Group Swim Lessons: Our Crazy Idea That Saved Lives

Putting Safety First, Second and Third

In the late 1800s, swimming pools were new, exciting—and dangerous. In 1906, George Corsan at the Detroit YMCA pioneered a radical new idea to quickly combat the increasing number of drownings: group swim lessons. To keep people healthy, the first pool filtration system was invented and installed in a YMCA pool in 1910.

Pollywogs to Olympians

Many of Hawai‘i’s Olympians trained at the Y, including Duke Kahanamoku (three gold, two silver), Ford Konno (two gold, two silver), Warren Kealoha (two gold), Pua Kealoha ( gold, silver), and Bill Harris (bronze).

Safety Around Water

The Y continues to offer progressive swim classes based on evidence-based curriculum. In addition, our Safety Around Water program is offered free to hundreds of 5th grade classes from O‘ahu’s underserved areas.

1924 First Nu’uanu YMCA swim team.
C. Dudley Pratt started lifesaving classes in 1925 at the Central YMCA. Pictured here in 1926 with lifesaving students, Pratt is in the front row, 3rd from the right.
1952 Helsinki Olympics 1500-meter Freestyle Gold Medalist Ford Konno started swimming at the Y at age 9. His first world record in the 800m freestyle was set in 1951 and remained on the books for five years. In 1954, his 400m freestyle world record lasted for three years.
In 1938, YMCA aquatics launched an innovative program with progressive classes for students of all abilities and ages. The program used “Sea Animal” badges as awards for proficiency at each level, starting with Minnow, Fish and Shark. Other badges were added later, including Tadpole, Pollywog, Flying Fish and Guppy. YMCA Honolulu added a local ‘Ōpae badge.

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