When I was a kid, the public pool was the only place nearby where one could go swimming. Unless you were one of those rich kids who lived on the lake, which I wasn’t. I had to learn to swim in a large concrete communal tub with so much cholorine in the water that it burned your nose and turned any light-colored hair a weird shade of green. Kids around me were splashing around and having a wonderful time, but I secretly hated it. I was a little chubby way back then and stripping down to swim trunks was not something I wanted to do at all, much less in mixed company. And never kid company. Kids can be a bit cruel. Not that being fully clothed was a perfect solve as my pants were purchased in a size called “Husky” which I can only guess meant that I wore clothes normally reserved for Siberian dogs. Living in the suburbs left little options for things to do, so the pool was a destination for all kids in the summer months. And that’s where you would find me on several occasions on those hot summer days, whether I liked it or not.

And I really did not like it.  Changing clothes in front of strangers of all ages only to hop in and take a bath with them isn’t my idea of a good time. I was certainly in the minority, as everyone else seemed to think it was the most amazing thing ever. So, I decided I would keep giving it a try until I at least learned to swim properly, which I managed to accomplish. At least, I think I learned the proper way. I didn’t sink, so I figured whatever I was doing must be working. But there was still something that I hadn’t tried. That terrifying fixture of every public pool known as the high dive. I shrugged it off initially as not something I wanted to pursue, but coaxing from the other kids turned into dares, and then the ultimate double dog dare, which no kid could simply ignore. It wasn’t just the height of the thing that scared me, it was also the fact that while learning to stay afloat, I never actually learned how to dive. And holding my breath under water still required the use of a couple pinched fingers on my nose. But I decided that I would take the plunge anyway.

I climbed the ladder to the top of the high dive while the other kids, who I can’t really remember well and don’t know if I even thought of them as friends, watched me. I stepped out onto the blue plank with all the same resolute expression that I imagine people had when being driven off a ship by pirates. Without thinking too much about it, I clinched my fingers onto my nose and sort of fell feet first into the water. It was not a dive of any sort, and I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but I can still remember the feeling of accomplishment. Truthfully, I wasn’t doing it to satisfy a dare from those kids, I was doing it simply as a dare to myself. As silly as it sounds, I often still use this tactic today. If I’m scared of trying something new, I just double dog dare myself to do it. It has varying degrees of success as I can usually scare myself pretty well out of doing new things. But, in the end, I’m always happier for having tried something new rather than wondering what might have been. And though I may no longer be that chubby kid on the high dive, each new challenge today, though sometimes tough, is just like those days when I was learning to swim.

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About the Doodlewash

Sennelier L’Aquarelle: Quinacridone Gold, Viridian, Phthalocyanine Blue, Red Orange, Opera Rose, Perylene Maroon, Dioxazine Purple, Burnt Sienna, and Payne’s Grey. Lamy Safari Al Star pen with Platinum Carbon with black ink in a little red cloth hardbound l’aquarelle journal I found in a Paris shop.
 Day 22 - #WorldWatercolorGroup Mandarin Duck In water learning to swim watercolor - #doodlewash
Posted by:Charlie O'Shields (doodlewash)

Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world!

23 replies on “Learning to Swim

  1. I still can’t swim! Water terrified me and my parents didn’t swim so not many trips to pools. We moved to Florida and went to lakes with my friends, I waded while they splashed around playing games and swimming under pulling me under, which only made it worse. All 3 of my kids can swim, took my youngest daughter to swim class last summer and was so proud to watch her fearlessly dive in to the instructor. Enjoyed this!

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  2. Your story about swimming in a pool with high levels of cholorine brings back memories! 😃Oh, the joys of being a kid! I remember our eyes were always bloodshot after swimming at the local pool… And you were much braver than me, I always avoided the diving board! 😬 Your duck Doodlewash looks wonderful, Charlie! 🦆💕

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  3. I didn’t know how to swim or at least float until I went to college. I took a beginner swimming class(3times) and for one whole week we would visit the olympic size swimming pool. There we were able to walk the plank:) and jump off the 3rd highest diving board. a little scared at first that I decide to let the other student go first. When it was my turn, face my fear and jump in, hitting the water and able to bring my head above water and swim back to try again.

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  4. Well done you, I would have been one of those watching, mouth opened, amazed and thrilled at your bravery on the high board, just stepping off is an achievement, one I don’t know if I could do myself, you see we didn’t have these at our local swimming pools. I do remember diving from the pool side, all the way deep down to get the black brick…wearing pyjamas? Not sure where that stands in the clothing line up, never heard of huskies in the uk 😀

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  5. First of all, what a gorgeous painting! Wow!! And the swimming – yes, that big cement tub. My sister and I took lessons and barely learned to float. I continued to take lessons as an adult until I finally, finally got it at the age of 45. I still haven’t gone up on a high dive board and don’t think I will, double dog dare or not. But your story of just taking the plunge (!) is fantastic. Good for Little Charlie!!

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  6. Poor little kid, you were teased by the other kids and terrified of swimming. Me too on both counts (I still can’t swim only now I don’t care.) Fortunately you can consider yourself successful in many areas and you have tons of friends who love your site and look forward to seeing your post every day.

    Wonder where all the swimmers went?

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