you can imagine yourself as a dart being thrown at the bottom of the pool, this might help.
Personally, I prefer ankles together however some have found that ankles crossed produce the same result.
2. Flutter with your hands.
My head lifeguard last year noticed my troubles and said, “If you flutter your hands over your head, you’ll speed right to the bottom.”
That seemed silly, but trying to row myself down to the bottom with powerful arm sweeps wasn’t cutting it. Each sweep after the first one created drag which made the job harder. However, if you execute one powerful subsurface arm sweep to get the process started, then the fluttering hands above your head will propel you rapidly to the bottom.
3. Don’t cheat, actually touch the bottom.
It is in your best interests to plant your feet on the bottom of the pool. Once there, you can locate the brick and use your leg muscles to power yourself to the surface. Bending at mid level and reaching for the brick actually makes your job harder, slowing you down and depriving you of the benefit of basic physics.
The bottom of the pool is your friend, not your enemy.
4. Hum on the way down.
I learned this the other day and while I do not use it, it has helped people who have trouble with water going up their nose as they descend. Humming can help.
For myself, I tend to bleed a bit of air out as I descend, just in single bubbles.
5. Remain calm, do not panic.
Fear of drowning and/or suffocation can be a very powerful thing. I do not fear for drowning mainly because I know, no matter, what, I can get out of the deep end in a hurry. Suffocation, on the other hand, is something I still struggle with.
I deal with this by relaxing myself before my dive, taking deep breaths while slowly treading water over my target. Granted, in an emergency there will be no time for this but then you’ll have an adrenaline spike working in your favor. For training and qualification, a slow tread before the dive will let you build up to the moment before you descend.
It is doable and if you struggle with it, know that you are not alone.
Steven Francis Murphy
Author of The Limb Knitter and Tearing Down Tuesday
Kansas City, Missouri