Learning how to swim and becoming a lifeguard

Ever since a surf instructor in Newquay told me that surf instructors also need to be able to swim 400m in 8 minutes, I was intrigued by this. That was 2006. This year, a couple of my surf mates and I took the plunge and did the lifeguard and surf instructor’s course. Although you could do it in the Netherlands, we decided to go do it in Newquay, and make a trip out of it. Together with a few other surfer girls, who didn’t want to do the course but did want to explore the awesome surf in Cornwall, we drove off on May 5 for a week in the chilly British waters.

But first, the prep. I am a fairly decent swimmer, but all I was ever taught was the breaststroke. I can keep that up for ages, but it’s not exactly fast. So in January, I started going to the “stroke improvement” session at “De Mirandabad” in Amsterdam. These sessions are awesome, the instructor broke down the stroke into its parts, had us practice just the legs, or just the arms, or just the breathing and gave individual feedback. After a few weeks, I started to get the hang of it and started with a training schedule that would build up to 400m (going from 50m stretches with a few minutes rest in between to an uninterrupted 400m). Whilst splashing around in the pool 3 times a week (and it was still going to be tight to make it) I noticed that I really really liked swimming, and it was a fun thing to do before work, it really cleared my head (so I actually kept it up, although I do take it a bit easier now). I also needed to eat more, and better. And I quit drinking alcohol just because I really wanted to make it. Some weeks I also trained with my mates, and we exchanged recipes for super foods (which got me onto swapping out some oatmeal for quinoa in my morning porridge, yummy!). I also swam on trips. So when I was in Spain for work, I made a trip to the Zarautz municipal pool and the San Sebastian municipal pool (the Zarautz one is nicer). I also swam in Paris at the Piscine Pontoise, a pool from the 30s where your changing cabin is also your locker, and you need to remember the number and after your swim session the pool attendant will open it up again for you. Funny thing is that that pool is 33m, which totally messed up my sense of distance.

Now, back to the trip.  We found a nice six-person cottage by the beach that would take us (most places don’t take group bookings, which is kind of understandable given the Newquay nightlife, but still annoying). Every morning we would walk down to the beach for our course and at 5 walk back up again. Completely knackered. It was tough, it was also cold, but it was also a really great experience. We did lots of theory about the beach and potential hazards, first aid, practices CPR on dummies of various sizes and we did water sessions. The first day started with a little fitness test called “run-swim-run”, we also did a relay race with a rescue board (lose the board and you have to do 10 push-ups, the losing team had to do 10 push-ups and 10 sit-ups, which was us), and we learnt to do tube rescues. The next few days we refined our tube rescues and got to learn board rescues. In the evenings, we had to do our homework (learning the phone alphabet, hand signals (great fun at the dining table), first aid stuff…).

On Wednesday morning, we did the swim test. And I was 10 seconds too slow :(. (Luckily I got to redo it in the Netherlands on June 2 and then I passed it. I don’t think I was ever more nervous before a test in my life, or so relieved afterwards. It was a horrible test though, after one lap one of my goggles filled up with water and I also lost my swim cap halfway, but I kept swimming and hey, I made it! ). I did pass all the other things though, which was good. So on Friday night, we went out for drinks with the other participants of the course, who were all brits and who will all outdrink you. But they were all fun to hang out with.

We couldn’t stay out too late though, because on Saturday and Sunday we were attending the surf instructor’s course. The surf instructor’s course is peanuts compared to the lifeguarding course. We learnt to do lesson plans, spot descriptions and did a lesson in which our fellow students were beginner surfers (give people a coloured rashy, a soft top and have them play in the whitewater and everyone looks like a beginner ;)). I only didn’t pass the surf assessment, on Saturday the waves were crazy and half of us didn’t even get through, and on Sunday it was still bigger than what I’m used to and basically after the entire week lifeguard training my arms just weren’t cooperating as much as I wanted to. So now I just need to get some decent video material of me surfing and get that graded after which I need to do an internship with a surf school.

Maybe something to aim for in 2014 🙂


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