40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#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.


#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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