40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#29 & #30: Laugardalslaug Indoor and Outdoor Pools

on June 3, 2012

Laugardalslaug key elements labeled

Location: Reykjavik, Iceland

Configuration: Indoor pool: 10 lanes of 50 meters
Outdoor pool: 8 lanes of 50 meters
Also includes water slide, 9 hot tubs, and a large play area

Fee*: 500 ISK (Icelandic kronur), approximately $3.84

Fees to Date: $159.09

*This is the regular day-use fee. I paid a lot more for the meet that brought me here four days in a row, but the meet included a lot more than pool entry.

I had no idea that I would be seeing such a fabulous pool complex when I signed on for the trip to Iceland. Laugardalslaug surpassed even my wildest dreams about pools in Australia, and yet here it is in the much more temperature-challenged country of Iceland. Thank you, geothermal energy! Doing it justice requires a looong photo essay, starting with the above image where I’ve labeled some key areas.

water slide!First things first: the water slide. I foolishly waited until day 2 of the meet to try it instead of making it my first order of business. How was I to know that it is the craziest, most fun water slide ever? Most sections are dark except for polka-dotted or striped lighting effects, which you pass as you twist, turn, and drop along the way. Thanks to the Internets, we learned that the best technique is to lay on your back with your arms crossed and tighten your core, so that only your heels and shoulder blades touch the slide. Anything soft will slow you down, and that could be hazardous not to mention less fun!

The first time down, the order was Amanda, Janet, me, and then our teammate Ryan. We didn’t all know the magic technique at this point, and I could tell from Janet’s shrieks of laughter that I was catching up to her. Little did I know that Ryan was about to rocket past me, so well banked on a sidewall that he barely touched me. He and Janet shot out into the pool at the same time and I was close behind. Amanda said that the Icelanders watching had very funny expressions on their faces. We laughed for a looong time, and from then on we made sure to do water slide repeats with a focus on technique throughout the rest of the meet. I tried looking up at the ceiling instead of down at my feet the last day, at the suggestion of my teammate Federico, and that was a whole new experience that even cured my migraine.

Take note that the slide and the stairs are fully enclosed. Chilly weather will not stop this slide!

shallow hot pothot pot with rock features When you tire from all that stair climbing, a soak in the hot tub is in order. There are plenty to choose from, including this shallow one at left. People camped out in it all day and had the sunburn to prove it! I worried that I might nod off and drown so tried not to linger too long.

As you look through the pictures, notice that there are people of all ages enjoying the water. Icelandic law stipulates that schoolchildren learn to swim at age 6. Before then, kids avail themselves of water wings available by the tubfull at the pool entrances. Notice, too, how many people are at the pools. I’d estimate that a couple thousand passed through here each day, a huge number considering Reykjavik’s population is just 110,000. Statistics from 2000 posted in the lobby state that Icelanders swim at least 15 times a year, and I bet that number is higher now as the country grows ever more enamored of its pools. Entry costs about the same as an ice cream, making it one of the most affordable pastimes in this very expensive country. Tourists are encouraged to visit, and the pools are included in top-10 lists of Icelandic attractions.

hot potsAlong the far side of the outdoor lap pool are four more hot pots of increasing temperature, one of which has massage jets. Helpful signage provides the following instructions:

The hot water in Reykjavik’s swimming pools has a particularly good effect on stress. First you enter the hot pot and relax for 15 minutes, before getting out and cooling down for a while. Then you go back in, this time in a hotter pot, and sit for 10 minutes before getting out to cool off. After that it’s back to an even hotter pot (if you choose) and sit for 5 minutes. Then you cool off and swim as slowly as possible for 200 meters. When finished you take a good shower and rest.

Wow, I’m relaxed just thinking about all that soaking.

outdoor poolHere’s the 8-lane outdoor pool for those easy 200 meters. It remained open to the public and for warm-ups and cool-downs while the meet was under way. On the last morning, I was the first one in, and it reminded me of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale with its large bleachers as it steamed away under the bright sun.

Speaking of sun, my visit lasted seven days with nary a drop of rain or even very cold temperatures. I’d been told that the island was misnamed, but I still was not expecting such good weather. My packing list included all kinds of rain and cold-weather gear that I did not need and lacked things like sun screen that would have come in handy.

