How to Do an Underwater Save in Diving

So you think a dive is over once the diver is underwater? Think again. In competitive diving, the goal is to land in the water in a vertical position, but even the best divers in the world occasionally over or under rotate their dives. In order to make these dives look vertical, divers perform a little trick known as an underwater save.

“Save” is a term used in diving to describe the illusion of entering the water vertically. By somersaulting underwater in either the forward or backward direction, dives that are not vertical can be “saved” and provide an illusion of a straight entry.

Forward Underwater Save

A forward save is essentially a forward roll under the water. When a diver enters the water, he pikes his legs and bends at the waist. This will make his legs, which are still out of the water, appear vertical as they enter. The save does not stop the dive from over rotating — it just creates the illusion that the dive is vertical.

This may seem simple, but timing a forward save can be difficult: If the somersault is performed too early, the legs will bounce back on the water and create a large splash; if the save is performed too late, it will have no effect on the appearance of the dive and the legs will still appear to have entered the water over- vertical.

Learning the Forward Save

To learn this save, start at the side of the pool and follow these steps:

  • Push off the wall, facing the bottom of the pool.
  • Dive down towards the bottom of the pool.
  • When the body is upside down in a handstand position, pull the legs into a pike position and bend the body at the waist.

After practicing off the side of the pool, move it up to the springboards. A front line-up — essentially a forward dive from the standing position at the tip of the board — is probably the best way to practice.

Swimming the Arms

The forward save is performed exactly the same way as it was off the side of the pool, except for one important step: Once the hands enter the water (flat-hand entry), the wrists flip outward and the arms are pulled down slightly in front of the body towards the legs.

This move in diving is referred to as “swimming.” The “swim” creates the coveted rip entry and the boiling effect — when bubbles appear on the surface after a diver enters the water.

Once the arms have initiated the swim, and the upper torso is under water, it is time to start the forward pike roll. Just as it was performed off the side of the pool, the legs pull into a pike position and the body bends at the waist.

Back Underwater Save

Back saves are a bit more complicated. Again the goal is to create the illusion that the dive is vertical when entering the water. In order to do this, there are three actions that must take place:

  • Swim: The arms enter the water and the wrists flip and swim slightly down in front of the body.
  • Scoop: When the diver enters the water, he arches his back and lifts his head as if trying to perform a shallow dive.
  • Leg kick: The legs kick back towards the bottom with the knees bent. When done correctly, this action sucks the water back down into the pool and creates the boiling effect.

To practice the back save, start on the side of the pool and follow these steps:

  • Push off the side of the pool with the body facing the sky.
  • Execute a back somersault
  • When the body is in a handstand position, kick the legs back toward the bottom and scoop the back in the direction of the surface of the water.

Once you practice on the side of the pool, take the dive to the springboards. Again, the best way to practice this dive is via the back line-up: Stand on the end of the diving board and fall back into the water in a back dive position; once the body enters the water, start the swim, scoop and leg kick action described above.

Injury From Underwater Saves

Because saves are performed from heights that include the 3-meter springboard and the 10-meter platform, injuries can occur.

Here are the two most common and the best ways to avoid them.

1. Shoulder Injury

The force of the entry combined with the force of the swim during the save can create shoulder injuries.

  • Keep the arms tight with the muscles constricted.
  • Do shoulder strengthening exercises either with free-weights or using gravity and body weight (ie pull ups/push-ups).
  • Practice the saves, via front and back falls off both the springboard and platform.

2. Back Injury

Rotating underwater quickly in either a forward somersault motion or a backward scoop motion can strain the back.

  • Stomach strengthening exercises, such as the tuck-ups and pike-ups explained in the our stretching guide, “The Importance of Stretching,” help strengthen the back.
  • Stretch the back in both forward and backward directions.
  • Practice with multiple front and back falls off both the springboard and platform.

Fun Fact:

Underwater saves were initially a method used by divers to keep them from hitting their heads on the bottom of the pool. Today, diving pools are required to be at least 12.5 feet deep for 3-meter springboard and 16-feet deep for 10-meter platform, but divers pierce the water so fast that striking their head on the bottom of the pool is still a risk. Underwater saves still serve as a safety guard against that type of accident.

FINA Rules

The underwater element is an important part of diving. Though once considered illegal, current FINA rules now recognize underwater saves as a legal addition to diving. Most elite divers perform these saves automatically, but getting to that point takes time — like so many aspects in diving, timing is everything.

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