Children from the LACES Recreation center swim underwater at the Westchester… (Los Angeles Times )
In Los Angeles, the ocean is a leitmotif emblazoned on postcards, and pools of blue water dot backyards across the hills and valleys.
Yet despite the stereotypes, not everyone here is a surfer or a lifeguard. In fact, not everyone in Los Angeles knows how to swim. For some, that's due to lack of access. Others fear the water. Some think it's too hard to learn, or unnecessary.
As summer arrives, municipal pools open and beckon all to frolic, offering another chance for reluctant kids and fearful adults alike to take the plunge and see what they've been missing. As of last Sunday, the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks had opened more than 50 pools, which will remain in operation until mid-August when public schools reopen. (Thirteen of those pools will stay open year round.)
Registration is already underway for the city's 10,500 slots for swim lessons that will be conducted in three sessions of two weeks each. Kaiser Permanente's Operation Splash program funds 6,000 free spaces in those swim sessions at 35 pools in what the city calls "urban impacted areas." Another 600 spots, as well as a variety of team water sports, are funded by the LA84 Foundation. It's unfortunate that the pools don't stay open more hours. During the week, they're open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; on weekends, just 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. They're closed to recreational swimmers for a lunch hour each weekday.
But it's worth finding some time in that schedule to get there. Swimming is a vital skill. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children aged 1 to 14. African Americans are more at risk: Between 2005 and 2009, according to the CDC, the unintentional drowning rate for black children aged 5 to 14 was almost three times that of white children of the same ages.
It's not just about safety. It's not just about the fitness benefits of swimming as exercise. Everyone should have a chance to discover the joy of gliding through a glistening pool of water. So take a break from the fear, revel in the messy hair and come on in — the water's great.