Plate Swimming. -- This is a most interesting and enjoyable branch of the art. From a very early period we find references to mechanical appliances as aids to progression and support in the water, these helps generally taking the form of large flat surfaces made of wood, tin, leather, waterproof fabrics, or other similar materials.
Sometimes they were flat, in other instances slightly concave. Some were made banded like the covers of a book, or hinged, others opened and closed with umbrella-like action, while quite a large number were made web-like to resemble a ducks foot; nearly all were more or less collapsible.
From what can be gleaned of the style of these articles it is evident that the inventors cannot have been familiar with the principles of swimming, or aquatic propulsive action, and so, while a number of the contrivances were undoubtedly the outcome of much thought and ingenuity, they could not be regarded as in any way improving on the ordinary or primitive swimming movements; and, while greater surface than is offered by hands and feet was always given, with the evident intention of reducing "slip," much resistance took place at the neutral or negative part of the stroke.
The one good effect in most of these inventions was thus more than nullified by this "drag," which, besides being objectionable in itself, had the additional disadvantage of bringing into requisition muscles of legs and arms the development of which was antagonistic to perfection of swimming.
In 1876 Mr R. H. Wallace-Dunlop, C. B., announced that he had invented swimming plates which afforded increased speed without causing undue straining of the muscles ; and these claims have been justified by subsequent experience. The arrangements for a lateral movement of the heels in the footboards or plates, with freedom of the ankles, showed at once that Mr Dunlop had fully studied the details of the art of swimming, with the effect of greatly reducing "slip" in the positive and altogether doing away with "drag" in the negative parts of the leg stroke.
Slow swimmers, by the use of the new appliances, move quickly and easily through the water, whilst moderately fast swimmers have their speed increased to an almost wonderful extent. To swim 100 yards in 70 seconds without artificial aid is regarded as a good performance: there are not half a dozen living swimmers who can reduce this time by so much as five seconds. Yet about ten years ago a London swimmer, not by any means the fastest, with the assistance of the plates covered the distance of 100 yards in 60 seconds.
It will thus be apparent that the invention marks an important advance in the art of swimming. These plates are made of wood -- mahogany or American base, -- and are in shape somewhat like an artists palette, with this difference, that the bay or indentation of the edge runs in to where the thumb-hole would be. The straps are made of leather, and all buckles and metal should be of bronzed or lacquered brass; the woodwork ought to be kept well polished or varnished.
The hand plates are at the thickest part of an inch thick, but those for the feet must be much stronger, as the whole weight of the body is upon them while one is standing at or walking to the waters edge.
In learning to use them, let the swimmer begin by lying flat on the water, straightening the arms out about 24 inches apart. Spread the feet and legs well outward; then so place the feet that the plate shall be vertical, and thus offer the soles as resisting surfaces to the water; close the legs in such a way that the flat parts will meet when the legs come together. The return of the feet to the body is tha same as in natural or unaided swimming, i.e., by bringing them heels first so that the plates are carried up edge ways.
Next, turn the ankles so as to allow of the soles facing outward, this being in plate swimming the point from which the positive or propelling part of the stroke actually starts. Now press outward and round until the plates meet as before, and repeat.
Practise slowly and steadily until sure that in the recovery there is no drag, and that when spreading apart and closing the resisting surface are squared so as to reduce slip to its minimum.
The hands are moved as in ordinary swimming, with this difference, that they are all the time lying flat; on their return to the boy after the propelling movement no motion of wrist is to be made, great care being taken to keep the hand plates perfectly parallel with the surface of the water, as the slightest deviation from this rule, at any one part of the arm stroke, will sink or raise head and chest, and so alter the natural and correct plane of the whole body. As the plates are lighter than the water the feet will tend to come close to the surface, if not indeed sometimes above it, causing splashing unless care be taken to avoided this.
Floating in any position is easy and comfortable with plates on, and diving, sculling, and back swimming are all facilitated. The length of stroke in plate-swimming is nearly double that of ordinary water movements. The recommendations of the invention, especially in sea and long-distance swims, may be summed up in four words -- safety, power, endurance, speed.