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Learning to Swim in Los Angeles

You could say I lack a certain grace in the water.

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Jose A. Del Real
, New York Times

You could say I lack a certain grace in the water.

I flail, I gasp, and I make barbaric yawps — even though the pool I’m using is only 4 feet deep, even though I have a kickboard and an athletic snorkel. My face goes underwater, and I instinctively panic.

My siblings and I never took swim lessons as kids. My parents, immigrants from Mexico, simply didn’t have any leftover cash to pay for classes, nor were lake sports their biggest concern after grueling double shifts at hotels and restaurants. As an adult, pride and inertia have kept me on dry land.

But no longer!

Recently, I asked other Angelenos via Twitter for some help finding a swim instructor, and folks pointed me to pools all over town: the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, El Segundo Parks and Recreation, the Culver City Pool, the YMCA, the Westside Jewish Community Center and several local gyms.

I found a startling statistic during my research that showed 79 percent of children whose families make less than $50,000 a year cannot swim. The 2017 study by the USA Swimming Foundation also found that nearly 64 percent of black children, 45 percent of Hispanic children and 40 percent of white children nationally have little to no swimming ability.

Those numbers are similar here in Los Angeles itself, according to the city.

There are some stellar new options for those who can’t afford pricey private lessons. SwimLA, a citywide initiative tied to the 2024 Olympics, subsidizes the cost of classes for those who can demonstrate financial need. The program is seeking to double the number of young people who get swim lessons at public pools; 36,000 Angelenos have taken lessons through the program since it began in June.

“Kids of color are less likely to have a friend with a swimming pool or the money to be able to afford classes,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti, a champion of the program. “We want to make sure your ZIP code didn’t determine your safety.”

While I find the right instructor, I’ve been putting in some time in the shallow lap pool at my gym to learn how to hold my breath and relax. I have accidentally swallowed a lot of chlorine the past few weeks.

But virtually everyone has been very supportive, even when I’ve inadvertently gotten in their way.

“That’s so cute,” one woman told me when I explained why I was hovering with my head in the water. She moved her fists in cheering motions. “It’s never too late to learn!”

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