Carolina Diving Academy raises local diving to new heights
By Mike Savicki
From his poolside coaching position, Aaron Hintz shouts encouragement to ten of his elite divers as they take turns twisting and flipping their way through the air during a springboard and platform practice session. Prior to liftoff, the team completed a one-hour, dry-land exercise program, and once they exit the water, it will be time for another ninety minutes of flexibility plus strength and conditioning. Today’s four-hour workout is just a typical afternoon at the Carolina Diving Academy, where hard work, focused energy and fun lead to measured results.
“Ali, much better on your hands, but try to line it up straight in the water,” Hintz says to Ali Tuel, a 14-year-old Huntersville diver, when she surfaces after a graceful, three-meter springboard dive.
“Harry, that’s a better finish, but you keep trying to do everything at the same pace,” he comments to Davidson’s Harrison Mitchell, also 14, after an impressive one-meter springboard dive that seemed to combine nearly every rotational element imaginable.
Aaron Hintz is the head diving coach of the Carolina Diving Academy, the recreational and competitive diving program housed at the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics Center. Since his 2006 hiring, Hintz has transformed the small, lesson-based school with less than a dozen students into a nationally recognized program with 60 students between the ages of five and 51. His goal is to grow the program to 100 recreational and competitive divers and make Charlotte a hotspot for divers.
Hintz says diving is a sport with a uniquely exciting appeal. “Diving has the thrill of a roller coaster slowly going over the top then plunging down quickly,” he explains. “A good dive gives you the same satisfaction as hitting a long straight golf drive, and it provides excitement similar to hitting a home run in baseball.”
“For the younger divers,” he continues, “the sport attracts all types of people, from the kid who is good at everything and is looking to become challenged in a new way, to the types who may have tried a few different sports and not yet found something fun. It is the original X Games sport that attracts the type of kid who might dare you to jump off the garage into a pile of leaves right before he does it himself.”
Diving has a growing adult appeal, too. “As adults begin to attach a purpose to their fitness, diving becomes attractive because it offers measurable, quantitative and qualitative outcomes to being in shape,” Hintz states. “We get those who dove in college and never stopped, those who were divers at some point in their lives and want to get back into it and those who want to try it for their own reasons.”
Junior national qualifiers
Ali Tuel is a sophomore at Hough High School and a Carolina Diving Academy junior national qualifier who has been diving for seven years. Her first exposure to the sport came during a swim practice when she caught a glimpse of the action high above her. “I looked up at the boards and platforms and decided I definitely needed to give it a try,” Ali Tuel explains. “I’m still learning a lot of new things and don’t have a favorite dive just yet, but I like the thrill of flying through the air.”
Tuel, who relocated with her family to Huntersville from South Carolina partly to concentrate on diving, loves the sport and encourages others to give it a try. “To someone who is thinking about diving, I’d say go for it,” she offers. “It’s a lot less dangerous than many other sports, and it’s a total blast. My classmates think it’s cool, too.”
Harrison Mitchell’s Hough High freshman classmates call him “The Diver” because he is the only one they know who dives at an elite level. “It’s a fitting nickname because I’ve got a few friends who do track and some who play football, but most of my friends play soccer and none do what I do,” Harrison Mitchell offers.
Mitchell began diving six years ago and is also a top junior national qualifier. “I got into it because I love the feeling and the thrill of being in motion,” he offers. “I train about twenty hours per week and it can get tiring, but I stick with it because I love it.”
In October 2010, Hintz and newly hired assistant coach, Anthony Crowder, created “Platform Fridays” as a way to introduce more prospective athletes to introductory recreational diving. The coaches believe that by exposing more people to diving, the interest in the sport will grow. Hintz explains, “For kids who don’t have access to neighborhood pools with diving boards, we want to safely teach how to jump from the side of the pool, from the springboards and from the platforms. We aren’t trying to create daredevils, we just want to teach safety and let kids experience something new and have fun.”
“Charlotte has the population and the infrastructure to become a diving center in the United States,” says Aaron Hintz. “There are many state universities that don’t have facilities as nice as ours, and with the sports-oriented population around here, there is no reason why we can’t become a national hotspot for diving.”
Aaron Hintz ultimately hopes his program will open doors for a variety of area divers. He concludes, “My role isn’t just to coach the kids; it is also to serve as an ambassador to the sport of diving for the residents of Huntersville and all of Lake Norman. As the sport grows, I want to take Lake Norman and Charlotte residents and turn many of them into national finalists and world-class divers.”
Carolina Diving Academy is a facet of Health and Sport Works, the contractor that runs HFFA. To learn more, please visit www.hffa.com/carolinadive.html or find Carolina Diving Academy on Facebook.
This article was originally published in the December 2010 edition of Currents Magazine.