40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Piscine Blomet a Paris

Lisa Lisa’s European vacation was not limited to Munich. Ever the diligent pool tourist, she also traveled to Paris and filed the following report. (To all other pool tourists and would-be correspondents out there, yes, 40 Pools welcomes guest entries from you, too!)

long view of the pool

Photo courtesy of TNYA member Ed, who also visited Paris recently.

Location: Rue Blomet, Paris, France (15th Arrondissement)

Configuration: Five 50-meter lanes, subject to rearrangement

Fee: €3, approximately $3.20

According to the New York Times, Paris has 38 municipal pools, but I only managed to visit one during my whirlwind trip to France. However, what I lost in quantity I made up for in quality.

After saying auf Wiedersehen to the Olympia Schwimmhalle, I took a side trip to visit TNYA mates John and Mingwei, who are halfway through a three-year Paris posting. And whenever/wherever TNYAs get together, there is swimming to be had.

sign: Paris Piscines BlometOn my first day in France, Mingwei and I walked over to their local pool, the Piscine Blomet. (John claimed to have to work. However; given the number of times I have seen them in the pool together, I still hold that the boys are only in possession of one suit between them.)

The Piscine Blomet is trés magnifique, a five-lane, 50-meter Parisian beauty. Entry is obtained for a mere €3, with another €1 required for changing room deposit. (Note to self: I owe Mingwei €1.) The locker room, as in Germany, is co-ed.

France’s national motto of liberté, égalité, fraternité is nowhere more evident than in this pool. With one lane set aside for the local team, and another strangely formatted into two 25-meter halves (see top image, left), the remaining three lanes were available to anyone, regardless of speed or ability. My lane-mates included a grand-mère, two débutants, one backstroker inorganisé, and that aggressive triathlete guy you find in every pool. Mingwei opted for the 25-meter area, knowing it was less populated.

Getting by anyone was accomplished via passing, turning, swimming over, swimming under, or any combination thereof. This was common, and expected. The traditional foot-touch signal must have lost meaning in translation, as this rendered no response at all.

As someone who is usually the slowest in the lane, I did experience un petit frisson in passing so many fellow swimmers. However, this quickly wore off, and I debated the option of joining Mingwei in the 25-meter area. I’ve followed him in the lane for years, after all, and can attest that it is a comfortable place to be. But before I could make the move to the familiar territory, the gendarme blew the whistle and we were required to clear the pool.

Mingwei promised croissants for breakfast, and so begins a typical day in Paris. C’est la vie!

Advertisements
Leave a comment »

Throwback Thursday: Olympia Schwimmhalle

Inspired by posts covering the pools from the Sydney and Montreal Olympic Games, pool tourism comrade Lisa Lisa petitioned for a guest spot to cover her favorite competition venue, the Olympia Schwimmhalle in Munich. I was more than happy to oblige! I love the architecture of this place, which I’ve only seen from a bus window–and from knockoffs like Vassar College’s pool. Her post exemplifies one of my favorite themes, namely, what lasting memories pools make. Future guest entries welcome!

snow-covered SchwimmhalleLocation: Olympiapark, Munich, West Germany (in 1985)/Germany (in 2016)

Configuration: 9-lane 50-meter pool, with separate platform and springboard diving area

Fee: see below

Germany has hosted the Olympic Games twice, in Berlin in 1936 and Munich in 1972, and neither the XI nor the XX Olympiad was without incident. The 1936 Olympics were the first to be televised, and the leader at the time manipulated the media to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy. (Sounds familiar? No comment.) In an effort to counteract this negativity, the 1972 Olympics strove toward an ideal of openness and freedom, unfortunately leaving the athletes’ village open to a terrorist attack. This was also televised. The world watched it all, and I was no exception.

As a gymnast, swimmer (see pool #13), and Fräulein, I was obsessed by these Olympic Games, and the competition at Munich was tremendous. Gymnast Olga Korbut was the darling of the games (at age 17; practically geriatric). Mark Spitz went on a medal-winning streak that was not topped until 2008. The East Germans won everything–and later got busted for it. And I inaugurated a fantasy of swimming in an indoor venue that wasn’t dark, cold, or dingy.

