IT’S A WARM AFTERNOON AT A YMCA ON THE WEST SIDE. The pool is empty but for a handful of men in Speedos, swiftly and silently gliding through their afternoon laps, in stark contrast to the eight fully clothed women paddling in the shallow lanes. They’ve all donned some version of a “burkini,” the modesty swimsuit, and, with the help of a young, blonde instructor named Kirby, are working on holding their breath.
“We’re going to practice pushing off the wall with your face down,” Kirby announces. The women look skeptical, but Kirby is persistent. “If you need help, I’ll hold your hands,” she adds, urging them to relinquish their tight grips on the foam kickboards tucked beneath their chests. “I’ll catch you.”