40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#78: Lewisboro Town Pool

the long viewLocation: South Salem, New York

Configuration: 6 25-yard lanes for lap swimming; also option for 6 50-meter lanes

Fee: Oops, was I supposed to pay?

Had I known about the Lewisboro Town Pool during the two summers I lived nearby, it would have been my hangout. Somehow I only learned about it now, half a lifetime later, and it’s still a delightful discovery.

DSCN1359_lewisboroUnlike New York City outdoor pools, which embrace all lined-swimsuit-wearing, lock-carrying masses yearning to swim free, Westchester County keeps a tight grip on who gets in. At least that’s what they’d like you to think. My dad, a Lewisboro resident, was confident about our chances, but I was prepared for the worst after reading the fee and ID requirements in the local paper. I needn’t have worried. We took the road less traveled on the way in and unwittingly bypassed the entry gate entirely. It wasn’t until we were leaving that we figured out the error of our ways, and we chose not to set the score straight this time. Dad hadn’t even swum, after all, and I didn’t want to risk being denied entry after already swimming!

me, Larry, BillThe 25-yard end of the pool was dedicated to lap swimming, and the etiquette seemed to be each to his own. Seeing my shadow ripple across the pool bottom through the clear water reminded me of the Panama City Beach Aquatic Center, which also has the luxury of space.

My swim buddies–in their own lanes–were my dad’s friend Larry (standing at right) and his friend Bill (in the water), both of whom are regulars. Other patrons on this Friday afternoon included day campers and off-duty lifeguards. Little kids splashed in the play pool, and fearless divers practiced from the high dive in a pool of their own. Dad cheered us on from the side and happily joined me for après-swim ice cream.

Meanwhile, neighbors are coveting the pool. New Canaan, a nearby Connecticut town that even Westchester people describe as extremely wealthy, is in search of pool space during its YMCA pool renovations. The Y has offered to at least temporarily winterize the Lewisboro pool–by installing a heated bubble and upgrading the open-air locker rooms–in order to have the pool at its behest. According to poolside gossip, the project is out to bid and may well happen, in which case Lewisboro could end up coveting its own pool. After the New Canaanites return across the border, Lewisboro would have to decide what to keep. Here’s hoping the bubble still has a way in for scofflaws!

Larry, me, and dad

Larry, me, and dad with the dive pool behind us.

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#77: Astoria Park Pool

Miriam, Janet, HannahLocation: Astoria, Queens, New York

Configuration: 9 50-meter lanes for lap swimming in 50- x 100-meter pool

Fee: Free

At long last, outdoor lap season is here! It’s made for a busy week, with a thwarted attempt to swim at Red Hook on the Fourth, some good workouts at my newly adopted home pool of Thomas Jefferson Park, a social swim with the hordes at Lasker, and a Friday pool tourism outing across the river to Astoria Park Pool. Miriam and Janet met me there on this beautiful summer morning for early bird lap swim.

DSCN1322_astoria loooong pool

This is one of the closer outdoor pools to my apartment as the crow flies, but as the cyclist travels it involves two bridge crossings with a dip onto Randalls Island Park in between. The journey is perfect for contemplating master pool builder Robert Moses’s empire, which was headquartered in his Randalls Island hideaway. Astoria Park Pool was one of his glories, and the RFK Triborough Bridge (upper left) another. In fact, they opened within days of each other in 1936. I caught glimpses of the cool, blue pool water poking through the trees as I made my way across the span to Queens.

I arrived just in time for the 7:00 a.m. start, checking in alongside the tattooed, pool-crazed masses. Although the pool is 100 meters long, the lap lanes are squished into the south end of the pool. Is black paint so hard to come by? I grumbled to myself through some crowded laps. Later, I realized that the rest of the pool rises so shallow as to preclude lap swimming.

Despite the volume of swimmers, everything was orderly, and people self-sorted based on pace and fondness for aqua-jogging. Everyone was friendly, and I was impressed with the number of speedsters gliding through the deliciously cool water.

The park is situated between the Triborough and the majestic, magenta Hell Gate Bridge. While you can get great pictures of these landmarks from various vantage points on deck, the view isn’t quite as good from in the water. Still, it’s about as close as we can get to confusion with the lovely North Sydney Olympic Pool, which is nestled underneath the Hell Gate-inspired Sydney Harbour Bridge.

entryway and SWIM posterAstoria Park Pool is one of the city’s WPA treasures, and it still feels very in tact to me. Beautiful brickwork and massive locker rooms with layouts from another era, such that you can almost picture the swimsuit-rental stand, are some of the highlights. A giant WPA swim poster–at once progressive and racially charged–adorns the north interior tower for good measure.

