Dive right in to enjoy the life aquatic
THERE was a time when a great number of public swimming pools featured diving boards.
And few could resist the urge to climb to the top, take a deep breath and take an undignified leap while a lifeguard desperately tried to get the unsuspecting bathers below out of the way.
This was never about a perfecting a graceful manoeuvre, but all about getting your torso into the water at the highest possible velocity to create the largest splash imaginable.
After retrieving swimwear from any crevice into which it had inserted itself, the seasoned dive-bomber would slither on to the side of the pool like a crazed seal (ladders are for losers) and stand for a moment, dripping, reddened and triumphant, before racing to the top for another go.
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But this is, by and large, a thing of the past. Many pools decided to do away with their boards over fears of litigation, health and safety, and simply because they no longer met guidelines regarding minimum depths (11ft for a one-metre springboard and 13ft for a three-metre springboard).
The Great Britain Diving Federation, having long been concerned about a deterioration in the number of diving facilities available to the public, has said: "There is no doubt health and safety legislation has adversely impacted on the sport of diving.
"There remains a legacy whereby pool management seem to regard diving boards as inherently dangerous, and prefer to close them rather than properly manage them."
And this is a problem. Diving's profile has never been higher, largely thanks to the efforts of Devon's own Tom Daley.
So, how do you go about emulating him when Exeter is not possessed of a suitable board from which to practice?
"It's not easy," said Zara Trickett, the director of Splash Swim School.
"So many pools are too shallow, even in the deep end, but fortunately we do have a venue where we can teach you to dive and help you improve."
Splash Swim School was set up in 1999 and is a family business providing group and private swimming lessons for babies from four months old, children and adults.
And it was able to add diving to its repertoire because it received permission to use the pool at the Middlemoor police headquarters.
The pool is 3.5 metres (that's around 11.5ft deep) at the deep end, so that's why I'm standing here ready to receive instruction.
Incredibly, and for wont of better words, it all goes rather swimmingly thanks to Zara's patient and buoyant instruction.
We go from sitting, to standing, to relatively regulation-looking dives in no time at all, leaving me feeling quite good about myself.
Not bad for a man who has never performed much more than the aforementioned divebomb with a 3.2 degree of difficulty. Arms in the air and start to lean forward until you think you are about to fall," she says. "When you reach that point, use the energy in your legs to push forward."
It sounds relatively simple and, after a few attempts, the seeds of a raw diving enthusiast have been sown. It feels incredibly good to enter the pool without the tell-tale smack of tummy on water which had been anticipated.
Zara started the swim school in 1999. She competed at national level in modern pentathlon and won a gold medal in team biathlon.
She became a secondary school PE teacher before the coaching she received from GB Swimming's Paddy Garret saw her fully specialise in the life aquatic.
The mother-of-two, and her team, have since helped hundreds of children to swim and her school is closely linked with Exeter City Swimming Club, Exeter Water Polo Club and Exeter Synchronised Swimming Club.
All staff have the recommended Amateur Swimming Association qualifications, or above, have considerable teaching experience, and are CRB checked.
"That's all the formal bit," said Zara. "But the key to teaching successfully and improving confidence is learning through fun. You are never going to get better if you feel what you are doing is a chore, so we make sure anyone who comes to us can develop at a pace which suits them and they go away having enjoyed what they have done.
"I firmly believe that swimming is vital as a survival skill, but it should also be a fun activity everyone can enjoy."
Although specific diving lessons can be booked separately, diving and lifesaving are both incorporated into the swimming sessions the school offers.
These include many elements of the ASA's Flip 'n' Fun initiative, using teaching skills such as tumbling and jumping to teach the basics of diving.
"A lot of content from the Flip 'n' Fun programme is used in our lessons," said Zara.
"It helps teach agility, co-ordination and balance, and improve confidence with diving.
"We haven't been able to incorporate a trampoline in the sessions as yet, which the ASA has suggested, so we'd be keen to hear from any clubs who might be willing to work with us."
The school is currently in negotiations which could see it secure more time in the pool at Middlemoor to expand what it can offer with regard to swimming, diving and lifesaving.
"We also offer excursions to Devon's biggest diving facility," said Zara.
"We'll take children and adults to the Plymouth Life Centre, where Tom Daley started, to get a feel for what it's like actually diving from the boards."
And this again, brings us back to the issue of a lack of a facilities. Zara is looking forward to the day when Exeter gets a new swimming pool, but earnestly hopes the city will, at the same time, get a new venue for diving.
"Just to have a new facility would be amazing," she enthused.
"And if they could find some way to incorporate boards, maybe in a separate pool like you saw at the London Games' Aquatics Centre, we could inspire a new generation of divers."
Diving lessons currently take place at Middlemoor on Fridays and the school hopes it will be able to offers these on additional days.
The school is offering £5 off to Echo readers if they quote ECHO12 when they book. For more information, visit www.splashswim.co.uk or contact 01392 833075.
Next week, the Echo's focus will turn to road cycling.
If you are part of a club which would like to feature in the Echo, get in touch on 01392 442241 or email rbirch@express andecho.co.uk