YORKVILLE — Shui Chu, 22, panicked and grabbed onto the nearest classmate when he realized his feet couldn’t touch the pool’s floor. It was his first swim class at Asphalt Green in June after not setting foot in the water since he was in kindergarten.
“Initially there was a little fear,” he said this week after his eighth swim practice. “I don’t have any swimming experience and I never took any classes when I was young.”
Chu, a Bensonhurst native, signed up for Asphalt Green’s adult immersion swim classes after he realized swimming was a good life skill to have.
Facing his fears, Chu can now tread water and freestyle swim across the pool.
Six others, ranging in age from their teens to their mid-40s, splashed, floated and skimmed through the water on Thursday night — each one with their own story of why they never learned to swim until now.
Some were afraid of the water and wanted to breakthrough their fear. Others just never learned and needed to learn before they went on vacation. Some want to pick up where they left off when they were younger.
Whatever the reason, Asphalt Green’s adult immersion swim class, which meets twice a week for several weeks, typically helps adults who are hesitant or embarrassed to learn to swim because they’re not young anymore. Asphalt Green’s swim school principal, Morgan Mabe, said that putting students in a group setting builds camaraderie and support.
On Thursday, swim instructor Angel Macias had students alternate between freestyle swimming across the pool and comfort exercises like holding one’s breath under water, breathing, or floating on the back or stomach.
“People have fears, like ‘I almost drowned because I didn’t know something,’ so I try to fill people with as much knowledge as I can,” he said. “I get in people’s faces and I talk directly to them to see what is going through their minds. I earn their trust first.”
Macias said one woman he taught the week before was so petrified that she wouldn’t put her face in the water when learning how to tread water. Macias held her with a "noodle" float and talked to her as she was screaming.
“Within a minute or two, she realized she was supported and nothing could happen,” he said. “She was calm, and laughing and giggling. She had never let the water over her head before and never knew she could have support there and that the sensation of being off the ground can be a fun experience.”
Reggie Daniel, 44, of Harlem said he is going on a sailing trip next week and figured he “better get comfortable in deep water before I go into the sea,” he said.
Daniel described himself as a generally tense person and said it was all about getting over the mental blocks he had about swimming. He hadn’t been swimming since he was 10 years old.
“I do everything so fast all the time, so when I started, I had to slow it down,” he said. “We all got to breathe a little stronger and I started to slow down. Now I’m able to get from one end to the other but with actual physical swimming instead of just making my best way.”
Chu said he feels more comfortable in the water too, even though he is still learning.
"I'm more confident and I've realized I'm more knowledgeable [about how to swim]," he said.
Macias, who has been swimming since age 5, said it is never too late to learn how to swim.
“This last class always brings a smile to my face,” he said. “I leave here happy knowing I was able to help these guys and they’ve made the conscious decision they’re going to learn how to swim and it’s not to late for them. My reward is seeing the look in their face of ‘I did it.’”
The next Adult Immersion courses, offered once a week on either Tuesday and Thursday evenings, begin on September 15 and 17 and run through mid-December. Registration is open to all at Asphalt Green's website.