The pool’s opening event was none other than the 1936 women’s Olympic Trials, which selected swimmers and divers to represent the United States in Hitler’s Olympics in Berlin. The Trials returned to Astoria with both men and women in 1964. Competitive pool standards have changed considerably since then.

diving well

The diving well hasn’t seen divers in some time, but the 32-foot, triple-tiered platform remains thanks to landmark status. A 2012 plan to convert it to a performance space has not yet been actualized, and the bottom of the diving well now hosts a small meadow.

former Olympic torchTwo Olympic torches, since repurposed as fountains but dormant during my visit, serve as further reminders of Astoria’s Olympic glory.

My first trip to Astoria Pool was in 2006, not for swimming or its historic merit, but rather to see the plumbing. A Parks & Rec pool filtration expert opened up the innards for infrastructure geeks during Open House New York weekend in October. I wish I remembered more from the tour, but about all I can tell you is that the pump rooms are enormous and the entire volume of water circulates through many times a day.

The plumbing excitement this time around came in the form of a busted shower in the women’s locker room. Because there were male plumbers working on the fix, Janet and I could not access the locker room after our swim. We milled around and commiserated with some other female lap swimmers, procrastinating using the shower-free “family locker room.” When the kids’ swim lessons ended, the throng of mothers and children overwhelmed the attendant who had been diligently shooing everyone away. The repair was called off and we got to shower and change.

It was a different plumbing problem that prevented my Red Hook swim the previous Friday. Something to do with the pool’s circulation needed attention, and after an hour of waiting for a repair that may or may not have been in progress, we gave up. The effort to keep these behemoths going certainly is impressive, and I’m glad the City had the wherewithal to get them started in 1936 and keep them going (more or less) up until today.

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#76: Hopkins School Pool

Amanda and me at the Hopkins poolLocation: New Haven, Connecticut

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Free as visitor to Hopkins Masters Swim Team

In addition to the California trip during my time off in May, I took the opportunity to visit friends and cats in New Haven. Amanda had long been lobbying for me to join her for a masters swim there, and I was glad to finally do so, even if it was more of a hot cocoa kind of day than you’d expect after Memorial Day.

She used to do morning workouts at a certain Ivy League college but decamped for an even older school: Hopkins, home of the Hilltoppers. Founded in 1660, Hopkins moved to its current location atop a hill on the west side of town in the 1920s. Students here follow a traditional curriculum including the study of Latin. My friend Karen is an alumna, and she said the smell of chlorine at a recent reunion instantly evoked her school days.

Amanda’s first dip there was last November. “The pool is beautiful, water temperature is perfect, the coach was lovely, and the workout was challenging without being impossible,” she reported. All of this proved true. The evening masters workout with Coach Bob was nicely tailored to the various goals of the small, friendly group. We used three lanes, and the Hopkins girls’ team zipped around in the other three. The pool somehow reminded me of my own school training grounds: Poughkeepsie Middle School. Perhaps it was the shape of the room, the position of the bleachers, or the corner door to the outside.

pace clockThe real curiosity, though, was the clock. As Amanda described, “the coolest thing (I thought) was that they program the entire workout, including rest, into the digital clock, so you don’t ever have to keep track of where you are on the intervals. The clock tells you which set and repetition you’re on, so you just leave at the appropriate time.” My photo does not do it justice.

I have never seen such a thing and didn’t fully grasp it. As Coach Bob said, it’s idiot proof but not fool proof. You still have to know the number of repetitions and the interval for your set. If, say, you’re in lane 2 doing 6 x 100s on 1:30, you’ll use the second row of the clock. The rep number displays in the second column, and the time ticks away to the right of that. When the clock shows 1:30, you take off, the time switches back to 0:00, and the rep changes to 3. It requires the coach to plan ahead–even the rest between sets is preprogrammed–but that groundwork means that swimmers do not have to calculate intervals.

Little did we know that my swim was especially well timed. Soon after my visit, Amanda up and got herself a job in New York that starts next week. She’ll really miss Coach Bob and the hilltop pool, but she’s glad to be returning to the Big Apple after an eight-year exile. Carpe piscinam, as the Hilltoppers might say.

