Feature Article - February 2007
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Special Supplement: A Complete Guide to Aquatic Centers

By Jessic Royer Ocken


TO DIVE, OR NOT TO DIVE?

With all these new features popping up around the pool, one you may be seeing less of is the diving board. A few well-publicized accidents and rising insurance costs have virtually eliminated this element from backyard pools, and some community pools have followed suit. But there are as many opinions on this matter as there are ways to bounce off the board with a crowd-drenching splash (something definitely not allowed much anymore), and your choice is likely highly dependent on your own situation. For your consideration, here's a sampling of opinions in the industry.

"With any type of activity, you do have the potential for accidents," said Burbach of Burbach Aquatics. "[However,] there's not a great deal of risk inherent with the more standardized recreational assets—lazy rivers, waterslides—as compared to a box pool. The activity in a box pool is diving."

But that doesn't mean Burbach is against diving. "At Burbach we design facilities with a 50-year life, and many times [we're designing them] for smaller towns that will have a single facility, so it needs to be multipurpose. Ninety-five percent of our facilities have diving designed into the project."

In other words, diving may be a bit on the outs now, but in a few years, who knows?

"In the 1920s, diving was low on the priority list and recreation was high," Burbach said. "Then during and after World War II, diving came back in. Trends come and go, just like water coming up on the beach. It comes in and recedes."

The NSPF's Lachocki noted that there are indeed fewer facilities with diving boards these days, and those that do have them are usually used for competition. "It's a safety consideration, as you need a sufficient water envelope to dive into, and you can make the pool larger to accommodate this, but then the cost goes up," he said.

However, not building a board doesn't necessarily remove you from all possibility of diving injuries. "It's also important to realize that most diving injuries don't occur where there's a board," Lachocki explained. "They're usually in shallow water and when the person is impaired in some way."

The Midlothian Park District pool is vintage-1960s and still includes a diving well. Although Knapp would like to remove the 1-meter board in favor of a slide, which she thinks a lot more visitors would be interested in, she has not been able to do so yet.

In the meantime, her solution is a strictly enforced set of rules. "You go straight off," she said. "No flips or anything fancy, and we have a weight limit for the board of 250 pounds. The fulcrum is set so you're not changing the spring. All these things take away from what a board should do if someone is trained, but since not everyone is..."

There's always a lifeguard assigned specifically to the diving well, and when the pool is especially full (such as when a day camp visits), Knapp adds another guard at a station on the other side of the well, and perhaps a walking guard as well.

"Most of our rescues are in the kids' pool or the diving well," she explained. If someone takes too long to resurface after a dive or seems disoriented at the surface, a guard steps in for the assist.

In Las Vegas, they love their diving boards.

"To be honest, 1-meter boards are fairly safe," Hawkins said. "We always staff a lifeguard in the diving wells, and they're open during recreational swim and during diving practice. They're only closed if we have a learn-to-swim program going on. We have very few accidents off the board in general."

She added, "This past summer at one pool, we had several little slips on the board. That was a case where the board needed to be resurfaced, so we're doing that before next summer. We have a 3-meter board at Municipal Pool and at our other Olympic-sized pool, and those are monitored more closely because they have an old-school ladder system, not like a stairway, and that's more dangerous. Most of those accidents occur when a kid gets up and decides not to go, then slips coming back down or falls off."

Diving rules are posted at every diving well, Hawkins explained. "The kids know the rules: one person on the board, only one bounce, no going off backwards," she said. "We tend to find that kids adapt to what the rules are, and new kids see what's going on, so it's usually not an issue."

The other key to this process is that "when kids break the rules there's discipline," Hawkins said. The offender is told to "go read the rules and report back on what you broke. They know not to break the rules a second time, or else they can't use the board any more. It's about enforcing the rules. That's what the guards are there for, too."