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Surfing Monkeys in a Parallel Universe

Adapted from my response to a question in the www.H2OustonSwims.org discussion forum about hand entry in freestyle.

I just got back from vacation, visiting parallel universe #176097700420895.

Sometimes what you find in parallel universes is quite surprising. Being a swim coach, I'm always interested in what the pools are like. For instance in universe #34 they don't swim in water. They have thick translucent green goo instead. You'd be surprised how fast they can swim in the stuff! And in universe #$%#*^@ (where the SHIFT keys are always stuck), all God's creatures are made of stone. There they don't use pools for "swimming." They call it "drowning" (as in plummeting instantly to the bottom) and it's not very popular.

But this most recent universe I toured appeared to look and operate just like our own universe in nearly every detail. The pool I visited was the Golden Meadows pool in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I swam as a kid (yup, this parallel universe has all the same places and names as our own). The pool had normal water in it, the swimmers floated on the surface where you'd expect and the snack bar still sold foot-long pretzel sticks. Everything was just the way I remembered it being in our universe. Almost...

It was the brick-hurling surfing monkeys that really caught my eye. You couldn't miss them, really. These critters were surfing on the shoulders of the swimmers and each had some sort of bag slung over its shoulder. Every few feet the monkey would dip a furry paw into its bag, extract a brick and hurl it into the water just in front of the swimmer, throwing up a goodly splash. Those bags the monkeys carried didn't look full or heavy but, without fail, every time a paw reached in, out came another genuine ACME Red (I wish the newspaper bag I lugged around as a kid had worked in a similar manner). Each monkey matched his swimmer stroke for stroke with the bricks so that fifteen to thirty times per length the swimmer had a fresh splash to contend with.

I felt sorry for the monkeys. Most seemed to be hurling bricks as fast as their little arms could work. Interestingly, the ones whose swimmers were taking the most strokes were actually hurling their bricks harder and creating bigger splashes than those whose swimmers took fewer strokes. The only rest any of the poor creatures got from the arduous task of tearing up the water in front of their swimmers was during turns and underwater glides, where, of course, they had to hang on tight and hold their breath. Talk about a tough workout!

And the swimmers...These guys had to swim through all of the splash and chop created by the bricks. Just as a swimmer would get his head and shoulders through the patch of water torn up by one brick, his monkey would be letting fly with the next brick. Getting anywhere in the pool looked like a real struggle. Yet the swimmers seemed to have resigned themselves to the burden of this endeavor, accommodating by way of brute force and extra heart beats. Talk about a tough workout!

Curiously though, there were a few swimmers that were unescorted — no monkey, no bricks. By comparison, these guys had it easy. The water their bodies moved through was smooth and quiet (well, there was some overspray and waves from all the bricks pounding the water in the neighboring lanes, but the extra big anti-wave lane lines did an admirable job of blocking out the worst of it). For the most part, these swimmers glided effortlessly through unchurned waters.

Now that I think of it, when I watch swimmers in the many pools I visit here in our own universe, things aren't terribly different. True, we don't have the surfing monkeys with bags o' bricks. But the typical swimmer in our universe tends to substitute for the bricks by crashing his own arms (which weigh more than those ACME Reds) down through the surface, splashing water all around and creating plenty of chop for the rest of his body to swim through. And the more strokes he takes per length, the harder he likely crashes those arms into the water. And every bit of kinetic energy the swimmer gives up to the water in the form of splash and turbulence is bought with extra heart beats and comes at the expense of that other kinetic energy — forward motion. It would appear, in our universe, that the typical swimmer does the work of both the swimmer and the monkey at once. Talk about a really tough workout.

Yet, as in that parallel universe, there are some swimmers in our own universe that manage to swim through calmer waters — those few that have traded brute force and wasted effort for the stealth of cleanly piercing their hands and forearms forward through small holes in the surface on each entry. These swimmers just seem to cruise through workouts that beat up less stealthy swimmers.

Next time you hit a pool, take a moment to spot the swimmers that would have brick-hurling surfing monkeys in another universe. In fact, if your goggles are fogged just right you might be able to see faint monkey shadows coming in through quantum subspace wormholes. If so, you might check to see if there is a monkey on your back. v

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2005

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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