The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 7 (November 1, 1928)
At the time of writing the summer is fast approaching, and our beaches are already drawing swimmers, surfers and sun-bathers in large numbers. The call of the sea and the surf carries far. And what can surpass it? Whether we view it from the point of view of health, recreation or sport, or mere pastime, the surf is supreme! But, you ask, is it safe? It is more safe than crossing a city street these days. Safer than playing football or even cricket. Safe not only for men and women, but for children. Well, what need is there for life saving clubs? I have nothing but admiration for those who join such clubs, and any criticism I may have to offer will be of a constructive nature.
Try to estimate what a city like Sydney, for instance, owes to its surf clubs, ay, and its life savers. How often does the foolhardiness of the average man bathing on our beaches place not only himself, but those in his vicinity, in danger of becoming shark bait? How often do we hear of thrilling rescues by life-saving teams? The men comprising these teams are not all fools or cranks who want to see just how far they can go out into the sea. There are other reasons why even the most careful swimmers sometimes find themselves well out in the danger zone, beyond the breakers. And sometimes persons who cannot swim a stroke suddenly realise they are in a like predicament. Why this is so we will explain later. The point, for the moment, is, that they are there, and cannot get back by their own unaided efforts. Lucky for them if the life-savers are at hand to bring them safe ashore. Lucky, too, that the life-savers have grown so expert that only in the most exceptional cases do they fail to effect a complete rescue. Their success in this respect is shown by the very small percentage of drowning accidents reported from our many crowded beaches.
These rescues, however, and similar incidents associated with surf bathing emphasise the fact that there are still many persons, young and old, who cannot swim. Scarcely a day passes that my help is not solicited by some person anxious to learn to swim, and, almost in the same breath as the request is made there is the exclamation: “I know I shall never be able to learn!” Despite his want of faith (which, in so many cases in life, is the greatest obstacle to success), I take the doubting one in hand, and, lo, almost before he realises it, he is swimming for all he is worth! “So easy as that!” you exclaim. It is just because it is so easy that it is so difficult. Let me explain; and that my methods are correct methods, is demonstrated by the fact that I have not yet had one failure. There is no secret science about it. It is all so simple that any swimmer may teach any non-swimmer to swim. Did you ever think that it was queer that man was the only animal that has to learn to swim? Why? He is the only animal who is afraid of what might happen.
The first thing then a teacher of swimming has to do is to dispel his pupil's fear, to imbue him with confidence not only in his teacher, but in himself. One of my pupils and I go down to the beach to have a dip. While changing into our bathing costumes, I look him over, and tell him that he is built for the game all right. The remark gives him confidence, and he is half page 23 a swimmer already. I chat cheerfully with him as we enter the water together-the subject anything but swimming. When waist deep I take up a position about six feet in front of my companion and tell him to swim up to me. If he hesitates, I point out that we are only waist deep and can stand up if need be, at any time, assuring him also that he can swim the short distance between us almost without an effort. And, almost invariably, he does. I do not show him any particular stroke to use, but tell him just to swim and to keep his mouth shut in the process. In very few cases has a learner failed to reach me at the first attempt. I pay no attention to the stroke he uses; nor does it matter, for there is no proper learner's stroke. Even should he get only half way he has made a beginning. He can swim! I emphasise that, and next time he swims further, and so on, improving every time he tries, until, self reliance fully attained, he becomes a capable swimmer.
(to be continued.)