Diving coach Paul Canada, left, talks with Oscar Bursa, of North Riverside, as he practices his dives on Aug. 5, at the Riverside Swim Club in Riverside. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

There has long been a connection between gymnastics and diving. Both sports require a similar skill set and many champion divers started out as gymnasts. Paul Canada, who teaches gymnastics at Flipside Academy of Movement in North Riverside, recently began training one of his gymnasts, Oscar Bursa, in diving. They practice at the Riverside Public Pool and the Forest Park Aquatic Center.

Canada was never a diver himself but has had success as a coach. When he was living in Indianapolis, he trained a diver named Corey Cole, who won the state championship in diving. Cole was not only the first African American to take the title, he was the first state diving champ from an Indianapolis public school since 1929. 

When he’s training divers, Canada gets valuable advice from his wife, Carol. She was a competitive diver in college and was trained by the same coach who taught Greg Louganis. Louganis started out as a gymnast and switched to diving when he was 9 years old. 

Canada grew up in Virginia and performed acrobatics in high school and college. After earning a degree in youth ministry, he didn’t want to serve in a church. “I decided to use acrobatics for outreach, instead of the traditional approach to ministry,” he said. “I started a program for inner-city, at-risk kids in Indianapolis called Jireh.”

After leaving Jireh, Canada spent a year training acrobats for the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. Eight years ago, he moved to Brookfield and started Flipside in a former grocery store at 7918 W. 26th St.  

Flipside offers lessons in parkour, which involves navigating an obstacle course by running, climbing and leaping. Bursa started out flipping and tumbling in parkour. When he expressed an interest in diving, Canada took him to the local pools. 

The Forest Park Aquatic Center had already served as a training facility for a future champion diver. Michael Wright grew up practicing acrobatics at his parents’ facility, Tri-Star Gymnastics and graduated to diving. He became a USA Diving Champion and now coaches diving at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee. Wright also competes on the American Ninja Warrior TV show. At Flipside, American Ninja Warrior training is their most popular program.  

Bursa, though, wants to become a diver more than a ninja. Canada said the key to diving is the same as in gymnastics. “You have to have aerial awareness. You need to know where you are in relation to the ground and the water. If you lose your aerial awareness, it could be very dangerous.” 

Many gymnasts gravitate to diving because they think diving headfirst into water will be less painful than landing feet-first on the ground. Canada begs to differ. “That water hurts if you don’t enter it the right way.  You can injure your wrist or shoulder if you dive incorrectly.” 

He is more than willing to train more diving students but his primary focus remains gymnastics. Teaching proper technique at Flipside, though, is not his most important lesson. 

“We want to help kids achieve their best in whatever sport they choose. Encouraging them and motivating them is our priority.”