40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#93: Community Center at Stuyvesant High School Pool

corner view of poolLocation: Battery Park City, Manhattan

Configuration: 6 x 25 yards

Fee: $15 drop-in

The elite public Stuyvesant High School moved to this location in 1992, not long before I moved to New York. It was criticized for its $150 million price tag–the highest to date for a city school–but I can assure you that none of this expense or subsequent maintenance funding was directed toward the pool locker rooms, which appear to have been installed intact from an earlier era. I’d hoped to take a picture to show you but was thwarted by the woman sitting naked on the bench scraping dead skin off her feet onto the floor. Ew.

Barcelona Olympics pace clock

Further proof of low maintenance expenditures: a pace clock with the 1992 Olympics logo.

Lisa Lisa and I visited this pool–new to both of us–two Fridays ago. We needed some fresh water due to the recent end of outdoor lap swimming in the city pools and Riverbank‘s annual post-Labor Day closure. (Its reopening, which is perhaps tied to the sighting of the new moon, has been rumored to be set for tomorrow.) Regardless, for anyone in search of a no-hassle pool for occasional use, this is a great option. In fact, if you live Downtown and like to swim in the evening, this is the perfect place. Annual membership is just $199 or less for youth, seniors, Battery Park City residents, and military personnel.

Although located within the high school, the Community Center at Stuyvesant High School is run by Battery Park City Parks. Lockers aside, they do a nice job: the water was clean, the temperature pleasant. The only thing I didn’t like was slippery metal at the walls. Some lanes were devoted to coached activity, so lap swimmers squeezed into the others with a bit of disgruntlement. (Yes, we did see another fellow Riverbank regular.) I’d hoped to arrive before sunset but missed out by a few minutes and couldn’t determine the orientation. I’d like to imagine that the water sparkles during daylight hours.

record board

None-too-shabby school records.

Posters around the pool evidenced much school spirit and a bit of confusion. Are the sports teams Penguins, Pirates, or Peglegs? Whatever their name, their records are much faster than my high school team’s.

When told that I was heading to a pool in his neighborhood, a coworker first guessed at two others: Borough of Manhattan Community College or Asphalt Green Battery Park City. Yes, it’s a bit shameful that my pool tourism has so neglected this neighborhood. On the other hand, it’s good to have more options.

locker room entry

Don’t let this sleek, clean entryway fool you. The lockers are a time capsule from decades gone by.

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Pool Power

sign: pool open until Sept. 11Attention, attention: Report to your nearest outdoor pool immediately. The Parks Department extended the outdoor pool season by a week–until Sunday, September 11–at all the big pools! Designated lap swim sessions ended last week, but many pools are empty enough for unimpeded laps during the regular hours. Enjoy!

As you soak in the ambiance, here is some food for thought. It is back-to-school season, after all.

  1. In Iceland, there are pool anthropologists who travel across the country to study pools for academic purposes. Many of their beautiful selections overlap with my own, but I clearly need to make a return trip–and consider a career change.
  2. In Australia, pools are so important to the national culture that they are the basis of the country’s Venice Architecture Biennale pavilion. Another return trip and career change possibility.
  3. It’s not just architects who are inspired by pools. Check out these artist-designed pool experiences. LA is now on my travel list as well.
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SPF16: NYC Pools and Beaches in Contemporary Photography

Suddenly it’s summer! Beaches are open. Outdoor pools open next Wednesday, June 29. Outdoor lap swimming starts the following Tuesday, July 5. Even Olympic Trials are about to begin.

Just in time for the season comes a Parks-produced exhibit of photos taken at local public pools and beaches. SPF16: NYC Pools and Beaches in Contemporary Photography is on view, free as the pools and beaches themselves, until August 26 in the Arsenal Gallery in Central Park. Hours are inconvenient for workin’ folk, though: 9:00-5:00 Monday-Friday only.

Do yourself a favor and make the effort to visit the show. This teaser of images courtesy of Slate is fantastic but does not do it justice. The dozen artists included have wonderfully diverse subject matter, formats, and compositions, reflecting the vibrant diversity of the city’s aquatic culture. “Contemporary” in this context stretches back to 1983 South Beach, Staten Island (Christine Osinski), and up to 2014 helicopter views of Brooklyn’s Coney Island and McCarren Park Pool (Tobias Hutzler).

