40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#15: Shorefront YM-YWHA of Brighton-Manhattan Beach

on March 22, 2012

Shorefront Y pool, empty at the close of the swim sessionLocation: Brighton Beach, Brooklyn

Configuration: 5 lanes of 25 yards (with lane lines for just 3 of the lanes)

Fee: Free with special limited-time offer (otherwise $12)

Total Fees to Date: $128.91

If I were to liken Tuesday’s triple-dip day at Brighton Beach to the khachapuri we enjoyed out there, the time at the ocean would be the delicious, oozing cheese filling, whereas the Shorefront Y pool would be the bread: ably but unglamourously doing its job and providing a good casing for the ocean swim.

The Y was established in the late 1940s or early 1950s to serve the growing population of Eastern European Jewish immigrants settling in southern Brooklyn. Like the now-defunct Dutchess County YMCA, its focus extends beyond recreation to a broad array of cultural and social services. Unlike in Poughkeepsie, the constituents here includes many native Russian speakers, and the facility is bilingual. The entrance was particularly busy on Tuesday because the Y was a polling place in a special election that the Russian community mobilized around. Their goal was “not one Russian vote” for one of the candidates, and from the scene we encountered I can report that there were definitely a lot of Russian votes cast. The winner is still unknown, however, as the election turned out to be so close that it hinges on the hundreds of paper ballots that will be tallied next week. For now, each candidate is claiming victory and proclaiming his opponent the loser. What this meant for our visit was that we found ourselves weaving through dozens of highly focused Russian-speaking voters of a certain age just to get in the door.

The scene in the pool was not very different. Janet and I planned our visit to start with a swim during the women’s only session, which takes place on weekdays from noon to 1:30. The reason for this scheduling peculiarity and the corresponding all-male session earlier in the day, if I understand it properly, is an Orthodox Jewish belief called tzniut that males and females should not see each other let alone mix in immodest conditions such as when they are wearing bathing suits. Judiasm also places a premium on teaching children to swim, so you can see the conundrum and how logical it becomes to have gender-segregated hours.

So anyway, the pool was crowded, the women were focused, and they did not adjust their routines one iota due to our presence. For all I know, they could have been mumbling to themselves in Russian, “I didn’t survive the Holocaust, travel across the ocean, and establish a new life in Brooklyn to have to share the lane with a couple shiksas half my age and twice my speed.” Definitely not a warm, fuzzy, sisterhood-is-powerful embrace for these pool tourists.

Star of David wall markingsThe pool itself is workmanlike, with a steep slope that goes from 3 feet in the shallow end to 10 in the deep end, giving the sensation of swimming up or down hill. The bunker-like swim hall is uninspired but for the row of windows on the north and south sides, allowing views of low-rise apartments and the beach sky. The most creative design element is the pool’s wall markings–the Star of David rather than boring old Ts. I think this is a great use of real estate, similar to the roaring lion on the bottom of Columbia’s pool. Another plus was the friendly lifeguard, herself about half our age, who may be able to help us with our goal of meeting Lenny Krayzelburg and swimming in his nearby condo pool, since he has a swim academy here.

We had thought we might be able to do the beginning of a real workout during this swim session, but that wasn’t going to happen so we cut our losses and headed to the beach for some real-life crabs.

After that chilly dunk, we made a beeline for the poolside sauna, which is how I first got introduced to this Y. A few years ago when the CIBBOWS crew was smaller and more discerning in its swim season, the Y kindly let us use the locker rooms and sauna for our late fall and early spring ocean swims. After taking all the cold water we could stand, we’d run up beach and across the boardwalk to the Y (properly clad as we transited the lobby, so as not to expose our immodest selves to those whose beliefs we would violate) and sit shivering in the sauna, to the amusement of the Russians in there warming away week after week in their felt banya hats. Those were good times, and I was glad to have the experience all over again. I’m hopeful that the Iceland trip will include more of this.

Me and Janet with Lenny's banner

Paging Lenny Krayzelburg. Would Lenny Krayzelburg please report to the pool deck?

Finally, after warming up, it was co-ed time in the pool, the third scoop of our triple dip. The situation looked unpromising at first, with as many people and as many different impressions of swimming as during the women’s session. However, the middle lane cleared out pretty quickly, and gradually the rest of the pool did too. By the time the session ended, it was just us taking half the pool each with the friendly lifeguard watching over.

The last thing I want to mention is the locker room, which though not particularly small is uniquely poorly laid out, such that the crowding in the locker area makes it nearly impossible to put on or take off a bathing suit, let alone pack or unpack a giant backpack filled with cold water paraphernalia. I’ve often thought that my teammates and I should hire ourselves out as locker room consultants, to help correct the many bad design decisions that so often go into what should be a highly functional space.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not (except about the locker rooms). Like the bread for the khachapuri, I wouldn’t seek out the pool by itself, but I certainly appreciate how it enhances what’s nearby.

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