Munich Schwimmhalle front doorMy fantasy was fulfilled in 1985, when my sister and I made a pilgrimage to the Olympia Schwimmhalle while I was participating in a junior year abroad. Munich is a city that has truly Munich Schwimmhalle price listmade use of its Olympic venue, and many local masters’ teams are lucky enough to call the Schwimmhalle their home. Visitors are welcome, and my sister–also a member of the esteemed Sandpiper Swim Team (and now a bona fide pool tourist)–and I were excited to check it out. My picture is blurry (likewise my memory), but as a college student on a budget, I can’t imagine we paid more than 10 Deutschmarks some 30 years ago.

I can say with certainty that at the time, it was the most spectacular pool in which I had ever swum. It snowed the day we arrived, covering the “sails” of the venue with a light dusting and providing a picture-perfect Bavarian image (upper right).

The pool itself had more than 3 lanes, a rarity in our world, and to be able to swim and see the light of day concomitantly was a feat previously unheard of.Olympia Schwimmhalle interior

hair dryer at perfect height for author

Editor’s note: A hair dryer that is the right height for Lisa Lisa may be low for many of us.

sisters in the locker room

Pool tourists investigate the co-ed locker rooms, 1985 style.

The hair dryers were at the perfect height, something I have been unable to find anywhere else. And what’s that guy doing in the women’s locker room? As it turned out, the locker room was co-ed, with patrons paying a deposit for a private changing cubby in a large hall, open to anyone.

Finally, the Olympic gods/German engineers ensured that the water temperature was perfect, the lockers pristine, and the pool Band-aid and hairball free. Yes, 1985 was a very good year.

But so was 2016–for pool tourism, at least. Remember when I said the Olympic Schwimmhalle was the most spectacular pool in which I have even swum? Well, it still is, and I know for sure because I recently popped over to the Schwimmhalle for a repeat visit.Olympia Schwimmhalle today

sign in 2016two photos from 2016: hair dryers and locker roomNot much has changed since 1985. (Well, they did get a new sign, at right.) The pool was as clean and beautiful as I remembered. The grounds were immaculate and accessible. The locker rooms were still co-ed. The painted lane lines were as dark and clear as the days when Mark Spitz stroked over them. The hair dryers remained at the perfect height, albeit more modern.

One thing that changed is the price, since Germany bid auf Wiedersehen to the Deutschmark in 1999. The current price, €3.20, is the equivalent to $3.50.

In keeping with my travel trend, I look forward to returning to the Olympia Schwimmhalle in another 31 years.

1 Comment »

#94 and #95: Olympic Training and Competition Pools, Centre Sportif, Montreal

Competition pool

Location: Olympic Park, Montreal

Configuration: Two 50-meter pools, one with 5 lanes (the training pool) and one configured with oodles of 25-meter lanes across (the competition pool)

Fee: CA$6.50 plus tax, or a bit under US$5

Many of my fellow Americans are clamoring for information about Canada, and 40 Pools is here to assure you that there is good pool swimming to be had in our friendly neighbor to the north.

How do I know? I visited Montreal last month over the U.S. Columbus Day weekend and swam in the pool complex from the 1976 Olympic Games, now the Centre Sportif. Through researching the schedule I realized that my trip encompassed a national holiday, Action de Grâces–aka Canadian Thanksgiving. This tidbit provided helpful focus to the holiday weekend, and I timed my visit to swim in two pools for the price of one.

The swim competition at the XXI Olympiad benefited from a number of now-standard pool innovations, including an extra lane on either side of the 8 lanes of competition and turbulence-damping gutters to ensure the smoothest swim experience possible. While gymnast Nadia Comaneci was racking up the perfect 10s and the former Bruce Jenner broke his own decathlon records to become the “world’s greatest athlete,” the East German and American women duked things out in the pool. The U.S. women’s only gold came in a dramatic upset in the 4×100 relay [video]. (Host Canada took bronze behind the East Germans.)

