Monday, August 06, 2012


In my younger days, I spent several summers working as a lifeguard/swimming instructor at a local pool in B.R. The place, the Ethyl Recreation Association, started out as a swim club, built by my father's employer for employees.  Eventually, it shifted to a country club, first known as the ERA Country Club, then Fairwood. There was a golf course out back, a big, stocked pond nearby, and after that, the place dwindled into obscurity. Building is still there, last time I looked, but the pool and golf course closed years ago.

Each year, there was a big celebration, usually in July, barbecue, games, fishing contests, a diving contest. One year, probably I'd have been about seventeen, I was working the chairs when the diving contest was going on. 

The chairs were just that, steel things with the seat five feet off the ground to give a good view of the pool, opposite sides of the deep end. Normally, there were two guards on, one off, and when it got really busy, the third guard would foot-patrol the shallow end for would-be drowners.

So the diving contest got rolling. One- and three-meter springboards, no platform, and the guards knew most of the divers because we were there ten hours a day. There was one guy we didn't know from before. Fit, maybe twenty-five, and his first couple of three-meter dives were simple but very clean. 

Pretty quick, it came down to him and one other diver, a former lifeguard we knew. 

The former guard's last dive was a front one-and-a-half in a pike, and he got a lot of height and lanced into the water without any splash. His to lose.

The guy we didn't know lined up, strode out, bounced, and threw what we thought was probably going to be a full gainer, since we had seen him do that in practice.

For those of you who don't know from diving, a gainer, sometimes called a flyaway, when I was young,  is a dive in which you jump off the board facing front, but throw a back somersault, and end up going into the water feet-first. (Half-gainer, you go in head-first.)

It is easy to do, but you have to be careful to leap out far enough or you can clock the back of your skull on the end of the board. 

So the mystery diver hit the end of the board and threw his back-flip, and we all knew he wasn't gonna clear the board. Not even close.

Oh, shit!

Guy across from me reacted instantly, he was off the chair and in the air for the water while I was still jumping from the chair to the apron. I wanted to see where the diver was going to fall and smash into the concrete, because I didn't think he was going to hit the water at all–

But he fooled us. He threw the back-flip, came down on the board feet-first, bounced again, did a one-and-a-half forward dive in a pike and into the pool. 

First time I had ever seen that, forty-five years ago, and it caught me completely by surprise. I expected him to leap out over the pool, and when he didn't, assumed he had screwed up and was going to kill himself. 

It was somewhat risky, but in retrospect, if you were a fair diver or gymnast, not all that much. I've seen it done a few times since. This guy obviously knew how to throw a somersault and land it on the board.  

He was also tickled that he caught us with it. 

Won him the contest. And started me down a long, long road whereupon I kept–and still keep–coming up against my expectation and getting it wrong ...

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