Wednesday, February 24, 2010

First taste of skin diving

One of the things I would eventually like to take up in swimming is skin diving. It's an extreme sport involving holding your breath for minutes on end and achieving great depth, times and distances underwater without using scuba. And today, I got my first taste of the activity at the Panasonic pool in Shah Alam.

Instructor Dolphin Lee asked me to swim underwater across the pool on a single breath. That's a distance of 17m.

I couldn't do it at first. My swimming wasn't streamlined and I had to come up for air at halfway point. It was pathetic.

Then he showed me how he would do it. I picked up pointers from his swimming style and my streamlining improved but I still needed that bit of extra push to touch the wall at the other end.

Whereas Lee made it look so effortless.

After a few more failed attempts, Lee finally gave me the tip I needed: hyperventilating.

Hyperventilating is a common trick employed by skin divers. Essentially, you trick your brain into thinking that it does not need oxygen by using a series of quick and deep breaths. Three breaths will do.

But Lee was hesitant to teach me this because of the danger. Hyperventilating may cause you to blackout underwater.

The worst part is there's no bodily sensation whatsoever to warn you of an impending blackout.

I heard of one case at the UKM pool many years ago which I thought sounded very familiar. A man went swimming and as was his usual routine, he went to the deep end of the pool, hold his breath and sit at the bottom of the pool.

Usually, he would come up after a while. But not that day. A few swimmers swam past him and were impressed at how long the guy could stay underwater.

But when they got closer, they saw blood coming out of his nose. He was already dead.

Which is why, they say never skin dive alone.

But then again, as with any useful skill, it will be rewarding once you master it. Lee had shown many times before that he could hold his breath for more than three minutes using this technique.

For me, there could be no better time to give it a try. I took three quick sips of air, then began my descent.

At halfway point, I felt fine. At three-quarter point, still ok. I thought, wow this really works!

I finally managed to swim across the pool on a single breath!

In fact, I finished the swim with some to spare. Or so my brain was led to think.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Name Is Khan

I don't normally watch Hindi movies but My Name Is Khan is an exception.

Something about the movie drew me towards it when it began showing in cinemas a week ago.

It was a line. I had heard "My name is Khan and I'm not a terrorist" from a few friends on Facebook and it piqued my curiosity.

I thought it was a comedy in the mould of Harold and Kumar Goes To Guantanamo Bay and I love comedies. Also, friends said the movie played to packed cinemas so I thought it must be good.

So, Friday, off we went to see My Name Is Khan -- me and YT who, like me, had heard good things about the movie.

We didn't even plan to watch a movie that night. We had just finished playing pool when she suggested maybe we could go see a movie.

We went without knowing what it was about, who was in it and where the setting was.

It turned out to be a hugely pleasant surprise!

My Name Is Khan star Bollywood megastars Shahrukh Khan and Kajol and is directed by Karan Johar.

It is bilingual (English/Hindi) and set in San Francisco, California before, during and after 9/11.

Shahrukh plays a Muslim man who suffers from autism while Kajol plays his Hindu love interest.

I remember the pair from their brilliant performances in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

It is nice to see Shahrukh play a Muslim this time around. He can be seen early on in the movie saying good words, prostrating in prayer and having an honest-to-goodness character.

His acting makes it look cool to be Muslim all over again.

So that was the first pleasant surprise. The second was the name of the character. Shahrukh plays this kind-hearted fella named Rizwan Khan.

So throughout the movie you could hear Rizwan this, Rizwan that, my name is Rizwan and I'm not a terrorist.

Never had I had my name mentioned so many times in a movie before and in such a good way! I left the cinema feeling one inch taller. :)

I judge the effectiveness of a movie by whether it left me with anything to ponder on long after the credits have stopped rolling.

In the case of My Name Is Khan, there are two scenes. One is when Rizwan is traveling and on the bus with him is a Muslim couple.

When the bus stops, he is seen checking the time for Zuhur prayer.

When his fellow traveler says you shouldn't pray now, you should consider there are many non-Muslims around, Rizwan simply says, "prayers should be based not on people, but on belief" and proceeds to solat in full view of the other passengers.

This is something I have to work on.

The other scene is when his mother teaches a young Rizwan that the world is divided into two types of people: good people who do good things, and bad people who do bad things.

Nothing else matters.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The butterfly effect

I'm finally getting the hang of the butterfly stroke.

Of the four swimming techniques, the butterfly is the most difficult to master.

It takes a combination of elegance, coordination and explosive power.

My instructor Dolphin Lee said it took him six months to get his butterfly right.

But, said Lee, once you're able to get it right, it will be most rewarding. While the breaststroke is known as the most relaxing style and the freestyle as the fastest, the butterfly has a reputation as the sexiest swimming style out there, especially for men.

A swimmer looks majestic soaring above the water with his arms spread wide. In terms of what it does to your body, a butterfly swimmer also tends to bulk up in the shoulder area.

"Nanti ramai perempuan minat oo.." Lee kept telling me.

That was good enough a reason for me.

So, November last year, I began learning the butterfly from Lee.

The first thing you must learn is something called dolphin kick (not invented by Dolphin Lee). It involves kicking both legs while they are closely together.

And it's not just about a kick. The rest of your body too -- your arms, your torso -- need to be flexible so that you move through the water in a streamlined, elegant manner, like a dolphin.

It was SO difficult to do!

Instead of a dolphin, I must've looked like an ulat bulu trying to wade its way through water.

After a few weeks, we moved to the next phase of the training -- the arms.

This is the part that most people don't get to see -- what happens with the arms underwater. So what does the swimmer do with his arms? Well, he draws a quick gigantic heart shape.

This, combined with the dolphin kick, are what propels the swimmer to sort of fly above the water.

The arm movement proved to be most taxing on the body, because you simply cannot do it like a pondan. You need to be powerful and committed.

The good news is with enough practice, it gets easier as the shoulder muscles get progressively bigger.

In my case, after so many months of training, yes it does feel easier now to lunge above the water.

Funnily enough, I hated the butterfly in the beginning but now I like it. It is easier than even the freestyle.