Montreal Tower by the Centre Sportif

Montreal Tower by the Centre Sportif

I was very excited to take in these waters, my second Olympic pool experience. (The first was in Sydney.) Though the weather was dreary, anticipation built as we wandered through the Olympic complex, the first to have its swim hall connected to the Olympic stadium.

My swim started in the training pool, which paralleled the competition pool in a side room. It lacked the bright, inspirational feel of the main pool but had some nice touches such as its tiles and cutaways in the ceiling to reveal the underside of the bleachers. Although I was more rapide than most of the patrons, I placed myself among the moyen, where there was better lane etiquette.

training pool

Training pool

I got in a nice warm-up before this pool closed and we all shuffled over to the main event, the fully renovated competition pool. It’s looking and running great at 40! Cool temperature, crystal-clear water, a nice wall surface, skylights, motivational decor, a view of warm-ups for a diving competition, and my very own lane added up to a perfect swim experience.

25-meter lanes across the competition pool.

25-meter lanes across the competition pool

Banners tout the laurels of the aquatic facilities: 7 pools, more than 9 millions liters of water, and more than 40,000 dives and 1,000 water polo matches per year. With lap lanes open more than 80 hours per week, this is the place to be for Québécois swimmers.

After my swim, we watched a bit more diving–up to 10 meters! We didn’t make it to the exhibit of 40th anniversary Olympic exhibit due to rain and other sightseeing plans. Imagining the excitement was easy enough.

diving pool

Plongeons!

1 Comment »

Pool Power

sign: pool open until Sept. 11Attention, attention: Report to your nearest outdoor pool immediately. The Parks Department extended the outdoor pool season by a week–until Sunday, September 11–at all the big pools! Designated lap swim sessions ended last week, but many pools are empty enough for unimpeded laps during the regular hours. Enjoy!

As you soak in the ambiance, here is some food for thought. It is back-to-school season, after all.

  1. In Iceland, there are pool anthropologists who travel across the country to study pools for academic purposes. Many of their beautiful selections overlap with my own, but I clearly need to make a return trip–and consider a career change.
  2. In Australia, pools are so important to the national culture that they are the basis of the country’s Venice Architecture Biennale pavilion. Another return trip and career change possibility.
  3. It’s not just architects who are inspired by pools. Check out these artist-designed pool experiences. LA is now on my travel list as well.
Leave a comment »

#90 & #91: Eriksdalsbadet

empty pool

Eurogames competition pool. Photo by Janet.

Location: Skanstull, Stockholm

Configuration: Indoor 50 x 25- and 25 x 25-meter pools with lots and lots of lanes. More pools outdoors that I didn’t swim in.

Fee: 90 kronor for a regular visit, lots more for Eurogames meet entry

Dear Eriksdalsbadet,

Please accept my apology for taking so long–three months!–to write about your wonders. You have so much to offer. If only we had met under different circumstance, it would have been magical. Unfortunately, Eurogames got in our way.

highway over Eriksdalsbadet

Just like the highway above it, Eriksdalsbadet goes on and on. Hints of its nearly 100-year-old history as a swim site are scant.

It’s awesome that the tradition of swimming on your site goes back to the closed waterworks in the 1920s, although I wish there were more traces left from those days. Still, I get that the Swedish national team needed a cutting-edge training facility–and how exciting was it that your very own Sarah Sjöström was off in China breaking world records during our visit?! (Do your pros really like the water that warm? It sure got hot with the afternoon and then evening sun streaming in.)

I 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 to my team’s new sponsorship deal with Speedo, but I’m sure your infinity gutters, deep water, and normal ceiling played a role.

48500010

Speed slide (right) and lazy river slide.

