Perfecting – or avoiding – a belly flop

Matt Gackle belly-flops during the 15th annual Water World Belly-Flop Showdown in Denver in 2011.

Matt Gackle belly-flops during the 15th annual Water World Belly-Flop Showdown in Denver in 2011.

(CNN) — Q: Can belly-flops be dangerous?

A: A belly-flop, for the uninitiated, is when you land flat on your belly and face in the water — intentionally or unintentionally.

Believe it or not, some people have made a profession out of this.

Darren Taylor, aka “Professor Splash,” professionally jumps from high ledges, landing belly-down in a small pool of water. Even reality shows have caught on to the entertainment value of a well-executed belly-flop; ABC’s “Splash” features celebrities executing dives poorly.

For those of us who may not be the best divers, there is good news: Belly-flops rarely cause serious injuries. That said, let’s talk about what can happen, other than a bruised ego.

The higher you jump or dive from, the faster you will hit the water. Some experts believe that you can reach speeds of up to 40 mph diving from a 10-meter board (almost 33 feet). And as nice as the water feels when you are in it, it does not act that way when you enter it at a high speed.

The most common injuries seen with belly-flops are contusions or bruising of the skin. Rarely do these bruises go deeper and affect your internal organs, but they can.

Deeper abdominal injury from belly flops is known as blunt abdominal trauma. It is similar to being hit on the belly really hard. It can affect organs such as the liver, kidney, pancreas and the bowels. Not only is the abdomen taking the brunt of the landing into the water at a high velocity, there is also sudden deceleration, both of which can cause trauma to the organs. Children are more vulnerable than adults because they have less abdominal fat and a relatively larger abdominal cavity.

After a belly-flop, it is normal for the skin to sting for a while. If the pain is persistent, or if you see blood in your urine or stool, you should see a doctor right away.

Helpful hint: If you find yourself turning from swan to hippo in mid-air, try to lessen the blow by breaking the water with your fingers or feet. When you fall flat, the larger surface area causes a bigger impact.

The biggest danger for daredevils comes when they leap from high ledges without knowing how deep the water is below. Hitting the bottom of the pool, lake or river headfirst could cause a spinal injury, which could lead to paralysis or death.

Always make sure the pool is deep enough before you dive or intentionally belly-flop. When in doubt, always jump feet first. A pool with a 1-meter springboard must be a minimum of 11.5 feet deep at the point directly under the edge of the diving board. For a 3-meter board, the water must be 12.5 feet deep. For a 10-meter platform, the water should be 16 feet deep.

Also, be sure to dive off the tip of the diving board. Never dive from the side, as there is a risk of hitting the side of the pool or landing painfully on a sloped bottom near the wall.

Bottom line: Swimming is a great activity, and kids are unlikely to injure themselves by just being kids. Follow these simple safety rules and provide supervision — even for good swimmers — to have a fun, injury-free summer!

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