My favorites include Juliana Beasley’s colorful prints of everyday people of a certain age going about their business by the beach in Queens (easily mistaken for my beloved Brighton Beach) and Wayne Lawrence’s large close-up of a man looking resolutely into the camera while holding two equally steadfast girls (his daughters?) in the water at Orchard Beach. Each artist’s approach is different, and taken together their work embodies the multifaceted beauty and endless inspiration these public facilities offer. My only complaint is that it’s not lots bigger.

exhibit postcard with Tobias Hutzler view of McCarren Park Pool


Not a Pool: Keller Beach

Beach view toward San Rafael

DSCN2284_keller_beachI sometimes wonder whether I’m a mutant type of vampire who is enlivened by outdoor swimming. Nothing makes me feel more vital than time in the water under the bright sun. A trip to California last month provided a good dose, mostly in Temescal Pool, as each day grew increasingly sunny and warm–while the Northeast was socked in by a polar vortex. On President’s Day, the pool was closed, so we took a family trip to the beach I’d learned about from a local friend.

Point Richmond’s tiny Keller Beach is nestled into a cove of San Francisco Bay surrounded by hills at the north end of Miller Knox Regional Shoreline. Attractions include soft sand, amazing views, sea creatures, plus amenities like bathrooms and showers. No wonder the East Bay Open Water Swim group makes its home here. A Google Group helps them coordinate group swim times, and I hopped on the list in anticipation of my visit, asking hopefully for a late-morning holiday swim. A swimmer named Fred took the lead, figuring out the best time and destination given the tides.


Gratuitous nephew photo–too cute to resist.

My nephew’s schedule favored an early arrival, and we had a nice time playing in the mucky sand and admiring the views of the Golden Gate straight ahead, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to the north, and various islands. The open water group convened in the late morning and casually suited up for a swim south along a railroad pier to Ferry Point. If you peeked around the end, about a mile out, you could see the Bay Bridge. A cormorant out there greeted me by chirping and then diving under, as if making sure I was enjoying the water.


You want views? How about Angel Island and the Golden Gate!

I most certainly was! Conditions were flat as a pancake, with water temperate in the high 50s and the air about 20 degrees warmer. I could see my arms pushing through the deep green bay and the bright buoys of fellow swimmers all around. Apparently the buoys faded from view on the shore, causing my young nephew to become concerned, but then we swam back into range.

Many of the swimmers are also regulars at Aquatic Park and other Bay Area venues, but they have a special fondness for this little treasure. Now I do, too.

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Not Exactly a Pool: U.S. Winter Swimming 2016 National Championships Venue


Too wimpy for winter swimming myself, I asked the ever-intrepid Janet to blog about this intriguing temporary pool-ish setup in the Hudson off Manhattan. The write-up is hers, the pictures mine. I admit to a bit of jealousy of the swimmers on this beautiful sunny day but contented myself with my own memories of swimming nearby during warmer conditions.

Hudson not-quite-a-pool, with George Washington Bridge in backgroundLocation: Hudson River at Dyckman Street, Upper Manhattan, by La Marina restaurant

Configuration: 2 x 25m lanes with boat ramp entry

Fee: Varied with number of events entered

On January 30, the United States Winter Swimming Association staged its 2016 National Championships in the Hudson River. “Winter Swimming” in this context doesn’t just mean swimming in the winter. It’s distinct sport, popular in northern Europe and growing worldwide, in which set distances are contested in near-freezing water in outdoor settings.

The International Winter Swimming Association (IWSA) is to the sport what FINA is to pool swimming. As a safety measure it limits the distances raced in specific temperature ranges (200 meters max for water under 2 degrees Celsius, as the Hudson was on this day). It also sanctions a full schedule of winter swimming competitions around the world. Several of the Hudson River competitors and organizers had just come from an event in China, and others were headed on to England, Sweden, and Latvia before the World Championship in Russia. (For any North American readers interested in trying out winter swimming closer to home, there’s also a competition in Vermont coming up in March!)

Over the past couple of years, I have followed the adventures of friends who travel far and wide for these events, and was always fascinated by the various venues. Many are held in frozen lakes, with a 25-meter-by-2-lane rectangle carefully cut out of ice and a lane-line strung down the middle. Sometimes platforms or walls are built at each end of this rectangle, so that swimmers have something to push off of on starts and turns. (The pool in this excellent video, taken at last year’s championships in Vermont and featuring our local legend Capri, gives a good idea of that style of outdoor pool and conveys the appeal of the sport). In these ice pools, ladders provide a means for entering and exiting the water. There are no dive starts in winter swimming, for the sake of swimmers and of everyone nearby.