The tiered showers in the locker room are a great idea–people’s heights vary, so why shouldn’t shower heights vary, too? I also really enjoyed the water slides, once they reopened after some undisclosed incident the first day. The split clock added a whole new dimension to our sliding. Try as I might, I could not break 9 seconds to match my teammates’ times on the fastest slide. Perhaps my technical suit was not optimized for this purpose?

Yonder outdoor pool and grassy lawn.

An early morning view of yonder 50-meter outdoor pool and giant grassy lawn, which all filled up with Stockholmers on these beautiful days.

How about the outdoor pools? I only made it as far as the lawn, since we’d been told that our meet entry did not cover the outdoor part of the complex and I was all pooled out anyway. The natives sure seemed to enjoy themselves out there–and the warm, sunny weather that came with us to Stockholm.

Of course, the competition was fierce. Our TNYA contingent alone was more than 80 swimmers, divers, and water polo players strong. The combination of many of my favorite people traveling to one my favorite places to participate in one of my favorite activities seemed like a guaranteed success.

25-meter pool

25-meter pool, used for warm-ups and cool-downs during our meet.

The lead-up to Eurogames–a major international competition that required signup months in advance and significant travel by most participants–should have given me pause. First the meet was going to be four days, then it switched to three. The registration site flummoxed some of my very intelligent teammates and me. (In fact, I almost got pulled from a couple events due to not having seed times with my entries. I thought I had entered times, mind you, and would have gladly provided them had anyone asked in the intervening months.) Important details such as the event schedule were scant and poorly communicated. All along, though, I reassured myself that everything would go off without a hitch in ever-so-organized Sweden. How organized? This is a place where all the bus stations have countdown clocks and the grocery store check-out conveyors are split by a chute so that a customer who is slow to gather her wares does not impede the person behind her in line. For example.

Smörgåsbord

I swam extra-hard in my 1500 so I wouldn’t be late for this smörgåsbord at my favorite building in Stockholm, Stadshuset. It was a model of efficiency, with hundreds of people enjoying Swedish delicacies and hospitality simultaneously. Photo by Janet.

Things went downhill as the meet drew near. Just a couple days before the start, the meet director realized that the time allocated was impossibly short given the number of competitors. How this was not clear from the data the moment registration closed is beyond me. The “solution” at this late stage was to drop the slowest and no-time entrants from all events and to limit options for distance freestyle swimmers such as myself. Many participants and teams raised a ruckus about these changes, given the long tradition of inclusion in our competitions, and so the schedule was changed yet again and all entrants were reinstated. The catch was that the meet would run loooong, a situation exacerbated by failure to implement various efficiencies such as fly-over starts. Also, the reconfigured schedule had the 800 and 1500 back-to-back. I decided that would be too much at the end of a loooong day so did just the 1500 with the consolation that my 800 split would be recorded. As far as I can tell, that did not happen.

In a different setting–a developing nation, or a culture less known for precision–I would have taken it all in stride. However, because I hold Sweden to such a high standard, because I wanted more free time to enjoy the rest of the city, and because 80 of my friends were watching and griping, the failures large and small were major disappointments.

But, like I said, you’re a nice pool. With a few months’ perspective, I’m clearly still frustrated that the experience could have been even better, but those are the breaks. There were plenty of highlights, and I’m very, very glad to have had the excuse to check out some new water, swim in a technical suit, and visit some old friends and old haunts along with one of Stockholm’s newest museums.

Next time, I’ll make sure that we have more quality time together (not quantity). Until then, thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

Hannah

11012813_10153667536549610_6677614293636979265_n_abba

Leave a comment »

