How long has it been since you learned a brand new skill?

I am still gloating a little after recently overcoming a big fear of mine that required a bit of bravery and a lot of practice.

I’m talking about the FLIP TURN.

I swim about three times a week, and while I am always trying to improve my speed or technique or endurance, there are few new NEW tricks to learn. Once you master the act of learning how to swim (which for me was, oh, early elementary school?), you’re pretty much set. Skill acquired.

The last big pool accomplishment that had me smiling in my Speedo was honing the backstroke. Before that, I could certainly swim on my back…but it probably couldn’t technically be termed a “stroke” by any means. But with some time, practice, and patience, suddenly it all clicked and I could get from one end of the pool to the other, on my back, in a straight line.

One thing I’ve always wanted to do but was always too afraid to try was the flip turn.

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While I am proud of myself for being able to swim 40+ laps without stopping at the wall and putting my feet down, changing direction without the flip turn is a bit choppy and adds just the slightest little time-suck to an otherwise fluid and flowing workout.

I tried a flip once, back when I first started a regular swimming routine. I hit my head on the wall, swallowed a mouthful of water, and knocked my goggles off. Never again, I thought. I’ll just leave that to the pros.

But now it’s been more than two years since I took up swimming, and I’ve been spending my down time in the hot tub eying the “pros” as the do their laps–swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, FLIP! It looks so fun! So elegant! And man, it gets you off the wall FAST!

A few weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity of having the gym pool all to myself. I finished my normal workout and spent a few minutes afterward stretching out my back against the wall.

The wall. Hmmm…

With the place all to myself, I figured What the heck? If I flubbed up, at least I would be spared any embarrassment.

And I did flub up. I flipped too early and missed the wall, I flailed my arms around too much, I angled myself way too low and pushed my body not straight out but straight DOWN, into the pool floor. Ow.

I got water up my nose, in my mouth, in my goggles. But the place was all still mine, so I kept going. Flip, cough, adjust goggles. Flip, cough, adjust goggles. Over and over again. I kept at it until the pool taste in my mouth was overbearing and my nose felt swollen with saltwater.

Between that and my next attempt, I consulted the King of Consultants for Acquiring New Skills: YouTube.

(No, not to watch airplane videos but to watch people demonstrating the flip turn!)

Miraculously, I had the lap lanes all to myself again during my next visit to the gym pool (it was a sign; this NEVER happens). There was a couple in the regular section, but it was evening and the interior lights still hadn’t been turned on yet, so it was quite dark and mysterious, a perfect time to practice in the shadows. I dedicated about 20 minutes post-workout to flipping, starting a few yards away from the wall, swimming toward it, and turning upside down.

My two biggest problems were (a) getting water up my nose, and (b) getting water in my goggles. With time, I realized that this was happening because I was being too aggressive with the action. Yes, it’s important to forcefully exhale through your nose when turning, but not with such gusto that you end up inhaling on the upswing. I toned down the breathing and approached it like a yoga breath, and less and less water got in my brain. The goggles situation improved after I stopped grimacing my face so much when flipping. By keeping my face relaxed and not getting it all in a nervous bunch when flipping, my goggles stayed in place–no water in my eyes.

By Swim #4, I was ready to incorporate the turns into my laps, even though the thought of doing so seemed exhausting. I didn’t understand how so many people say the flip turns makes swimming “easier.” At the beginning of my workout, it was not. I became out of breath wayyy earlier than normal and was still dealing with some water up my nose and in my eyes. But I stopped, adjusted everything, and went about with my laps, trying not to pause for too long to regroup.

Just last night was my first full lap workout with real-looking/feeling flip turns. I finally found the rhythm, that sweet spot right before the wall when to stick my arm out in front of me and flip myself over. I had to stop only a few times when my breath didn’t quite synchronize with the location of the wall, but for the most part, I was swimming like one of the “pros” I envied just a few weeks ago.

I was utterly exhausted when I got in my car, but the thrill of learning something new gave me enough energy to smile during the drive home.

What’s the last new skill that you acquired?