SWIMMING and SURFING – a quick lesson

Brisbane and the coast can get hot, but that also makes it ideal weather to go swimming – all be that in a local pool, your hotel pool, a river or the ocean.

Most Queenslanders grow up as ‘water babies’ – learning to swim almost as soon as they can walk – and there is good reason for that, given the climate and also the closeness to water. You only have to look down flying over Brisbane to see the number of backyard pools to recognize that swimming is a very popular activity.

While the best way and almost only way to learn to swim is to get in the water – here are some pointers to help you –

The whole idea of swimming is to enjoy yourself in the water – feel confident and comfortable – and that means also not drowning.

Children can drown very fast – and it is silent – a baby doesn’t cry out to alert you, they simply slip under the water, and it only takes a few seconds for them to drown, SO if you are looking after children in a pool, focus your whole attention on them, and don’t get distracted by reading a magazine or playing with your mobile phone. It only takes a second for a baby to crawl to the side of the pool and fall in, and if they can drown in a bath with only a few inches of water, they certainly can do it in a pool or at the beach. Pool fences stop many drownings – but not all – as some children will work out very quickly how to open them or climb over them. Children can also get out of their depth very quickly and panic too – so be very conscious to watch what they are doing and don’t just relay on an older child to look out for the smaller ones.

Learning to Swim in a pool – There are basically two objectives (i) to stay afloat and (ii) to move forward, and the first lesson starts with feeling comfortable in the water, holding on to the side of the pool with your hands and learning to kick your legs in a rhythmic up and down way that enables your body to come to the surface. The moment you stop kicking, your body sinks. Next step is to hold on to a floatie board with your hands, and use kicking to move you forward. You need to do this a number of times to get better at it. Third step is to stand on the bottom of the pool with water at chest level and holding your arms and hands in front of you, cup your hands, and bending your elbows, reach out arm length out front and pull/drag a surge of water past your body. The right hand pulls the water to the left side of your body and the left hand to the right side of your body. Again practice is needed. Next step is to combine your kicking skills with your arm skills with no floatie board to help you. These are the basic steps in learning to swim doing the Australian Crawl swimming style – and from there it is a matter of practice, and then advancing to learn backstroke, Butterfly and breaststroke.

Learning to surf – There are lots of ways to enjoy surfing waves, and most beaches in Australia and certainly on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast have waves. The size, frequency, power and where the wave breaks are all important and vary depending on tides, power and direction of the wind and overall weather patterns. Under the water is also important too – as there are currents & possible rips too, and the sand underfoot may be even or suddenly deep if a channel in the sand is there. Waves head towards the beach, but depending on their size and other factors, there can be a strong back surge (which can pull you out into deeper water) or almost no surge at all. Always stay at a depth in the water that you feel comfortable and safe in – in most cases this means being able to stand on the sand under your feet.

Life guards and Lifesavers – are on most of the bigger beaches on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coasts through summer – so you should always swim between the red and yellow flags – which is the safest and best place to swim. Lifeguards place the flags based on what they see in the water – and they know where the rips are and if there is a strong current happening – pushing swimmers to the right or left. So when even when you are in the water – stay conscious of where the flags are and if the current is pushing you one way or another, get back inside the flag area as soon as you can. If you did get into trouble raise your right arm high in the air to get the Lifeguard’s attention, and try to stay calm.

There are four main ways to surf – Body surfing (using just your body), Boogie Boarding, Board riding (using a surf board), and wind surfing.

Body Surfing – What you are wanting to do is to catch a wave that will carry you fast towards the beach, and that means being in the right place and picking the right wave to carry you forward, and timing is critical. ‘The right wave’ is one that is about to break but hasn’t, and has a big volume of water in it (meaning power), and also a good depth of water in front of it. Beware of ‘dumpers’ that will carry you only a short way before dumping you into the sand, or rolling you around like a washing machine. It takes practice to recognize a good wave, so watch other surfers to see what waves they are catching and the ones they are not, and it will also depend on how good or bad the surf is on the day.

Small waves are easy to dive over, but with a bigger wave that has broken or is about the break, it is better to dive under it than try to dive over it and possibly get tossed around. It is also possible to swim over a wave that is still rolling and hasn’t broken. If you want to catch the wave, pick the right wave (as above) and face towards the beach, and just at the right time swim as fast as you can kicking hard, until you feel the wave under you, then bend your elbows, and bring your hands together to form arm-wings that will help control where you are heading and maximise the length of the ride. Keep your head high and eyes open to see where you are going, so that you don’t hit other surfers in the water.

Boogie Boards come in many sizes and shapes, and make it much easier to catch a wave, as you lie on top of the Boogie Board and it carries you along. It makes it easy to catch a wave, and you only need watch out to make sure you don’t run into or over a surfer in the water.

Surf Boards also come in many forms, long boards, short boards, different fins and shapes – and a surf shop or board hire place will help you pick a board that matches your weight and experience too. Catching a wave also depends on picking the right wave, and the basic idea is to ride the wave, standing up as much as possible – so balancing on a board is all important, as you will definitely fall off at some point. Board riding is not allowed between the flags, and often you will see board riders surfing off headlands and near rocks. You will most likely also secure yourself to the board using a leg rope – and the purpose of this is to keep you close to the board when you come off, rather than have to swim after the board as it travels further away from you. Board riding takes lots of practice, but is ‘addictive’.

Windsurfing – Wind surfers have been around for maybe 30 years, and are great fun too. They also require good balance and strength, and it is best to take a few lessons before taking to the water. What you are seeking to do is control the wind in the single sail, which is pivoted from the board. The smaller the sail, the easier it is to use, but a bigger sail (with more experience will allow you to sail faster). The first step is getting the sail out of the water – and the trick is to lift it in two stages – first to the top of the water to drain the water from the sail, and then lift it to a vertical position. If you try and lift the sail with the water in the sail it will be much heavier to lift, and if you do lift it with the water, the water will release all at once, and you will most likely fall off the board. Your hand positions are all important. Your hand closest to the mast stays there to hold the sail, while your other hand controls the amount of billowing in the sail. You want the sail to billow away from you, meaning that the wind (even a breeze) is pushing away from you. If the sail billows towards you, it will push you off the board.

The sail can be dipped forward or back (in line with board) and the amount of billow in the sails is controlled by the hand furthest away from the mast – in, out, forward, backwards. If you feel the wind is changing direction you will see it in the way the sail billows, and if you are being pushed off the board, allow the hand furthest away from the mast to release the sail, but try to hold on with the hand closest to the mast until you once again can get control of the sail and wind direction is working for you and not against you. It is not easy, but with practice, you will get the hang of it – and flying along with the wind in the sail is absolutely the best!
Good luck…. And stay safe.

Happy Travelling!

Geoff Stuart

Happy Traveller

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