Outdoor Season Preview

New York City’s outdoor pools open on Saturday. I’m looking forward to many of the same treats as last summer: home base at Thomas Jefferson Park Pool, omnipresent lap lanes and weekend food trucks in Red Hook, occasional social swims at Lasker Pool in Central Park, which was green earlier in the week but is enticingly blue now. I prefer early bird lap swim (starting July 6, 2015), and at other times I triple check that I have my lock so as to not get turned away by the pool staff. I can’t stress enough the importance of adhering to the Parks pool rules.
view to the High Bridge water tower
plaque about poolSo what’s new this season? A new way to get to Highbridge Park Pool, for one. New York City’s oldest bridge–built as an aqueduct in the mid-nineteenth century–the High Bridge is also the newest byway for pedestrians and cyclists, having just reopened after being off limits for more than 40 years. It’s beautiful and sure to help many Bronxites get to the pool in Manhattan. I’ve been turned away at Highbridge Park Pool due to arriving too close to closing time, and in fact I was also shooed off the bridge before closing time the other night, but I’ll try again this summer. I at least managed to visit the splashy Splash House (and meet the rec center’s orange tabby mouser-in-chief) during Open House New York last fall.

I thought we might have a longer pool season to celebrate, but it’s looking like just the beach season will be extended until mid-September. The beaches already open more than a month before the pools, so this change heightens the disparity. It’s too bad. I’ve certainly been known to swim at “closed” beaches, but a drained pool is a no-go.

Meanwhile, pools have been in the news of late due to a yet another racially charged, overpoliced situation in Texas. Jeff Wiltse’s Contested Waters documents the changing norms around pool use and shows how pool segregation became completely commonplace, setting the stage for exactly this type of incident. One of this blog’s followers also recommends a children’s book relating to pool discrimination experienced by Olympic gold medalist Sammy Lee, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, and I plan to check that out.

Mindful of this troubled history and the contemporary situation, what can we do to ensure that pools are welcoming to all? Use them! While there, be sure to thank the staff, politely heed the regulations (provided they are reasonable and fairly enforced), and swim with, play with, and chat with people whose skin color is different from your own.


4 Comments »

Rest Break: International Swimming Hall of Fame

The 50-year-old International Swimming Hall omuseum buildingf Fame has long been a must for any visit to Fort Lauderdale. Aquatics are on a pedestal in this collection that is part historic, part fine art, and part kitsch. John and I explored the museum the day after his birthday swim.

ISHOF entry ticket for twoThere are many points of entry to the collections. Whether you are interested in competition and records across all aquatics disciplines, swim technology and gear, civil rights, gender equality, swim history, notable figures, fine art, or memorabilia, you will find plenty to enjoy here. One of my favorite Ederle displaydisplays includes Gertrude Ederle’s self-fashioned bikini and memorabilia from her return to New York after her record-breaking swim across the English Channel. Videos of great moments in Olympic competition are always fun to watch, too.

If I were to make any suggestions, it would be to add modernizations such as video touch screens and an interactive database of Hall of Fame inductees, especially to engage with all the young swimmers who find their way here. A bit more selectivity in what makes it onto display would also help. (USMS pin collection: I’d nix you.) Finally, the “international” angle feels half-baked. Why not be an unabashed booster of U.S. swimming?

Unfortunately, Fort Lauderdale has become disenamored of this trove, so the Hall is being wooed across the country to Santa Clara, California, where it may set up in temporary quarters as soon as this summer. During my visit back in March, it seemed that a decision on when to pull the plug was imminent, but nothing is set as of yet, and there are still some working to keep the collection in Fort Lauderdale. The loss would be not just Florida’s but the whole East Coast’s, as the balance of power in swimming tips ever westward.

sandwich board

Leave a comment »

#85 and 86: Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex

original pool, diving tower, and Hall of FameLocation: Fort Lauderdale Beach, Florida

Configuration: 2 50-meter pools, one set up long course with 10 lanes, the other short course (25) yards with 20 lanes

Fee: $5 nonresident day pass

Fort Lauderdale is where I crossed the line from recreational pool user to addict. It took multiple exposures for the addiction to set in, and now the responsible pools are endangered, a troublesome development for this junkie.

My first visit here was inauspicious. It was January 1993, and my college team drove down in a van from Connecticut, leaving behind our new 50-meter indoor pool to cram workouts into a single lane alongside dozens of other northeastern teams. We stayed somewhere inland, equally crowded, and had to jog to and from the pool complex. I don’t remember much else about the trip except toasting my 21st birthday at the Elbo Room. Driving, running, cramped swim conditions, and an infamous beach bar–not much to like there.