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Officially Summer

lap swim 30th birthday cakeIt’s swim time! New York City’s outdoor pools open tomorrow, and the weather couldn’t be more cooperative. Expect tens of thousands of cool, happy people drip-drying throughout the boroughs all weekend.

We lap swimmers have to wait until Monday, July 7, for our early bird and night owl programs to begin, but you may be able to get in some laps in pools with designated areas such as Red Hook or Sunset Park. Just be sure to know and follow the rules, lest you be denied entry to pool paradise for lacking a lock or liner.

I took this opportunity to register for adult lap swim at a bunch of pools to give myself added motivation for pool tourism. Registration is instantaneous and free if a bit cumbersome. Should you wish to register for six pools, for example, you will have to type in your name twelve times. It’s worth it. Be sure to check the box for award eligibility so that you can earn an invitation to the annual awards dinner, which is a veritable poolapalooza.

me in a giant empty pool“New” pools I hope to hit this season include WPA gems Astoria Park Pool in Queens and Lyons Pool in Staten Island. My usual summer routine of mornings at John Jay Park has to change due to a new job location and schedule, so I may become more of a regular in Central Park’s Lasker Pool or East Harlem’s Thomas Jefferson Park Pool.

Here for good measure, are a few more possibilities to whet your appetite: Jackie Robinson, Asser Levy, and Hamilton Fish in Manhattan and the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park and of course lake Crotona Park Pool (pictured at left).

Even before it’s begun, pool season is passing too quickly, so get out there and enjoy immediately.


Not a Pool: AquaTech Alameda

breath holdingMy handsome and brilliant nephew recently added to his list of accomplishments by getting me and his mother in free to a pool! Two days shy of hitting the six-month mark, he squeaked in for a free infant swim session with his two adult buddies at AquaTech Swim School in Alameda.

While it’s true this pool is 25 yards, it’s kept at 88 degrees, making it “not a pool” in my book. However, it was perfect for the pod of infants who showed up at mid-day last Wednesday.

Little O. enjoyed being tugged around atop a large, duck-shaped float, using his limbs to splash as much as possible, and making eyes at the scantily clad babies sharing pool time with him. He didn’t fuss at all until the swim ended and he had to be stripped of his swim diaper and bathing suit. His coordination and strength have improved markedly in the short time since his last swim, and once again he made his aunt very proud.


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#75: UC Berkeley Strawberry Canyon Pool

Strawberry Canyon pool

Location: Berkeley, California

Configuration: 5 lanes of close to 33 1/3 yards

Fee: Free with Cal Aquatic Masters

The Strawberry Canyon Pool has eluded me for years, so I was thrilled to finally be able to check it out during my recent trip to California. It’s open in the summertime only, and I’m usually out there at other times of year. This time around, it opened for the last three days of my visit. I made it there on day 2 of its season, last Tuesday, for the evening workout with a friendly, mellow bunch of Cal Aquatic Masters swimmers. Coach Jeremy was also the team scribe who steered me to this session.

Cal’s main training pool, Spieker, had closed unexpectedly–and is still closed–due to flooding and equipment damage, and another campus pool was closed that same week for routine maintenance, so I surmised that Strawberry Canyon would be overrun. I needn’t have worried: I ended up with my very own lane and also my own locker room, since all the other swimmers who showed up were men. Some 100 years ago, there was actually a “men’s pool” here, but the lack of women during my swim was simply a coincidence.

The pool is situated up a hill from Cal’s massive football stadium in a woodsy area well-used by runners and mountain bikers. Strawberry Creek runs through its eponymous canyon and on down through campus, straddled by redwood groves.

The Pool: Gift of Lucie Stern

end of the pool

The unevenness of the lanes is most easily seen with the custom pool covers in place.

The donor, Lucie Stern, was apparently a big fan of recreational swimming, because her trust stipulated that the pool be solely for that purpose. It’s roughly Z-shaped and kept at a warm temperature, with a handful of lanes along the diagonal of the Z. Each one is slightly different in length, making serious competition impossible. (Naturally, for practice, the fastest swimmers swim in the longest lane.) The arms of the Z are purely play spaces, one deeper than the other. Grassy fields with picnic space abut two sides, allowing for terrestrial frolicking.

The sun slowly dipped behind the trees during our workout, and after the swim we put the pool to bed by tucking it under its covers. Given the odd shape, the covers had to roll out in a specific order and be placed exactly right.

changing instructionsUnderscoring the openness of this pool to newbies, a sign in the locker room provided detailed instructions for how to change into swim attire. I do wonder if anyone who didn’t already know would be attentive enough to read and heed that sign, but I followed it to a tee.


