Cannonball! It’s the sweet splash of summer (with a bit of physics)
It’s not just about running and jumping. Any ol’ monkey in a swimsuit can do that.
No, there’s calculation here — a weather vane fingertip licked and stuck into the air, a careful (perhaps subconscious) consideration of fluid mechanics and velocity and the acceleration of gravity, a sniper-like assessment of potential targets and then ... bwa-ha-haaaa!
And then an evil twirl of the invisible mustache, a nefarious narrowing of the eyes, a running start, faster and faster, a panther-like leap, a tight tuck, falling falling falling aaaaaand SPLASH!
You’d think that’s the real payoff, that splash, but sometimes it’s this: “Hey!” or “Aaaargh! You got me all wet!”
The cannonball strikes again.
It’s the go-to “dive” for those who can’t dive. It’s a wordless punch line, an exclamation point, a blaring tuba announcing your arrival in the pool.
It’s “hey, look at me!” and “heh-heh-heh.”
In a reverse of the evolutionary diagrams showing man emerging from the primordial muck, new swimmers emerge from the pool and almost immediately leap back in. Maybe those first re-entries are flailing funky chickens, but then instinct, a quirk of genetic programming, tells you to grab your knees and curl inward and wait for the magic.
Cannonballs are timeless. As long as there is deep enough water and a heightened tolerance for water up the nose, they have been and will always be.
Cannonballs, then, are summer. They are lazy afternoons spent pool side, the scent of coconut, burning-hot sidewalks, sweating cans of soda, damp towels draped on plastic lounge chairs and, in certain hearts, a growing impatience for the languor and Lotus Eaters lethargy of it all. And so a run-jump-SPLASH!
It’s all about the splash.
“Oh, yeah,” agreed Jess Padon, 15, of Fruita. “That’s why I go off the high dive: It makes the biggest splash.”
His technique is a variation of the knee-grab, a folding pretzel pose that lets him hit the water in a sit. Plus, he confessed, the first time he ever went off the high dive, he accidentally did a belly flop, so “cannonballs hurt less.”
Cami Ener, 13, of Loma, agrees about the high dive: Going off that bad boy is the best way to get the splash you want.
“Usually, if I go off the high dive, the water pushes way out then comes back and hits me in the head. It’s like, ouch! But it’s worth it,” she said.
But how to get that all-important splash? Let’s ask Chad Middleton, an associate professor of physics at Mesa State College.
“It depends on three things,” he said. “The impact speed of the cannonballee; the shape of that person — the closer you are to a sphere, the better the splash; and the person’s weight. The more you weigh, the bigger the splash.”
Obviously, he’s being kind and not mentioning the variables of air resistance and fluid mechanics, among others, so we can focus on the splash.
So, first things first: speed.
You want to hit the water fast, so the higher you are, the harder you’ll drop. This means going off the high dive.
Also, the closer you are to hitting the water in a vertical line, rather than at an angle, the better your splash, Middleton said. Jump up and drop straight down, is the message in all this.
But let’s not forget shape. The closer you are to a sphere, the more magnificently water will shoot off in all directions and, Middleton said, at 20–30 times the speed at which you hit the water! Tuck those knees into your chest, then, and wrap protective arms around them. Bend your head forward and try to remember to breathe out when you hit the water.
The only way to truly appreciate the art of the cannonball is on a mid-August afternoon, when the clouds have parted, the sun is a brilliant white-gold and autumn is a faraway idea.
On just such a recent day, Leanna Clement, 6, of Grand Junction, is perched at the end of the low diving board at Lincoln Park-Moyer Swimming Pool, clutching her arms around herself and considering her options. She’s still somewhat new to the deep end, but moxie has pushed her off the diving board before and this time is no different.
Finally, with an almost visible making up of her mind, she swings her right knee up for a little momentum, launches off the board, grabs her knees with one hand, her nose with the other and hits the water.
The splash is respectable, made more so by the grinning face that surfaces. Quickly, Leanna swims to the side of the pool and pulls herself out. Swiftly walking (but not running, that’s against the rules) back to the diving board, she does it all over again.
Soon, she’s joined by Jess and Cami, plus Cami’s brother and sister, Clayton and Courtney, both 9, and Emerson Hill, 11, of Grand Junction. They resemble otters at play, if otters could do cannonballs.
After doing several cannonballs off the low diving board, Courtney slowly climbs the stairs of the high dive and inches to the end. Her sister, treading water at the pool’s edge, calls encouragement: “It’s not that scary! You just close your eyes and wait to hit!”
Nope, nope, Courtney scurries back to the stairs and starts down, but stops and climbs back up, tip-toeing forward on trembling legs. Seconds pass in silence, and then ... cannonbaaaaaalllll! She hits the water with an awesome splash and is immediately out of the water to do it again.
That’s the thing about cannonballs: they’re addictive. There’s something about that split second of falling through space, about the feeling of parting the waters then floating suspended in a fizz of bubbles and emerging victorious.
And if, as an added bonus, someone sitting poolside got splashed? Irresistible.
Children love them.
Adults, in the presence of all that water, revert and remember how much they love them.
So the sound of summer, then, is a wicked chuckle, a scuffle of feet and a tremendous, enormous, earth-shaking, gravity-defying, I’ll-strangle-you-if-you-get-me-wet-I-mean-it, touch-the-sky… SPLASH!