Laugardalslaug indoor pool viewMoving on, let’s take a look at the recently added indoor pool, which is where serious training takes place. This is the deep end, opposite from where all of my races started. Although from here it looks like there are just 9 lanes, that’s because of the funny math involved in the signage. Really there are 10 lanes, unless you are doing backstroke, in which case there are only 8. The water was on the warm side . . .
hot pot. . . but not as warm as the hot pot right here on the other side of the deep end! The pool-to-hot tub transitions had been a major focus of my training, and I’m glad to say that my efforts paid off. I headed straight for a soak here after many a swim and got rejuvenated for future efforts.
team pictureTNYA took over a section of bleachers close to the start blocks, the “green room” where we had to go before our heats, and the café–a very strategic location. It was also convenient to where heat lists were posted, and that was a smart move, since the lists changed frequently. There’s my team on the last day with relay, split, and record mastermind Coach Christopher in orange in front. I am proud to report that our invasion of Iceland was a complete success; we won the swim, diving, water polo, and Pink Flamingo competitions!
indoor pool ceilingI mentioned that there were only 8 lanes for backstroke. That’s because the ceiling was out to get you. The blue lines on the ceiling look nice and straight in this view, but as you make your way through the pool under them, they appear to veer off at angles due to all the other things going on. The bleachers are curved, the windows are curved, and the ceiling has flared piping. Almost nothing outside the pool has right angles, which makes it very confusing for us (former) backstrokers accustomed to navigating by using the ceiling or the wall. Even our team’s former world-record backstroker found herself bouncing off the lane lines due to the optical illusions. The worst was when you came to the flags, which appeared as if they were strung at an angle across the pool.

When this pool first opened several years ago, there were no blue lines on the ceiling; they were added after a disastrous backstroke race. I’m not sure why only 8 were striped, but that is the reason we only used 8 lanes for backstroke and medley events. The wacky ceiling made me grateful for my choice to not swim the 200 back and instead do the 400 IM–if it is possible to be grateful for doing a 400 IM, that is.

That event was another training focus. I’d never swum it before, and it definitely provided a complete pool experience, as it incorporates every different type of stroke and turn. Despite having done a lot of early morning laps in Riverbank’s 50-meter pool, this pool felt even longer. As I slogged my way up and down the looong lane, an image popped into my head that made things much more enjoyable:

Long cat iz loooongSomeone had posted this picture on Janet’s blog after she wrote about joining in on my long training swim at the West Side Y, and it’s been cracking me up ever since. It helps that I’m a big fan of orange cats, and that I’ve encountered so many loooong things recently: the pool, the water slide, the meet, and my shadow in the midnight sun. Next time you are struggling through a long set, just think of looong cat and you’ll feel better.

lane line disappearing into a holeHere is one last cool thing about the pool: the lane line sucker. Instead of having to roll the lines up onto a reel, you just feed them down into a hole in the deck until they are needed again. Clever.
shoe areaThe locker room is also an important part of the culture. As I learned at Vesturbæjarlaug, there is a multistep process involved with getting into and out of the pool–no way can you run in for a quick dip. I came to realize that the remove-shoes, claim-locker, take-shower, dry-off, put-on-suit rituals serves to prolong the process and build the pool community, since each step gives you time to ease into pool mode and connect with your fellow pool-goers. I never saw any locals checking their e-mail or talking on a cell phone, even though they seemed to spend the whole day at the pool.

At left is the shoe area outside the locker room and a handy shoe horn attached to the wall. Photography was not allowed in the locker rooms, so you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that the lockers were wonderfully tall and the showers even taller.

original LaugdarslaugThe pool complex is situated near a hot water spring that was perviously a laundry area, of all things. The translation I’d seen of the name Laugardalslaug was “Pool of Pool Valley,” but I think “Baths of Spring Valley” is more accurate. The street Laugardalsveg is the main drag through town, thanks to all the washer-women and, later, horses who trod the route from the center of town out to the springs to do their laundry in the naturally occurring warm water. A stone-sided outdoor pool opened here in 1908 and remained in use until the fancy outdoor pool above opened in 1966.

A short distance from the pool, this installation and sculpture celebrate the springs’ history. One of the panels explains: “The hot water in the swimming pool was also a major attraction for foreign visitors, who were very impressed with its qualities.” Amen to that.

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4 responses to “#29 & #30: Laugardalslaug Indoor and Outdoor Pools

  1. Regina says:

    Wow! These pools and non pools, for that matter, look amazing. My sister was in Iceland last year and I couldn’t look at her pictures because I was so green with envy. A must on my travel list. Thanks for all the cool info.

  2. […] started the day by going swimming in Laugardalslaug (great blog link!), one of a handful of 50 m pools in the area. Laugardalslaug, image from […]

  3. […] The Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre complex is absolutely massive, the equivalent of putting my favorite Icelandic pool facility all under one roof. Other similarities with Laugardalslaug include a water slide, play pools, hot […]

  4. […] 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 […]

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