Those who weren't drawn to sports at an early age often believe that, as with learning a foreign language or a musical instrument, the window of opportunity slams firmly shut at adulthood. But as NYU diving coach Todd Kolean will tell you, it's never too late. "I've had people from their early twenties to their mid-seventies," he says. All you need to know, for diving, at least, is how to swim. Kolean starts with the basics on stable ground before moving to the one-meter board, where students learn to dive properly (forward and backward). "It's a very individualized sport," he says. "One person's on the board, so it's me with that one person until the next person gets on." Eventually you'll graduate to the intermediate class, where the real crowd-pleasers -- front somersaults, back somersaults, back one-and-a-halfs -- are mastered.
"Diving I," Thursdays beginning September 24, 7 to 8 p.m. "Diving II," Thursdays beginning September 24, 8 to 8:55 p.m. Classes are $190. New York University, Coles Gym, 181 Mercer Street (998-7131).
"New Yorkers seem to have some kind of socio-demographic switch that says 'We don't go outside after Labor Day,' " says Eric Stiller, owner of Manhattan Kayak Company, which offers regular kayaking classes. "The warmest the water ever gets is in September and October," he points out, and by water he means the Hudson, though the prospect of getting splashed by such a dubious fluid, not to mention swallowing a mouthful, puts many people off. "They assume that because it's not blue, it's dirty," says Stiller. "But it's the same color as at its source in the Adirondacks, and it just keeps getting cleaner." Stiller's been paddling around the city for fifteen years, and he'll teach you to use your whole body instead of just your arms and shoulders. The increased efficiency means paddling longer and stronger, a must when contending with the powerful tidal currents of the Hudson.
"Paddle Basics" I & II, Saturdays, 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.; $150. Manhattan Kayak Company, Chelsea Piers (336-6068).
After losing to Venus Williams in the U.S. Open last summer, Monica Seles set up a few workouts with Neil Friedman, tennis director at Manhattan Plaza, before her next tournament in Japan. "She hits the hell out of balls," reports Friedman. "A lot quicker pace than my students." Indeed, beginners at Manhattan Plaza focus on simply maintaining a rally; intermediates refine skills like spin, tactics, positioning, and specialty shots; and advanced players engage in more realistic match simulation. Each class has four students. The advantage of group lessons over private, besides cost, is that you're automatically in a situation where you will meet potential practice partners. Manhattan Plaza is one of the nicest facilities in the city -- Agassi and Graf sometimes stop in -- and students rave about Friedman. "Neil's great," says one. "He straightened out my backhand in fifteen minutes."
Four weekly 1 1/2-hour group sessions; $150 to $180. Manhattan Plaza Racquet Club, 450 West 43rd Street (594-0555).
"Ice skating is cardio and anaerobic, it's cool and air-conditioned, and it's kind of an interesting thing to do," says Sid Morgan, the New School's head ice skating instructor and the director of Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers. Given the rate at which his classes fill up, he's not the only one who feels that way. The staff, which includes pros from the Ice Theatre of New York, breaks each class down into groups according to skill level (skiing and in-line skating count as experience) and instructs accordingly. Each 30-minute lesson is followed by more than an hour of open ice time. "The faster you pick it up, the faster you can move into other areas," says Morgan. "If you want to go into hockey, we'll start teaching you more of the hockey skills; if you want to learn jump and spin, then we'll start developing those techniques."
Eight sessions, Mondays or Wednesdays beginning October 5, 7:30 to 9:20 p.m.; $145. The New School (229-5630); classes meet at Sky Rink?Chelsea Piers, Pier 61, 23rd Street and the West Side Highway.
RUN, DON'T WALK
Speed training is one aspect of running that many joggers neglect. But if you're not devoting at least one run per week to increasing your speed, you'll stay fit without getting any faster. Grueling, regimented, and goal-oriented, speed work makes running a sport as opposed to just exercise. Most runners are loath to tackle speed work alone, though, which is why Bob Glover's twice-weekly running classes in Central Park have remained popular for more than twenty years. Glover and his partner, Shelly-lynn Florence (who co-wrote The Runner's Handbook), conduct seven classes simultaneously, each for a different skill level. Staff coaches lead each group through a workout that varies from week to week, including hill, fartlek, interval, and tempo runs. For those who are just starting out, there are two beginner classes that alternate running and walking.
Twenty sessions, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 p.m.; $65 for members, $75 for nonmembers for one evening a week; $115 for members, $150 for nonmembers for twice a week. New York Road Runners Club (860-4455); classes meet at P.S. 6, 81st Street and Madison Avenue.
"I have to golf a lot for work, and I just don't want to embarrass myself," says one of Darryl Jack's golf students at the Jim McLean Golf Academy. "When I play now, I don't even count the strokes." The student, an architect, is enrolled in a beginner's clinic, good for people who need to learn a little about the game (how to hold a club, for instance) but aren't yet ready to invest a lot of time and money. Chelsea offers smaller "schools" (four students per teacher) for beginners or experienced players who want to fine-tune their swings. (The academy also offers private lessons with pros.) The architect's swing improved noticeably by the end of the class, especially considering the fact that at the start she frequently missed the ball altogether.
Four weekly sessions; $165 for clinics, $325 for schools. Jim McLean Golf Academy, Chelsea Piers, Pier 59 (336-6444).