If you looked at the children at the edge of Conrad Cooper‘s pool, you’d think you were watching an ad for something. Jell-O, maybe. Or a breakfast cereal kids like. They’re that cute.
They’re lined up on the steps in the shallow end, 10 little ones, ranging from age 2 to 5. The boys are in board trunks, many wearing rash-guard shirts like the weekend surfers they might become years from now. The girls wear bright one-piece suits and two-pieces that show their childish potbellies.
They are a rainbow tribe: black, Asian, white, biracial. And every eye is trained on the large man in the middle of the pool.
Conrad Cooper has been teaching little kids (and some adults) to swim for 20 years now. His business, Swim to Me, operates out of his pool in the View Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. He has taught kids who scream with fright at being put in the water, and adults who never thought they’d ever be able to swim.
His families come from around the corner and across the ocean, because word of his effectiveness travels. “He does not fool around,” parents will tell you, “but it works.”
It’s not a method that works for everyone.
“If you think this is someplace you can come and do monkey-walking by the side of the pool and sing songs … you’re in the wrong class,” Cooper says. A tall brown man with sun-bronzed dreadlocks and Pacific Islander tattoos, Cooper radiates authority, in and out of the water.
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Helicopter parents are politely instructed to find a landing place in one of the comfy chairs that ring the large saltwater pool — and stay there. Parents who want Cooper to teach their children have to promise to abide by his rules: They’re there to support the method, not to comfort their children.
That sometimes comes as a shock to his students.
“After two or three times in the pool with me,” Cooper says, “they recognize, ‘OK, this guy is serious. He’s not taking no for an answer. I’m going to do this.’ ”