#74: Avery Aquatic Center Belardi Pool

Belardi training pool

Belardi Pool

Location: Stanford, California

Configuration: You name it. 10 lanes x 50 meters during my workout in the Belardi Pool.

Fee: Free with Stanford Masters Swimming

Australia has met its match in Stanford University’s Avery Aquatic Center, a quartet of pools best viewed by helicopter or wide-angle video. I swam in the 50-meter-by-25-meter deepwater pool last Monday at lunchtime while Dr. Little Brother worked on campus.

It took me some time to understand the array of swim options here, so allow me to elucidate. The pool the masters team used–Belardi, at right–is the biggest, but just barely. Across the deck is another 10-lane, 50-meter pool, with the distinguishing attributes of being more shallow and just 25 yards across. That’s the Baker Pool (below right), and it was open to aqua jogging and solo lap swimming.

Meanwhile, two other pools sat idle. I could admire the 10-meter diving platform–a feat of architecture–of the Maas Diving Center during my laps. I could also see the stadium seating by the Competition Pool, where most of the high-speed action takes place in a 25-yard format. It can host springboard diving for good measure, too. It’s no coincidence that Stanford’s athletic programs are second to none.

If you were to max out the pools in short-course configurations, you could have more than 40 lap lanes under the Silicon Valley sun. Who needs 40 pools with all those options?!

Baker Pool

Baker Pool in the foreground, with Belardi Pool off yonder.

Maas Diving Center

Maas Diving Center

Competition Pool

Competition Pool

While many generous donors have contributed to making the facility so top-of-the line, including an anonymous donor who paid to renovate the team locker rooms, the Avery family is the benefactor behind much of this aquatic wonderland. However, their generosity did not stop here. They funded a new, purely recreational pool–also 50 meters–that opened on the other side of campus last fall.

The masters team was the only way in for an unaffiliated civilian such as myself, and they couldn’t have been more welcoming. In fact, workouts are free for all visitors. We had the deep, clear saltwater of Belardi Pool all to ourselves, an incredibly luxurious feeling. The coach placed me into a lane, and one of the other swimmers gave me the crucial bit of information that they space themselves out by 10 seconds, since they have so much room. For a while, it seemed that we gained a new swimmer with every two laps, but I didn’t overlap at the wall with most of those people.

With such amazing pools, the guest locker rooms were a bit of a disappointment, not least because they lacked lockers. Perhaps a donor can be cultivated to add secure storage and additional benches within this otherwise perfect facility. Meanwhile, don’t let this minor drawback keep you away.


These two doors go to the exact same place.

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#73: Clarke Memorial Swim Center

Walnut Creek pool, the long wayLocation: Walnut Creek, California

Configuration: 20 x 25 yards (or 9 x 50 meters, and there’s also a 25-meter pool)

Fee: $6 drop-in

I traveled across the country for an intensive training weekend at the Clarke Memorial Swim Center several years ago. Highlights outside the pool included a nutrition workshop at a nearby store and a community pancake breakfast with the most delicious strawberry preserves I’ve ever had. There were scores of swimmers and at least a dozen coaches, and I had a great time.

The head coach of the weekend and the pool’s USMS team, Kerry O’Brien, is the namesake for USMS’s annual coaching awards. Other renowned programs here include a youth synchro team and an age group team.  They churn out records and Olympians at an alarming rate.

occupant load limitsI’m back in the Bay Area for family festivities and was happy to return to Walnut Creek for the Saturday morning USMS workout at the suggestion of Dolphin Club Swimmer Suz. Her friend Cindy transported me from the nearby BART station and filled me in on the latest pool news. Shockingly, this legendary pool and year-round community hub is under threat of closure for most of the year to help right the municipal budget.

Needless to say, swimmers and their families have rallied on behalf of their beloved pool, and it looks like the City Council may have listened, however the budget is not yet finalized. I plan to send off a note in support of the pool and hope that anyone else who has taken advantage of this facility will do the same.

The masters workout had about 10 lanes or so, with part of the pool sectioned off for synchro competitors to warm up in–although the entire pool is quite shallow. I shared a lane with two younger women who were sisters and their mother, who kindly welcomed me into their swim family. The water was lightly salty and very clear.

