Patrick Lin
3 min readApr 23, 2021


Practical tips to learning how to swim as an adult:

I was always surprised (and sorta relieved) when I met someone else who didn’t swim. But I realized that it’s not that uncommon, we just never really talk about it. By no means did I take an optimal route to learning - almost drowning multiple times did get me motivated but is not recommended. But if you’re the same boat as I am and wanting to learn, here are some tips.

Learning takes concerted effort and willpower, and ideally continuous access to a pool. I made very little progress when I did the bare minimum of lessons without any extra practice the first few times. I had to want it badly enough. Hopefully you can find your own motivation for learning without the same blunders I did.

If you’re ok with being in the water but just never learned the technique, a group class is fine. If you have discomfort or past trauma with submersion, I’d REALLY recommend getting a coach or extremely patient friend to help personally support you. Even if you know the water is a few feet deep and you can stand up at any time, you really can’t rationalize your way out of it. It took me lots of immersion time to slowly unlearn that fear. Acclimate SLOWLY! As in, don’t hurtle yourself down several hundred-foot waterslides. People naturally float, if you throw a kid in they usually will float fine. It’s just as adults we have a much richer understanding of how unpleasant drowning would be. Know that it’s psychological and you’ll slowly unwind that tension.

The challenge is that even well intentioned friends or family often don’t understand the ingrained fear. It was actually MORE awkward initially when someone I knew would try to teach me by saying things like ‘ok now just lean back onto your back and relax’ not understanding how completely contradictory those two things were for me. Plenty of people know how to swim but don't have the patience or perspective to teach it if you’ve had bad experiences. But supportive friends really made a difference with accountability and advice after I reached a certain threshold of comfort.

Goggles are a must. For me, being able to see underwater helped immensely with putting depth into perspective. Seeing shallow, clear water and knowing I could stand up if needed gave my rational brain a chance to override my ‘abort mission’ alarms whenever I got in the water. Getting Lasik was also a gamechanger considering I used to swim half blind without contacts before.

Snorkels were also great. My fear was always not being able to breathe, so using one in Hawaii allowed me to focus purely on form rather than worrying about breath timing. It’s something I’ll need to wean myself off of for sure, but I was also able to learn breaststroke with it



First get comfortable with putting your face underwater, and staying under. I had no issues with this when I was standing

Then work on backfloat because it lets you breathe - even now this is my safe space. It took me forever to really nail because I would instinctively tense, craning my head up and crunching my torso for a chance to get my head out of water...which would inevitably sink my hips and then my body. Sounds basic but think of your body as a seesaw, where your chest is the lever point. The more you tilt one side out of the water, the more the other side lowers. Lifting your head might let you sneak some breaths in with your head out but if you're as dense as me, everything goes down quickly after. Keep the head and chin neutral, as I over rotated on ‘submerging the ears’ but sticking my head back which also causes imbalance and tension.

The hardest part is that you can't really tell how your body is aligned at first without someone recording you or giving you that feedback. You also have to get comfortable with having your ears underwater and water splashing on your face, which felt like being waterboarded initially but eventually acclimates.

Then comes the front float, kicking, side stroke for breath. I picked up tons of tips and drills from the Total Immersion workshop to improve freestyle form which I won’t dump here. If you’re interested, feel free to reach out or let me know and I’ll try to summarize!



Patrick Lin

Often wandering and wondering. Personal musings on identity, philosophy, and travels. Photography and more at