Cutting a pool in the ice was not possible in the Hudson—the brackish water was not frozen, and even if by some fluke it had been, strong currents would have made swimming very far out from its banks dangerous. Instead, the organizers devised an ingenious way to have a measured course, near the shoreline where the currents were negligible, with a boat ramp used to safely enter and exit the water. The result, installed near the docks of upper Manhattan restaurant La Marina, looked like a very short open-water course: two lanes, a yellow start buoy, and orange turn-around buoys at 12.5 and 25 meters. At the beginning of the day, the river temp was measured at 34.3 degrees, and there was still some snow on the ground from the previous weekend’s record-breaking blizzard.

Janet finishing

Janet (left) finishing one of her many competitions.

For each race, two swimmers entered the water, one per lane. We waded down the boat ramp to the yellow buoy, which ranged from waist high to armpit height as the water level changed with the tidal cycle. For the 25-meter races, we swam to the first orange buoy, touched it, turned around, then swam back to finish with a touch of the yellow buoy. Races of 50 meters and longer used the far orange buoy as the turnaround point, making the course similar to a short-course-meters pool, albeit one without walls to push off or a black line to follow.

Sighting could be an important skill—the lanes were wide enough that several swimmers, including yours truly, found themselves in unexpected places due to currents or just plain crooked swimming. Occasional waves from boat wakes reminded us that we were essentially swimming pool events in an open-water venue. It was pretty cool (no pun intended) the way this event merged the two disciplines.

Six events were offered—25, 50, 100, and 200 meter freestyle, plus 25 and 50 meter breaststroke—as well as a concluding 200-meter 4-person relay. Many of us swam them all, making for a busy day.

The competition was run very efficiently, with a warm staging area inside the restaurant. We were typically sent outside with about 1 or 2 minutes left until the race ahead of us finished—just time enough to make our way down to the boat ramp and take off the outer layers before wading into the cold water. Once done we parka-ed up and hustled back inside, where warm drinks and soup awaited. Plenty of volunteers—many from the wonderful Coney Island Polar Bears, which helped put on this event—kept swimmers safe and ensured that everything ran smoothly.

What was it like, swimming in water that cold? Mostly, I felt the cold intensely while wading in, but once the “Ready go!” command was given, it just felt like swimming. During the latter half of the longest race, the 200 free, I started feeling some painful tingling in my feet, and my fingertips were a bit numb by the end. In all my races, it felt really exhilarating to have been in the water, and that feeling was shared by all the participants—I’ve never seen as many red-cheeked, exuberant people.

Warming up between events was not as difficult as I worried it might be—it was great having a warm indoor refuge so near the water. The restaurant is seasonal, so we had the run of it throughout the day, and its glassed-in portions provided good viewing for the races and plenty of places to curl up in the sunshine between icy dips.

As fun as the swimming was, the other swimmers were the highlight of the day. The winter swimming community is wonderfully friendly, and as a newcomer to the sport I felt embraced and welcomed. As evening gathered and swimming races gave way to socializing and feasting, it was heartwarming to ponder the lengths we go to do the sport we love, and to be reminded once again that the water unites us all, in whatever crazy ways we choose to swim in it.

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Poolside Reading: Swimming Studies

Swimming Studies: coverI was slow to take to Swimming Studies (Blue Rider Press, 2012; hardcover, 320 pages), choosing not to seek it out after positive reviews that somehow didn’t grab me. I accepted a loaner copy from Joe at the beach, though, and found it very engaging once I finally got around to reading it.

This “collection of autobiographical sketches” in prose and images taught me some interesting things, such as about lane-line color patterns. It provides insights into the training and habits of a once top-level, teen-aged Canadian breaststroker–the author. She continues to swim regularly and now is a professional artist and writer whose work turns up frequently in T: The New York Times Style Magazine. She lives in New York, but I don’t think we’ve ever crossed paths.

We’ve swum in many of the same pools, though, from New York to Iceland. Whereas I seem to come away with memories of the actual swim experience, pool history, and architecture, her recollection is much more sensory, from the swim suit she was wearing to the shape of the water.

For example:

Astoria Park Pool, Queens

Astoria Pool, as painted by Shapton

Swimming Studies

loooong pool

40 Pools

Laugardalslaug, Iceland

Shapton's view of Laugardalslaug

Swimming Studies

Laugardalslaug key elements labeled

40 Pools

It’s a good reminder of how different two people’s impressions of the same experience can be.

That said, the book really is an experience. I won’t colors yours further except by encouraging you to seek it out.