DSCN1232_walnut_creekIt’s hard to say whether the pool makes the community or vice versa, but it really is a special place. The facility was overflowing with people during my visit, and I had to wait a while for a spot in the shower after my swim. I was happy to enjoy the locker room chatter in the meantime (“locker room” being a misnomer for this room without lockers).

The swim complex sits in Heather Farm Park, which includes all kinds of things–lake, gardens, community center, play areas, picnic areas, tennis courts, an equestrian center, and a bike path connection. If for some reason you wanted to a non-swim activity, there are plenty of choices. Me, I’ll stick to swimming and hope that’s an option next time I’m in town.



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#72: Athletic and Swim Club

pool from far end

Image by Club Corp

Location: Midtown Manhattan

Configuration: 4 x 25 yards

Fee: Free as guest of member during membership promo

A New York Times article a couple months back noted that there are “only” 150 indoor pools in Manhattan. Considering this in light of my expired Reebok Sports Club membership, which I am mourning inconsolably, served as a good reminder that I still have a lot of water to test locally. After all, I’ve notched “only” 72 pools since 2012, many of them off-island.

To give myself a sense of possibility, I set my sights on one of the few facilities that I thought might stand a chance against the luxe Reebok Club, where I had grown very fond of the hot tub, the café, the spacious lockers, the hot tub, the roof deck, the nap-friendly spaces, and did I mention the hot tub? Yup, I miss it there.

The Athletic and Swim Club at Equitable Center caters to a similarly upscale demographic, but whereas I would feel tempted to stay all day at the Reebok Club, this one seemed geared to getting me in and out as efficiently as possible without a visible trace of the workout. How so? For one, the location in the belly of the Midtown beast, with direct underground access to the Rockefeller Center concourse, means that you can get here from all over Midtown without setting a foot outdoors. (I recommend entering from street level on Seventh Avenue so you can admire the Roy Lichtenstein mural on the way in. Do not try to take a picture, though.) You don’t need to bring workout clothes, since those are provided, and you can even have your business attire pressed while you’re not in it! (Swimmers do need to bring their own swimsuit.) There’s a full array of toiletries and styling devices, and you can grab a complimentary apple on the way out to chomp on your way back to the office.

This is not to say that the club isn’t very, very nice. It is.The hot tub jets were perhaps not quite as strong as those I’d grown accustomed to, and you could argue that the locker area would benefit from some refreshing, but this was still at the far end of the fanciness spectrum and leaps beyond my usual swim spots.

My visit took place on a weekday afternoon after a work event in Midtown, and I enjoyed the swim. I had one of the pool’s four lanes to myself the whole time, the water was pleasantly cool, and it felt light and spacious despite being far underground. Not so light and spacious that I’d want to relax in the lounge chairs, but they were a nice touch. My biggest gripe against the pool, which is really quite minor, is that the metal rim around the edge is not quite flush with the tiling and therefore proved annoying at the turns.

In a way I suppose I’m glad that I wasn’t as taken with this as I was with the Reebok Club, because its location is even less convenient, and it’s easier to have just one true love. If I worked in Midtown and wanted a secret hideaway, I would definitely keep this in mind.

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Mohonk Mountain House Pool: Nephew’s First Swim

O. gets ready to get wet

The Mohonk Mountain House‘s beautiful 20-yard pool may fall short of the length needed for my consideration, but it scores big as the site of my nephew’s first swim. We were up there last week in celebration of his grandma’s big birthday, and little O. liked his first dip so much that he went back for more the next day. His aunt is very proud!

He likes it!We did two laps, me using a diagonal egg-beater kick to hold O. up on my chest, taking in the natural light and snowy views at either end. Look at his impressive concentration as he absorbs this amazing experience. We also enjoyed blowing bubbles with suitable sound effects, splashing the gutter, and finding the sunny spot. I feel certain that this won’t be his last pool as a zero-year-old.

Pool viewI also have to commend him on his venue selection. Aside from lacking five yards, this is a very tasteful, mid-2000s addition to the historic New Paltz resort, which previously had lake swimming only. Timber framing and muted tiles and lounge chairs give it a natural feel, and you can’t beat the views toward the Catskills from the large window banks on three sides. Plus, swim diapers are available free of charge. We scared the other patrons away had both pool and locker rooms to ourselves for this special occasion.

In case you swim so much that you lose your mental faculties, a helpful sign reminds you how to open the door to exit the pool deck. With our guest stay expiring, we made our exit, eager for more shared pool time.Instructions for opening a door



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