SWIMMING is an art so manly, so graceful, and so useful, that no one ever regrets the trouble of learning. And every one can learn, unless he be physically infirm or naturally a coward.
Dr. Franklin truthfully said: "The only obstacle to the acquirement and improvement in this necessary and life-preserving art is fear." The coward had better stay out of the water. He is safer on land. But he is not necessarily a coward who is afraid to plunge boldly into unknown water - such a reluctance is natural; the best swimmer, unless he be foolhardy, would not do that. Some of the best swimmers have learned in shallow creeks, have practised alone until skilled, and then polished their self-education in deep water.
The first lesson should be taken in a tideless river or quiet stream, the depth of which you have previously studied. On entering the water, wet your head and neck thoroughly, and before submerging the body stand for a few minutes knee-deep.
Having fixed your eye on a favorable spot, advance into the stream until breast-high. Now face the shore, and prepare for striking out. Lie gently on your breast, keeping head and neck upright, breast distended, and back bent inward. Withdraw the legs from the bottom, and immediately strike them out, not downward, but horizontally; strike forward with the arms simultaneously with the feet, holding the hands like the blade of an oar when in action, fingers closed, the thumb placed by the side of the first finger, a little below the surface; draw them back again while gathering up the legs for a second attempt; and thus push forward, making use of the hands and feet alternately. The farther forward you reach, the faster you will swim. The secret of a good stroke is to kick out with the legs wide apart. The propelling power is secured by the legs being brought from a position in which they are placed wide apart to one in which they are close together, like the blades of a pair of scissors. In this position the heels should touch each other; and in drawing up the legs, the toes should be pointed backward to avoid the resistance of the water against the insteps.
It may happen that you will swallow water in your first efforts; but this should not discourage you, neither should the fancy that because you make but little advance you are not capable of learning to swim. Every beginner has his mishaps, no matter what the art.
Some lads will learn to swim "dog-fashion" quicker than any other style; and while it is not at all graceful, it gradually leads into the smooth, even, scientific breast-stroke, and therefore should hardly be discouraged. Every boy, of course, knows that "dog-fashion" is that frantic motion of the hands and legs like a large paddle-wheel, in which more bluster and foam than headway are made; and every boy likes to swim "dog-fashion" occasionally, often just to "show off," or to imitate some friend not so far advanced as himself. But, "dog-fashion" swimmer, don't let such mimics dishearten you; keep right on, and soon you will master the breast-stroke as we have described it, and by studying some of the tricks in this article, you may soon have the laugh on your mockers.
Having mastered the breast-stroke, which is adapted to long-distance leisurely swimming, the next movement is the side-stroke; it may be the left or right, or either. You can accomplish it by shooting the right arm forward, while the left, like an oar, is forcing the water back, and the legs are propelling the body onward. This stroke, which is a powerful one, will move you on like clock-work, and for long distance moderately fast swimming is excellent.
Then follows the alternate right-hand, left-hand movement, or the overhand-stroke. This is perhaps the most graceful and convenient of all. In reaching forward, the arms are alternately brought out of the water, and then curved so that the tips of the fingers enter again directly in front of the head. This movement can be made very graceful by daintily skimming the palm along the surface, and merely dipping the water before it disappears. For short distance swimming, you will find no speedier stroke. Advancing the right and left sides of the body alternately, secures greater continuity of motion and materially reduces the friction; in conjunction with the powerful propulsion of the legs, it sends you along with the speed of a fish. As it is very swift, so it is very exhausting; it is, therefore, best adapted to racing, say fifty or one hundred yards.
I once saw Dennis F. Butler, the ex-champion of America, finish a seven-mile race against the tide with this overhand stroke; and he did it in a peculiar manner. With every dip of the arm his head would go under water; and thus he lolled, yet fairly plunged for the goal, taking breath every time he turned on his sides.
The boy aspirants to racing honors will do well to practise this movement diligently.
Back performances are more easily learned than those on the breast, and floating is quite simple.
Turn yourself over on your back, as gently as possible, elevate your breast above the surface, put your head back, so that your eyes, nose, and chin only are above water. Keep in this position with the arms and legs extended, the latter perfectly rigid. Now, move the hands from right to left horizontally, fast or slow as you choose, and you will find yourself buoyed up and gradually moving along. If you wish to make greater speed or swim on your back, begin to work your legs, precisely as in breast swimming, taking care not to lift the knees too high nor to sink your hips and sides too low. Keep yourself as straight as possible. You are now progressing finely - getting along easily and speedily. If your arms grow tired, lay them on your breast, but keep the legs going; thus you can rest your arms; if your legs tire, let them remain quiet, and renew work with your hands. Thus alternating, you will find yourself able to cover a long distance without fatigue.