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#92: Pound Ridge Town Pool

Pound Ridge pool complexLocation: Pound Ridge, Westchester, New York

Configuration: 6 x 25 meters in the lap pool

Fee: Guest of resident

The Pound Ridge Town Pool is one of those places that feels disconnected from the world, as if the sky here were perpetually blue and the water the same, just the right temperature, and never crowded. If you are able to get in either by being a resident or a resident’s guest, you can swim, lounge, eat, socialize, and play table tennis and air hockey here to your heart’s content.

10 pass guest card

me and dad

Me and my dad.

I visited with my friend Naomi and her mother, Ethel, over Labor Day weekend. A regular all summer, Ethel had three guest visits left on her pool card, and she kindly shared them with the two of us and my dad. We chose partially shaded lounge chairs by the nearly empty lap pool and whiled away a couple of hours. At some point a pool pal of Ethel’s joined us. I swam just 1,000 meters, realizing in the process that the pool was a wee bit longer than 25 yards. The rest of our group did some laps too, some for the first time in years and years. That’s how otherworldly the experience was!

The lap pool is also the diving and competition pool. Just two lane lines were in, but the lifeguards kindly let us overflow into the rest of the pool as needed, even though it was signed as closed. No problems here. Most other people frolicked in the shallow pool and lounged closer to the snack bar.

Naomi’s family moved here when she was in elementary school. She swam here in the summers during her childhood but hadn’t been back for ages. Still, she was able to find some names she recognized in the trophy case. The 1970s high dive records would seem to be especially secure given that the high dive has been removed. Back in the day, she said, there was always a long line for the high dive and people really got the business if they didn’t jump. Somehow I can’t imagine anyone getting the business here now.

 trophy case

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Bring on 2016

Happy new year! It’s also the three-year anniversary of this project, which means I’m about to turn 44. I closed out the year with a swim at–where else?–Riverbank. Here we are bright and early yesterday morning.


Fernando, Alan, David, Amanda, me, Lisa Lisa, and Joe do a final swim in 2015. (Thanks to Amanda and Fernando for the pic!)

Lisa, Joe, Piez, and me doing our first workout of 2012

Same place and some of the same people in 2012: Lisa Lisa, Joe, Piezy, and me.

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#90 & #91: Eriksdalsbadet

empty pool

Eurogames competition pool. Photo by Janet.

Location: Skanstull, Stockholm

Configuration: Indoor 50 x 25- and 25 x 25-meter pools with lots and lots of lanes. More pools outdoors that I didn’t swim in.

Fee: 90 kronor for a regular visit, lots more for Eurogames meet entry

Dear Eriksdalsbadet,

Please accept my apology for taking so long–three months!–to write about your wonders. You have so much to offer. If only we had met under different circumstance, it would have been magical. Unfortunately, Eurogames got in our way.

highway over Eriksdalsbadet

Just like the highway above it, Eriksdalsbadet goes on and on. Hints of its nearly 100-year-old history as a swim site are scant.

It’s awesome that the tradition of swimming on your site goes back to the closed waterworks in the 1920s, although I wish there were more traces left from those days. Still, I get that the Swedish national team needed a cutting-edge training facility–and how exciting was it that your very own Sarah Sjöström was off in China breaking world records during our visit?! (Do your pros really like the water that warm? It sure got hot with the afternoon and then evening sun streaming in.)

I was psyched to beat some of my times from Iceland ever so slightly during the three-day competition. True, I was wearing a $190 technical suit thanks to my team’s new sponsorship deal with Speedo, but I’m sure your infinity gutters, deep water, and normal ceiling played a role.


Speed slide (right) and lazy river slide.

The tiered showers in the locker room are a great idea–people’s heights vary, so why shouldn’t shower heights vary, too? I also really enjoyed the water slides, once they reopened after some undisclosed incident the first day. The split clock added a whole new dimension to our sliding. Try as I might, I could not break 9 seconds to match my teammates’ times on the fastest slide. Perhaps my technical suit was not optimized for this purpose?

Yonder outdoor pool and grassy lawn.

An early morning view of yonder 50-meter outdoor pool and giant grassy lawn, which all filled up with Stockholmers on these beautiful days.

How about the outdoor pools? I only made it as far as the lawn, since we’d been told that our meet entry did not cover the outdoor part of the complex and I was all pooled out anyway. The natives sure seemed to enjoy themselves out there–and the warm, sunny weather that came with us to Stockholm.

Of course, the competition was fierce. Our TNYA contingent alone was more than 80 swimmers, divers, and water polo players strong. The combination of many of my favorite people traveling to one my favorite places to participate in one of my favorite activities seemed like a guaranteed success.

25-meter pool

25-meter pool, used for warm-ups and cool-downs during our meet.

