I was not only good, I was unbeatable at this sport in what was probably a pretty small talent pool of central Taranaki primary schools.
However my tenure as an unbeatable champion was short lived. A wiser, older person (probably my Dad) brought it to my attention that the flutter-board was only intended as a confidence-building device for young swimmers. So my options were either to give it up and learn to swim without one, or spend the rest of my life racing seven-year-olds.
“What’s a flutter-board, Brett?” I hear some of you ask. Said object was a slab of polystyrene that was gripped firmly in one’s hands whilst propelled forwards by kicking one’s feet and legs. All the rage too they were, back in the day.
One of life’s key lessons is that change is never easy. It was at about this time that I learned that my buoyancy was directly inversely proportional to the depth of the water I happened to be in at that time. I learned that there is more water in most pools than I was capable of drinking in one visit. I also learned that successful swimming involved the simultaneous coordination of several body parts and that I was not particularly flash at coordinated multi-tasking.
Yet primary school swimming events had become a strong feature of our family’s summer calendar, largely due to my successful career as a flutter-boarder. So, in true Sangster fashion, I learned how to wing it.
Country school swimming pools near where we lived weren’t particularly large. Some were as short as 15 yards, some as long as 25 yards (pre-1967 measurements used here to add historical perspective). I learned that with a decent lung-full of air, I could dive in and power down the length of the pool in one breath. Good enough. However circumstances were soon to conspire against me, with the arrival of high school and pools boasting lengths of 33 yards or longer, and events that required the traversing of more than one length.
Not living in town near a decent practice facility, competitive swimming events were largely limited to the annual swimming sports day. Kids who lived in town all seemed to know how to tumble turn and breathe whilst swimming, skills that imbued considerable competitive advantages over one-breath-splash-and-dashers. So after the third form, I decided that for the purposes of humiliation elimination, there would be no more annual high school swimming competitions. Of course there were, but these were never discussed at home, as newsletters advertising said were not delivered. Successful ways of skiving were invented and tactically employed. Mum and Dad must have known that this was happening. Full marks to them for never bringing it up.
If it’s possible to be scarred by water, another life-changing moment happened in my early teens. During an outing to the Kaweroa pool in New Plymouth, I discovered the diving pool. After a bit off bouncing off the lower sprung boards into the awaiting water, I decided to move on to the 3m high board.
My first effort was a daring feet first plunge. The pool was really deep, and I was unprepared for how far down my momentum carried me. Never mind.
On my second attempt I decided to try something with a bit more flourish, as befitting my earlier efforts off the lower boards. Somehow I managed to either over or under-rotate my tumble and hit the water dead flat, face down. Smack. I was immediately reminded from my physics classes that water was incompressible. At this point the water wasn’t the only thing that was dead and flat. I reckon it would have been softer landing on a lawn. At that stage I decided not to pursue a career as an Olympic diver.
And so, gentle readers, is a brief summary of my aquatic aversion. This is why I am so proud of my ancestors, who spent several months on boats getting themselves from England to the fair shores of New Plymouth in September 1841. Knowing what I know now, If I had lived in those days I would not have joined them.