You know you're at swim camp when your hotel room looks like this.

You know you’re at Swim Camp when your hotel room looks like this (2007).

Fort Lauderdale redeemed itself on my second visit, in 2007, for my team’s annual Swim Camp. Wisely avoiding the crush of collegiate teams, TNYA plans its camp for early spring, when the cold in New York has gone on far too long and Florida is all but guaranteed to be warm and sunny. We took over a full pool for some workouts and joined in with the Fort Lauderdale team for others, practicing twice per day and leaving ample time for eating, socializing, and lazing on the beach. It was bliss, solidifying many friendships and setting me up for a great summer of open water. Ever since then, pretty much all I’ve wanted to do is swim outdoors.

The next year was more of the same, but with three practices a day since my addiction had festered and I was training for the Manhattan swim. Two other people on the trip were, too, and we’d have a whole pool to ourselves as the sun came up over the ocean, silhouetting the palm trees visible out front. I was so focused that I doubt I traveled more than a quarter-mile from the pool except during an ocean swim. The pool, the smoothie place, the pool, the breakfast place, the beach, the pool, the Greek place, repeat.

Since then, my schedule has unfortunately precluded a repeat trip with TNYA. One year, Piezy and I found a different camp at a different  pool that worked with our schedules, so we spent a week swimming and biking through other parts of Fort Lauderdale with some beach visits thrown in. Once again, a fantastic trip. Other years, I’ve gone farther afield in search of fixes–Walnut Creek, Panama City, Australia–but have always craved a return to the simple, swim-centric life in Fort Lauderdale.

The place that facilitated my obsession–then the Swimming Hall of Fame, now the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex–is on life support. As I write, TNYA’s Swim Camp is taking place in Miami for the first time due to constant threats of closure at Fort Lauderdale. Once again, the timing wasn’t good for me anyway, so I was extra glad to make a trip two weekends ago for my friend John’s birthday. He and I have shared many swim and bike adventures, but his job has taken him out of New York, and I was glad to have the chance to catch up.

the view from the west
With that long-winded lead-up, let me tell you about the pools. Not since Stanford had I seen so much sparkling pool water. The complex has two deep-water 50-meter lap pools perpendicular to each other with a diving pool off the end to the west (in the foreground, above). Although I’ve seen different configurations previously, the present lane setup is all east-west: short-course yards in one pool and long-course meters in the other. Visible from the whole complex, not to mention from the Intracoastal Waterway and the Las Olas Bridge, is a gigantic digital clock, perfectly synched with smaller digital clocks at strategic poolside locations. A giant set of bleachers along the north side makes clear that competitions here can draw an audience, however, the bleachers were condemned in 2011 and are blocked off.

Me and John after the big birthday swim. Are these people really in their 40s?!

Me and John after his birthday swim, looking not a day over 39.

John chose to celebrate his entry into Club 40 by swimming for four-plus hours under the blazing sun in the west pool. He churned out 40 reps of 400 long-course meters while I did a mix of 350s and 300s on the same interval. This being Florida, we each had our own lane the entire time, and when John’s sister and another friend joined us, they got their own lanes. In between reps, I was able to watch some synchro diving practice over yonder.

Approaching 50 years old, the pool has some rough patches. Its lanes are narrow by today’s standards, and there are no infinity gutters, super-high dive towers, or other now-common enhancements. As I tired, I actually hallucinated that some of the blobs of exposed concrete on the bottom were creatures swimming into my lane. (I thought I hallucinated the smell of donuts, too, but that turned out to be legit, wafting over from brunch at the restaurant next door.) I am unsure of the purpose of the weighted cones lurking underwater. John felt currents from the vents, and I’d like to be able to blame them for my occasional run-ins with the lane line, but it’s more likely that faulty technique and a propensity to circle swim were to blame.

short-course poolThe next day we returned for a less taxing swim, and I opted for the other pool for the sake of this blog. It is closer to the street and set up with an endless array of lanes the short, 25-yard way across. The water was ever so slightly cooler in that one, although it’s supposed to be the other way around. Not only did I have my own lane, but I was several lanes away from any other swimmer.

