Dude, your package is showing

Tonight I took my first swimming lesson ever. Let me begin by summarizing my current swimming technique:

  • enter water
  • begin sinking
  • leave water before drowning

I figured if I didn’t drown tonight, I had already made progress.

Now, I do not have a duffel bag for my trunks ‘n towel so I thought I’d grab one after work. As I approached the bus stop at Venables & Vernon, I see that the rail crossing lights are flashing a few blocks down yonder, where my bus will be coming from. Hopefully, I think, it will just mean a few minutes delay.

25 minutes later, the gates finally lift, the lights stop flashing and the bus finally shows up. There was no actual train crossing the street save for about two minutes somewhere in the middle of that 25. The rest of the time the train stood on either side of the crossing, just close enough for the gates and lights to stay triggered. I’m pretty sure the engineer was doing it just to be a jerk.

As the bus became super-crowded, the rear doors decided they would stop working, leading to further delays. By the time I get home, it is 45 minutes later than usual. I won’t have time for a duffel bag tonight so I stuff my trunks and towel into my rather small shoulder bag.

I head to the Vancouver Aquatic Centre and the air is warm and heavy inside. After walking through sheets of rain in the cold to get there it’s nice and comfy. I explain to a cashier that I am here for the 7:20 class and she advises me to wait 5-10 minutes, then head on down to the changing room.

As I wait, I observe the various people swimming in lanes marked fast, medium and slow. Some are using those little surfboard thingies to help keep them afloat. I’m hoping I’ll get one of those. The crowd seems to be mostly male and most of these guys are, in fact, wearing Speedos. Many sport swimming caps and goggles. These guys are serious. I already feel inadequate. And speaking of that, I can’t help but notice one guy wearing a Speedo with a package that is sticking out like the arm of a cactus. I mean, dude, that’s just not subtle. Maybe I’m just used to seeing photos where the bumps are all airbrushed away for propriety.

After a few more minutes of observation, I proceed in. Your stuff is stored in one of those lockers that requires a quarter to get the key. I remember trying to use one of these at Canadian Tire and the locker denied me entry no matter how many times I tried to make it work. In the back of my mind I hear Jim McKay already talking about “the agony of defeat”. Turns out it works fine. I change into my spanky new trunks and wander around through the maze-like changing room until I arrive at the pool. I ask someone wearing a t-shirt labeled “Coach” where I might go for the class. He directs me to another gentleman who then tells me to head to the far end of the pool and wait for the instructor. I pad over there and a few minutes later a young fresh fellow by the name of Dave arrives and introduces himself.  There are only four of us signed up for this class (not surprising, considering it’s the middle of winter) but only one other person shows up. I’ve forgotten his name but he was Eastern European, so I’ll call him Nicco for now. Unlike me, Nicco can actually swim. This becomes evident in short order.

Dave gets us to kick our legs in the water to get used to the temperature, then we head in and do a little running on the spot. At this point I’m thinking the water feels pretty freaking cold. Nicco concurs. I feel my muscles contracting, getting ready to put me in a safe state of hibernation. I try not to shiver.

The first part of the lesson is blowing bubbles under the water, followed by sticking your head entirely under the water and doing the same thing. The idea is to get you used to breathing out when under the water and just get comfortable with the whole thing. I am a bit hesitant, partly because dipping lower into the water makes me feel colder and my breath constricts, not exactly ideal for the exercise. I do manage to blow a few bubbles but the head-under-water bit has to wait.

We do a few more simple exercises, like pushing off from the pool edge and propelling ourselves by kicking. I am told my hips are too low and my butt is too high. I’m also too tense. I feel like I’m on a date trying to get to third base. A few more attempts yield better results. Dave moves on to having Nicco do more advanced stuff, like rolling over while stroking. Dave knows that if I tried this I’d roll over and sink. To confirm his suspicions, I do one of those head dips and breathe in at the wrong time, resulting in a coughing fit. Dave asks if I’m okay. I hold up my hand, the universal sign for “I’m not dying but I can’t talk quite yet”. I eventually croak out in a barely audible voice, “I’m okay.” He tries to look convinced. Such a nice man.

Dave emphasizes to me the need to relax, to just go nice and slow and steady. He compares learning to swim to learning to fly. I am a bit puzzled by this comparison because as far as I know, we can’t fly unless we’re using wings and jet engines. He goes on to explain that it’s similar because you’re not touching the ground and gravity is no longer a factor. Okay, I can grasp that. I’m still sinking more than I should, though, perhaps because I am a strong believer in gravity.

By the time the 40 minutes has elapsed, I realize the water still feels freaking cold. I ask Dave what the temperature is and he asks the guy I originally talked to. He declares the official temperature as 27 Celsius (about 80 F). This sounds pretty nice. Maybe it’s another one of those psychological things. It feels cold because I think it feels cold. I just need to think, “Wow, this 27 degree water is pretty warm!” Yeah, that’ll work.

As we get ready to leave, Dave tells me I should practise breathing out into a sink full of water. People hardly ever drown doing that. Or so I like to imagine. I’ll try tomorrow. It’ll be fun. I’ll make sure the water is warmer than 27 C, too. Stupid cold water.

When I’m changing back into my clothes, a guy comes up to a locker near mine. He has a towel wrapped around his waist. Probably just had a shower, I’m thinking. Turns out he’s rather coquettish, as he’s one of those people who puts on his skivvies under the towel, so as to not expose the family jewels to the light of day. It seems a bit weird to me. I mean, it’s not like anyone will suddenly look at him and shout, “Omigod, that is the smallest wiener I have ever seen!” Or maybe that’s exactly what happened and he’s been permanently traumatized by it.

I’m a bit disappointed at the progress I made with this first lesson, but it was progress and although I smell faintly of chlorine, no ambulances had to be called, so I’m calling tonight a success.

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