40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#36: John Jay Park Pool

on July 14, 2012

John Jay Park PoolLocation: Upper East Side, Manhattan

Configuration: 3 extra-wide lanes of 48 1/3 yards

Fee: Free

Fees to Date: $166.74

John Jay Park Pool Early Bird lap swimming is my blue heaven. I love the rising sun coming across Roosevelt Island and into the pool. I love watching boats go by in the East River when I kick. I love looking down on the FDR Drive from the deck and thinking how much I’d rather be where I am than in a car oblivious to the sanctuary above. I love seeing the same pool groupies every weekday morning for two months. I love swimming in the rain, if we get so lucky. I love the way the light and the leaves change as the summer progresses. I love the morning routine of rolling out of bed and onto my bike and getting here in no time. I love gazing upon the empty pool and reveling in the anticipation of being one of the first people in every morning.

East River from the pool deck

The view from the kickboard.

I even love how much more popular the pool has become with lap swimmers in the dozen years since I started here, though I don’t love sharing the lane with so many people. I also don’t love how short the lap-swim season is, going from the day after the Fourth of July until the Friday before Labor Day on weekdays only.

I welcomed the start  of the season last Thursday together with fellow Early Birds Valerie, Didi, Margaret, William, Arion, Stephanie, Carol, Joanne, Blondelle, Orly, Bonnie, and many more. The aquatics specialists were very organized and had us off and swimming in no time. My card number–160–indicates that 159 people signed up ahead of me, remarkably. The water was a bit cloudy, no doubt due to the hot, busy holiday week, and there was more hair than I prefer in my pool, but I was still very happy to be there and have returned gladly ever since.

The pool’s length is just shy of an official competitive distance, supposedly due to the wishes of Robert Moses. He built this one with WPA money several years after the glorious summer of 1936; it’s smaller and less magnificent than those pools, but a wonderful part of the neighborhood nonetheless. Now, it’s one of just two outdoor public pools left with a diving well, which is very popular during free swim. Meanwhile, not far from the other side of the pool on this first day, someone apparently jumped into the East River, causing much helicopter action.

The namesake, John Jay, had many important roles during the Revolutionary War Era and in the new republic, including serving as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In his afterlife, he’s become a man of many pools, being the namesake of John Jay College, home of an indoor pool I frequent; a school in Brooklyn that also has a pool; and a Westchester County school that was in the same division as my high school swim team.

lap swim cardBack to lap swimming, here is a primer on the city’s program:

  • Participation is free and open to anyone age 18 or older.
  • The “Early Bird” session is weekdays 7:00-8:30 a.m. “Night Owl” is 7:00-8:30 p.m. I prefer Early Bird for the timing and also because the pool is at its cleanest after it’s had a night to air out.
  • There are many incentives for racking up yardage. If you hit 30 miles within your session (i.e., John Jay Early Bird) through the course of the season, you get invited to a dinner and get a T-shirt. If you accumulate enough yardage to be in the top three of your session (by gender), you win a trophy. There are also city-wide trophies given out for the top yardage amounts from the entire program. These are always superhuman tallies.
  • Yardage is self-reported at the end of each swim.
  • The dinner is well worth attending and usually includes speeches, synchro performances, musical entertainment, a buffet spread, a relay competition among teams from all the participating pools, and whisperings of cheating  within some yardage tallies.
  • You have to register separately at each pool you swim in. Registration consists of filling out a piece of paper for which you get a card in return (sample above). You need the card for all subsequent visits.

Helpful tips for John Jay Park Pool lap swimming:

  • As at some of the city’s indoor pools, it’s the lane lines rather than the markings on the bottom that determine the lanes. They’re quite wide here.
  • Lane designations are mainly aspirational. The “fast” lane is the one closest to the East River. The middle is the middle.
  • Pass on the inside of the lane.
  • Navigation skills are important.

Summer is short. Go swimming at an outdoor pool ASAP.

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11 responses to “#36: John Jay Park Pool

  1. runninarounduptown says:

    Ok, so your blog has inspired me to find an outdoor pool for my swim on Sunday instead of my usual MPHC. I live uptown, waaaay uptown (185th on the W side) so I’m wondering if you have a recommendation. I’m willing to travel a bit by bike, train or car for a pool that is open early on Sunday. I am still dreaming about the Plus Pool, but that’s for a vacation week.

    • Hannah says:

      Amy, early on a Sunday, the outdoor pool at Riverbank is your best bet. If you can wait until later and don’t mind traveling, go to Red Hook at 11:00. I think the Floating Pool in the Bronx also has a lap lane, or at least it did three seasons ago, but that doesn’t open until 11:00 either. Enjoy!

      • runninarounduptown says:

        Thanks Hannah! I have never been to the outdoor pool at Riverbank so it’ll still be an adventure. Is there a safe place to lock up a bike? I run there often but I have never even seen the outdoor pool.

  2. Hannah says:

    You can park right by the pool. In fact, you can even see the bike rack from the outdoor pool. However, you are supposed to walk your bike into the park to get there. My very first pool post, about the indoor pool, has more info on this unfortunate restriction. Hope you had a good swim!

  3. mnop2 says:

    This is my favorite, and such a great pool I was sure it would be one of the first to be listed – I’ve been a “Night Owl” lap swimmer and by the end of August it’s dark by the time the swim ends at 8:30!

  4. Stephanie says:

    Yipee! Ah, Hannah, for me John Jay (East) will be the place where it all began. It’s like the ruby slippers — as much as I enjoy touring other pools with you, there’s no place like home!

    Happy swimming!
    – Stephanie

  5. […] 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 […]

  6. […] 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. […]

  7. Lilia says:

    I know his post is 3 years old but I’d love to know if you still go, and if you think it’s worth it for a commuter from Queens (LIC) to come here in the mornings before work. I work in Midtown so this would be relatively easy for me to get to work afterwards.

    • Hannah says:

      JJ has gotten very, very, very crowded in the mornings. I switched to Thomas Jefferson Park Pool farther north on the east side, and the one time I went back to a lap session at JJ last summer, it was overwhelming. I’ve heard that it is less crowded in the evening. Astoria Park Pool is also crowded, but it’s much bigger and the lap designations allow for a wider variety of swimmers to actually swim. If you can fit that into your commute, you’d probably have a better experience there.

  8. […] 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 […]

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