Before we begin…
Firstly, if you are an expert at drowning (like me) and are thinking of swimming lessons for yourself (or your kids), have a look at the Get Active Calendar to preview upcoming lesson times: https://kaust.clubhouseonline-e3.com.
I find that things like this are not well advertised at KAUST and you have to know where to look.
Your next step is to fill out a form online. If you’re having a hard time finding it, you can email the recreation team to send you a link or point you in the right direction: Recreation@kaust.edu.sa. The form is mainly aimed at parents, which is confusing if you are signing yourself up for lessons. Persevere through it, eventually it will make sense once you receive an email from the recreation team to confirm availability and payment.
What you need
You’ll be expected to wear a one piece bathing suit, not a bikini.
I recommend you buy a swim cap to keep your hair dry. Unfortunately stocks are limited in the Harbour sport shop so you should consider buying online. However, in Tamimi, they sell children’s swimming caps, goggles and toys. I also recommend you buy goggles that don’t fog up and do act like sun glasses as you’ll be in an outdoor pool. I ended up with an ear infection after a couple lessons, so you may want to get ear plugs to avoid my mistake.
Ladies Only Class
Use of the pool is free for residents and visitors. Lessons cost around £50 a month for 2 lessons a week! If you can’t swim, definitely take advantage of this as the UK is £50 for a half hour session (which is why I never tried).
As weird as segregation is, I do actually like having a women’s only pool. There are no cameras allowed in the pool area (which is good). There are many deck chairs for women to lounge on and the pool is 15m by 10.5m. The shallow area is made by placing blocks at one edge of the pool. Personally, I think they need more of these blocks as a lot of women seem to congregate there, even during a lesson. The pool is also not sectioned off to segregate lessons from the public. I found this annoying and very stressful as I kept swimming in to people or panicked if I got too close to someone’s child. There are also no signs to tell the community that lessons are being held at specific times (so they can avoid the pool).
The only off-putting thing about the pool is that the women in the gym can see what you’re up to. Entertainment whilst running!
(picture from Get Active)
My First Lesson
My first lesson was actually a fail on my part. I assumed that there would be some organisation and that the instructor would be expecting a new student. Admittedly, I thought everyone in the pool was a student as everyone was practically lined up in the shallow end. I couldn’t tell who the instructor was at first as the only people in uniform were life guards. It was pretty stressful. Eventually, I worked out that the woman instructing 2 younger women was in fact the teacher. I thought she gave individual instructions or maybe group instructions to get around to everyone. After half an hour, I worked out that they were the only 2 in the lesson. I had stood there like a lemon for the entire lesson, not sure when to interrupt and say I am in the lesson too. I was even asked to move at one point as I was in the way and probably looking frustrated at getting splashed. I came home and had a meltdown because of the stress.
Next few lessons
Next lesson, I was brave. I waited until I saw the instructor and said “I am in the lesson and I can’t swim at all”. I had to practice dipping my head under the water, which was traumatic enough for me. I couldn’t understand the concept of blowing bubbles out of my nose without sucking up the water at some point. If there were cameras, I would win £250 on You’ve Been Framed. I was a comical site trying my best to coordinate my arms and legs. I even had one child say to his mother “what is that lady doing?”
After a few lessons I am now able to do a doggy paddle with a pool noodle, which is much more dignified than arm bands. At the end of every lesson we are asked to jump in to the deep end. It is terrifying. I don’t like it. My fears do not decrease the more I do it. I sit on the ledge and bravely plop myself in and then move my arms and legs until my head pops out for air, or I grab the pool noodle, held by the instructor (and nearly pull her in).
I seem to swim better if I can keep my head above water. It is difficult to coordinate my arm and leg movements, plus my head and breathing. I also have a physical condition (which I didn’t declare because its not officially diagnosed yet). I wish I had said something because I pushed myself too hard doing a front crawl. My arms won’t do what they are supposed to and I am fatigued and in pain for days afterwards. I think I will stick to the doggy paddle!
I think that the swimming lessons are very good value for money! However there is much to be improved on in terms of creating a lesson area and providing a longer shallow end.