After both swims, I luxuriated in the on-deck shower and then changed in the spacious locker rooms. Though worn, the rows of lockers, sinks, and showers attest to the numbers of swimmers this place can support.

How did this pool paradise come about? Its predecessor was the 50-meter Las Olas Beach and Casino Pool, saltwater, built in 1928 a a short distance north. Soon discovered by northern swim coaches, it became such a popular training and competition destination that it is credited with (or blamed for) starting the Spring Break phenomenon. In the 1960s, that pool was demolished to make way for new development, so a new pool and swim museum were built on nearby public land/infill. The complex expanded to its current configuration in the early 1990s with the second training pool and distinctive, wave-shaped edifice added then. Originally run together as the nonprofit International Swimming Hall of Fame, the pools are now managed by the municipality while the museum remains distinct. (More on the museum in a future post, and in the meantime see its comprehensive history of the complex.)

record boardThe one-time prominence of the facility is clear–see the record board boasting the likes of Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin, picture the bleachers filled with crowds, the results on display on the giant clock, the light towers keeping the action going long after dark. However, its age is apparent, too. I love that the spots in Fort Lauderdale I got to know in 2007 are almost all still alive, but the reality is that the city and southern Florida have changed tremendously since the 1960s and even since the 2000s. Yachting has become a mega business, and 50-meter pools are no longer a commodity. There is a contingent that would love to get out of the pool business and have a giant parking lot and expanded marina instead.

the clock from Las Olas Bridge

The pace clock, peeking out among the yachts, is readable from far beyond the pool.

Gloom-and-doom predictions of closure have grown stronger the past few years. Everyone agrees that new construction will be expensive, but there are gaping differences of opinion regarding what exactly should be constructed, how much it will cost, how much the city can afford, and whether the deed requires a pool on site. (Diving pool on top of parking garage, anyone?) The museum, meanwhile, has found a welcoming new home in Santa Clara, California, but its moving date remains elusive. When John and I visited, there was much anticipation of a meeting that was scheduled for the day after I left, however, I can’t seem to find any reports of the outcome.

All this to say, you should probably visit the pool soon. No matter how nice any replacement pool may be, it won’t have the authenticity of the place that made me the addict I am today.

2 Comments »

Officially Summer

lap swim 30th birthday cakeIt’s swim time! New York City’s outdoor pools open tomorrow, and the weather couldn’t be more cooperative. Expect tens of thousands of cool, happy people drip-drying throughout the boroughs all weekend.

We 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 or Sunset Park. Just be sure to know and follow the rules, lest you be denied entry to pool paradise for lacking a lock or liner.

I took this opportunity to register for adult lap swim at a bunch of pools to give myself added motivation for pool tourism. Registration is instantaneous and free if a bit cumbersome. Should you wish to register for six pools, for example, you will have to type in your name twelve times. It’s worth it. Be sure to check the box for award eligibility so that you can earn an invitation to the annual awards dinner, which is a veritable poolapalooza.

me in a giant empty pool“New” pools I hope to hit this season include WPA gems Astoria Park Pool in Queens and Lyons Pool in Staten Island. My usual summer routine of mornings at John Jay Park has to change due to a new job location and schedule, so I may become more of a regular in Central Park’s Lasker Pool or East Harlem’s Thomas Jefferson Park Pool.

Here for good measure, are a few more possibilities to whet your appetite: Jackie Robinson, Asser Levy, and Hamilton Fish in Manhattan and the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park and of course lake Crotona Park Pool (pictured at left).

Even before it’s begun, pool season is passing too quickly, so get out there and enjoy immediately.