The lead-up to Eurogames–a major international competition that required signup months in advance and significant travel by most participants–should have given me pause. First the meet was going to be four days, then it switched to three. The registration site flummoxed some of my very intelligent teammates and me. (In fact, I almost got pulled from a couple events due to not having seed times with my entries. I thought I had entered times, mind you, and would have gladly provided them had anyone asked in the intervening months.) Important details such as the event schedule were scant and poorly communicated. All along, though, I reassured myself that everything would go off without a hitch in ever-so-organized Sweden. How organized? This is a place where all the bus stations have countdown clocks and the grocery store check-out conveyors are split by a chute so that a customer who is slow to gather her wares does not impede the person behind her in line. For example.


I swam extra-hard in my 1500 so I wouldn’t be late for this smörgåsbord at my favorite building in Stockholm, Stadshuset. It was a model of efficiency, with hundreds of people enjoying Swedish delicacies and hospitality simultaneously. Photo by Janet.

Things went downhill as the meet drew near. Just a couple days before the start, the meet director realized that the time allocated was impossibly short given the number of competitors. How this was not clear from the data the moment registration closed is beyond me. The “solution” at this late stage was to drop the slowest and no-time entrants from all events and to limit options for distance freestyle swimmers such as myself. Many participants and teams raised a ruckus about these changes, given the long tradition of inclusion in our competitions, and so the schedule was changed yet again and all entrants were reinstated. The catch was that the meet would run loooong, a situation exacerbated by failure to implement various efficiencies such as fly-over starts. Also, the reconfigured schedule had the 800 and 1500 back-to-back. I decided that would be too much at the end of a loooong day so did just the 1500 with the consolation that my 800 split would be recorded. As far as I can tell, that did not happen.

In a different setting–a developing nation, or a culture less known for precision–I would have taken it all in stride. However, because I hold Sweden to such a high standard, because I wanted more free time to enjoy the rest of the city, and because 80 of my friends were watching and griping, the failures large and small were major disappointments.

But, like I said, you’re a nice pool. With a few months’ perspective, I’m clearly still frustrated that the experience could have been even better, but those are the breaks. There were plenty of highlights, and I’m very, very glad to have had the excuse to check out some new water, swim in a technical suit, and visit some old friends and old haunts along with one of Stockholm’s newest museums.

Next time, I’ll make sure that we have more quality time together (not quantity). Until then, thanks for listening.




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#89: Vanadisbadet


Courtesy Vanadisbadet 2014

Location: Vasastan, Stockholm

Configuration: 4 striped 25-meter lanes

Fee: 90 kronor, just under $11 at the current, strong exchange rate

The day before the meet, I was overdue for some pool time. Following the recommendation of a local, I wandered into a hilly park in central Stockholm for 7:00 p.m. lap swimming at Vanadisbadet.

The time was the same as night owl lap swimming in Manhattan, but that was about the only similarity. There was no drama at the transition time from open swim to laps, and the existence of both lockers and lifeguards was subtle if they were in fact there at all. Remarkably, even in this Nordic climate, the pool has a much longer season than New York’s outdoor pools, which closed last Monday even though our summer heat continues. (Yes, I am whining.) Vanadisbadet’s season runs from May 1 until September 15, and lap swimming–“motion” or exercise swimming–is offered daily from 7:00 to 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 to 8:00 pm.

Like so many of my favorite pools, this one dates to the 1930s, 1938 to be precise. Stockholm’s first outdoor electrically heated pool, Vanadis takes its name from its host park, named for the goddess of fertility, also known as Freja. A popular swim place for decades, it closed in 2007. Various plans were floated in the years that followed, but ultimately a simple renovation prevailed, and the pool reopened for the 2014 season. The Google Earth view led me to expect water slides, however, that must be an older picture because they are not there.

What is there? Two smaller pools in addition to the lap pool, all about the same warmish temperature; beautiful outcroppings from a former quarry; lounge chairs for rent; a café; poolside showers aplenty; and great views over the city. The evening sun made long shadows across the deck.

My swim was lovely. The few other people who swam in my lane all kept a good pace and showed proper pool etiquette. I stretched out about a mile and decided that was enough, given the upcoming early morning starting the first of three days of the meet.

If you make a visit, I highly recommend also stopping at the nearby Stadsbibliotek or City Library (1928), a masterpiece by the architect Gunnar Asplund. Its gradually sloping entry, outside and in, transports you into a veritable shrine to books. It was also very exciting to find a room devoted to mysteries, with all of my favorite Swedish authors in their native language.

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