Know the Ropes

Dive Right In

Welcome to my water blog.

THE FLOP

I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t swim and have always gravitated towards the water. One of my earliest and most painful memories of the water was doing a belly flop off a high dive at the Joppatowne Swim & Tennis Club. I was five years old.

On hot summer days, my family and friends would head straight for the oasis of blue water that promised hours of refreshing fun. I had been working on my diving technique from the side of the pool for weeks. Standing with my feet together and toes curled over the edge.  My arms were positioned straight above my head and touching my ears. My knees were slightly bent and chin tucked.  With my body bent forward at the waist, I’d pushed off with my feet.  My fingertips then broke the water first, gracefully followed by the rest of me.

I didn’t plan on diving off that board when I woke up that morning.   I had been watching a few older kids practice a similar diving routine from the high dive board, which I estimate to have been about 15 feet tall.  I  thought, how hard could it be.  So, working up a little nerve I gallantly, climbed the diving board ladder.

Once I reached the top, I paused a moment to enjoy the view and then “walked the plank” lying in front of me. I felt a spring in my step.  When I reached the end, like all the professionals before me, I jumped up and down a few times to familiarize myself with the bounciness of the board. To my surprise, I had an audience.

I then took the dive position. and was tentative about my next move. But, my audience demanded performance. They were yelling, “just fall forward.” In my mind’s eye, the vertical descent would be followed by my fingertips breaking the water and the rest of me slipping coolly behind. But that’s not what happened.

I neglected to hold my form and landed horizontally on top of the water with a big flop. When your body falls flat on the water from a distance with a bit of speed, it creates a significant impact that can feel like landing on concrete. Trust me on this.

Although the belly flop knocked the breath out of me, (and embarrassed me.)  I recovered my composure and climbed that ladder again. I realized victory on the second try. The accomplishment was exuberating. That first not-so-graceful and painful encounter with the water resulted in many more dives off that board.

Belly Flopping has become an extreme sport at an international level.  Norway has claimed it as a national sport. They call it “dødsing.” Every year there is a Dødsing World Championship in Oslo. Many other businesses sponsor a similar event. Red Bull and several Cruise lines have their version.

THE PLOP

My compulsion to fall from high places into the water didn’t stop at the swimming pool. Eleven years later, at 16, I did it again. This time it was off the old train bridge at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.

Growing up, my family did an annual trek during the last two weeks of the year to the beautiful Florida Keys. My parents would pack their two kids along with tents and camping gear into a van, and we’d tow our 1974 Thunderbird Tri Hull behind us. The Thunderbird was fun in flat water, but a nutcracker in a chop.  Anyone who has or has had a similar boat can attest to this.

My parents usually let us take the boat out on our own. They were always off somewhere else “getting their groove back.” Riding bikes around KeyWest was one of their favorite activities, I am not sure what else they did and do not want to think about it. All I know is they were always glowing and happy, camping in the Keys.

We considered ourselves lucky to have the independence of that vessel at a young age. We were on it from sun up until sundown. One day my sister and I invited a few boys to go boating. It was a calm, clear day in paradise. After some swimming, skiing, and exploring, we all decided to dock the boat for a little while and wander the beach at Bahia Honda. We found a trail that led us to the old train bridge. I had no plans of jumping off a bridge when I woke up that morning.

First, the boys took turns performing an assortment of air acrobatics while descending into the seawater below. They made it look fun and easy. Then my sister went. Not one of them claimed injury. They all were delighted with themselves. It was my turn. I estimated the height of my jumping point to be about a 25-feet. Again I had an audience encouraging me to jump.  So,  I decided a cannonball would be a good idea. My ass broke the water first with a loud and hard plop.  The impact took my breath away. I did something to myself but was not sure what until I tried to sit down.

After a series of ex-rays, it was concluded I dislocated my tail bone. There was nothing that could be done for me. I had to push through the pain with nothing stronger than aspirin.  The only words of wisdom the doctor gave me were, do not jump off any more bridges and do not go horseback riding. HAHA, very funny Doc. It was a painful car ride home to Maryland. Twenty-four hours of sitting on my already compromised ass.

Jumping off, the old bridge is still practiced today.

THE DROP

Age does not always come with wisdom especially when rum is involved.  I took another plunge in my 30’s.

My husband and I have spent many vacations in Negril, Jamaica. Some of you may know where I am going with this. Yes, I dove off the cliffs at Rick’s Cafe. It was our first time to Negril and our first time to Ricks. We had spent the day on the beach and decided to ride up to Ricks to watch the professional cliff divers and the sunset. I did not wake up that morning, planning to dive off a cliff.

We watched as the pro divers leaped from the high trees that lined the cliff’s edge. They plummeted into the crystal clear waters that lay below. The water looked extremely inviting. Tourists could also take part in cliff jumping. The platform was approximately 30 feet high.

One by one, I watched tourists jump off the cliff until something came over me.  I asked my husband to hold my drink. I walked up to the jumping platform and decided to dive. (Years later my tailbone still bothered me from time to time, and I didn’t want to take any chances.)  It was a LONG drop but I felt it was a decent performance, and thought I landed adequately. But, the dive left me a little uncomfortable, and the rum may have numbed the real pain.

I climbed my way out of the water and back to my husband. I mentioned I was a little sore. The following morning it became painful to move my neck. My husband told me the back of my neck and shoulders were severely bruised. I think I dodged a bullet on this one. I could have died or become paralyzed.

So,  yes Mom and Dad, I will jump off a high drive, cliff or bridge if everyone else does.

Know the ropes about jumping and diving into the water before you take a plunge. It can be dangerous but exhilarating when accomplished without injury.

Personally, my days of jumping and diving from heights are over.   How about you?   Be Safe!
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