9 Comments »

Thoughts About Swimming in Australia

me with the Aussie flag towel by the fast laneI’ve been back in the New York winter for more than a month now and wanted to get down some final observations before they completely escape me. Overall, my simple advice to anyone contemplating a swim trip to Australia is go. You’ll pick up the lingo, adapt to swimming on the left, and fall in love with the swim culture in no time.

Their pools are made for swimming. Wide lanes, taught lane lines, clear markings on the bottom, built-in start blocks, backstroke flags, pace clocks, clean water . . . the pools I visited were all wonderfully suited for lap swimmers. Many even had wave-reducing gutters and competition walls. If only the lane designations (for example, “fast, no breaststroke”) were heeded by swimmers or enforced by lifeguards, it would have been just about perfect, but that breach of etiquette proved a minor nuisance given the lack of crowding.

As locals tell it, the pool movement dates to Melbourne’s winning bid to host the 1956 Olympic Games–not only Australia’s first Olympics, but the first time the Games graced the entire Southern Hemisphere. Towns across the continent embraced the spirit by building their own competition-ready pools, and when they say “Olympic-sized,” they do in fact mean 50 meters. I could have racked up many more blog-worthy pools given the time.

Sydney pool signGood design extends beyond the pool. In Sydney especially, I was impressed by the design in and around the pools. The signage and literature were consistent in look and feel and utility not only from pool to pool but throughout the whole city. I was rarely confused about where to go or how to get there (MSAC being the glaring exception), rules, or use of facilities. It was lovely. Meanwhile, water conservation is an important consideration, with pool covers, recirculation systems, cogeneration plants, and timed showers all helping to reduce energy water usage.

Which came first, the pool or the café? There is still a visible enthusiasm for building and maintaining community pools, but they sometimes seem to be just an excuse for a café. Aussies take their coffee seriously–and frequently. At beaches and pools alike, they don’t like to be far from the next cuppa joe.

Bring your own toys, and leave your lock at home. Accessories such as kickboards and pull buoys were not commonly available, so people toted their own. For a suit spinner, you’re out of luck. Meanwhile, the one thing I did bring to every pool–my combination lock–never saw use. Almost everywhere, lockers were a revenue stream that required renting a key or purchasing time via a machine. Plus, they were usually on or near the pool deck rather than in the locker change rooms. I prefer the US system on both counts.

find the lifeguardIt’s all good. People were remarkably relaxed about pool entry and use. No full-body scrubdowns as in Iceland, no full-body searches for contraband as at NYC outdoor pools, no restrictions on food, photos, or other fun activities.

The lifeguards lack chairs (and therefore weren’t sleeping and texting) and were fully attired in shorts, polo shirts, hats, shoes, and walkie-talkies–seemingly more ready to go deliver a package than dive in for a rescue. Amazingly, the beaches were staffed with volunteer lifeguard corps only, except for the pros in Bondi, and there seemed to be a lot of local fundraising for these surf rescue squads’ equipment and clubhouses.

I’ve seen a lot of superfast Aussie swimmers in my day, and I was worried about being left in the wake of the whole country, but the breadth of abilities I encountered was more or less like what I see in New York. Jo told me that swimming is no longer compulsory in the schools, so Australia’s aquatic edge may slowly start to fade.

Bondi Icebergs club and beach viewWaterfront privatization OK if it’s been going on long enough. Much as I loved the sea baths, I’m not comfortable with the practice of turning over a stretch of waterfront to a private operation that restricts access and charges admission. Shark protection may have something to do with this, but history was the stronger force. Many sea baths were built on sites used for bathing and fishing by Aborigines, and those that survived to the present became beloved landmarks for the newer settlers–excluding Aborigines until relatively recently.

Pools should be free. If I could change one thing about Australia’s outdoor pools, it would be to make them free. We are spoiled in that regard here in New York, and I’ve come to regard outdoor pool entry fees as an unfair shakedown. At the very least, I would suggest that a municipality’s pools have a standard rate and a multi-pass, sort of like mass transit, the perfect ticket for this pool-rich, tourist-heavy country.

3 Comments »