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 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.
Underscoring 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.