II stand on a five-foot diving board—about the height of a two-story building—preparing to throw myself off, head out. And I’m scared. I take a determined step towards the end, closing my arms above my head and beginning to tilt forward.
I’ve always admired people who can dive, and secretly wished I could. I see them take off from a great height, seemingly floating for a second, before smoothly shooting into the water. How do they do that? When I get up there, the thought of jumping my head forward shorts my brain. Won’t my neck break? So I came to one of the world’s best dive centers, the Life Center in Plymouth, the former training pool of dive superstar Tom Daley. Hopefully with a little help I can become one of those elegant, effortless dive types.
My instructor, Fito, a former cliff diver champion, has me dive from the side of the pool first, before moving me to the three-foot board. According to his instructions, I easily plunge into the water. After only three dives he says I’m ready for the three meter plank. I look up. Actually? Already?
He comes on the board with me and we are on the edge. It feels higher here than it looks from below.
“It’s exactly the same process,” he says. Hands above my head, thumbs together, tilt forward and then jump. Except it’s not the same at all. I start to bend forward, but just at the tipping point, before the point where there is no turning back, I stop. I get up, take a breath.
But Fito doesn’t give me time to think about it. We start again. “Arms locked, bend…one, two…go.” Following his calm instructions I tilt forward – and away I am.
It’s over in less than a second. I touch the water smoothly and pass right through it as if it were soft foam. No slap or slap, just a gentle hug that sucks me in. Then I come straight out of the water and up the stairs again, like a child. This is unbelievable. It’s so much easier than I expected. Again, I pierce the water cleanly, straight as an arrow.
On the third dive, however, my concentration drops, my hands explode on impact and my head hits the water with a bang. Fito tells me not to worry, to get it wrong a few times to remember to get it right.
After about 10 more dives, some better than others, he gestures to the five meter board. If I can dive from there I guess I will have cracked it. I feel confident when I scale the steps. But then I go to the board and look down.
“It’ll be fine,” Fito says from downstairs. I nod. Arms locked, legs locked. But it’s so high. I suddenly feel dreamy. I have to remind myself where I am, that I’m going to dive. I step forward… but I can’t. I step back.
Fito encourages me again. “You can do it,” he says.
“Okay, I’ll do it,” I shout. I take a purposeful step forward, bending at the waist and looking at the glistening water.
A childhood memory flashes through my mind. I’m on my bike, about to tip over the edge of a stupid steep forest slope, about to smash myself to pieces. “No,” I say. Something, an invisible force, is pulling me back.
“Take your time,” Fito says. But a security alarm is going off in my head. Previously, Fito had told me of his cliff diving days that he is a thrill seeker. But I am not. I like to challenge myself, but instead of swinging myself out of my comfort zone, I prefer to push the boundaries from within.
So I step back. Maybe after another session on the three-meter board I would be ready. Maybe then it feels like a natural progression. But this is as far as the road goes today. I dived three times higher than ever before from platforms. I am satisfied with that.
Only later, on the way home, do I feel a twinge of disappointment. Why didn’t I? In my memory the platform height has already dwindled.
“Next time,” I think. “The next time.”