People talk to me in pools. It doesn’t surprise me anymore, although I still find it odd; strangers don’t just start up conversations with me anywhere else. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m a regular at the pool, so people see me a lot and feel they know me. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m small and female, so people find me unintimidating. But recently I’ve started to think it’s because I’m happier in the pool; I look happy, and so people want to talk to me.
People talk to me about lots of things, but more than anything else they talk about flip turns. No one has ever asked me about swimming butterfly or holding a kickboard, but many people have asked me to show them how to flip turn. The other day, a young man asked me why I was doing flip turns, which did surprise me, as I thought the purpose of flip turns was obvious: it’s a good way to turn around.
Of course, a person like me who only races open water doesn’t really need to do flip turns in practice. In fact, Steven Munatones (in Open Water Swimming) suggests that pool swimmers training for open water races practice swimming from one end of the black line to the other (from “T” to “T”) and turn in the water without pushing off the wall at all.
But I don’t practice so that I can swim races; I sign up for races so I have an excuse to swim. And I love flip turns. I love them completely and unironically, and I don’t love anything completely and unironically — except my children and maybe vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce.
When you’re swimming, there’s an instant of weightlessness in every flip turn, a split second when you are suspended upside down and backwards right before you push off the wall and start up your stroke again. It’s a moment of grace during which you are excused from gravity.
And the flip turn is the smaller person’s advantage in any race. Curled up, I’ve got a small radius, and I can flip fast. In the summer, when I’m swimming 40 x 50 m in the 25 meter pool with the guys, all of whom are six to ten inches taller than me, my entire race strategy rests on my fast flip turn. If I can keep up with them for the first length, I’m ahead after the turn, and I can hold them off on the way back.
There’s no point in describing how to do a flip turn; I can barely follow written descriptions of flip turns, and I know how to do them already. My advice to you, if you want to learn, is to watch YouTube videos. Here’s Ryan Lochte, showing you how it should look:
And Go Swim takes the flip turn apart for you. This is step one in a five step series:
One trick to remember, especially if you get water up your nose: gently exhale through your nose as you go around. Humming will work. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
The flip turn is one of those skills that marks a person as a “real” swimmer, someone with training. But don’t learn to do a flip turn so that you can become “real.” You are already real. Learn to flip turn because flip turns are fun. They will make you happy.