40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Cal Legends Aquatic Center

pool view through front door

My recent visit to the Bay Area did not include a swim in one of its newest pools, Cal Legends Aquatic Center. It’s unavailable to the likes of me, being reserved for the sole use of UC Berkeley’s renowned intercollegiate aquatics programs. The Golden Bears were constrained at the workmanlike Spieker pool, so a group of alumni up and bought the land for “more water,” had it built, and donated it to the college. How’s that for being true to your school?

I came by early on a Saturday morning to peer in through the fence at the year-old facility. The boxed-in setting is so similar to Spieker that I thought I might be in the wrong place, but the new diving tower is the giveaway. No more do Cal divers have to travel to Palo Alto to practice their high dives.

A group of women were nervously huddled on the highest platform, jumping one by one, so I’m convinced I was lucky enough to see varsity swimmers or fledgling recruits.

Meanwhile, Spieker and Cal’s other pools–Hearst, Golden Bear, and Strawberry Canyon–remain open to the rest of the community. Sources tell me that it may be possible to get into Legends if the other pools have to close unexpectedly, something not uncommon based on my experiences trying to swim at Cal, but in that case you get the water only and not the heated locker rooms and hot tub. (If any pool closures happen during my visits, I hereby plead the Fifth.)

As a staunch supporter of public education, I was glad to see that Cal beat the Cardinal team last year (in the Spieker pool no less). That said, I do find Stanford’s facility to be much more inspiring even than this new pool. Perhaps getting past the chain-link fence would change my mind.

pool view through the fence

Are those varsity swimmers up on the tower?

pool view through the fence

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#39: Oceana at Brighton Beach

Oceana shrubberyLocation: Brighton Beach, Brooklyn

Configuration: 5 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: $15 weekday guest fee with resident (rising to $30 on weekends)

Fees to Date: $181.74

This is the true story of a dream encounter that came about thanks to the Internet and a little help from my friends. The in-person meeting revealed a pool that perhaps did not quite live up to my grand expectations, but we had an enjoyable evening together nonetheless.

Hannah, Tim, pool

Me and Tim with the pool in the background.

The pool is Oceana at Brighton Beach, which you may recall me coveting back in February. It’s across the street from the Shorefront Y and backs up to the beach in a condo complex that counts Olympic backstroker Lenny Krayzelburg among its residents. From the aerial photo and beachside rumors, I convinced myself that it was enormous and that Lenny would be giving pointers from the deck.

My opportunity to visit came thanks to my friend and fellow birthday-goal-setter Christopher, who happened to meet an Oceana resident named Tim while swimming at the beach. Christopher put us in touch, and Tim was more than happy to oblige. The only catch was his limited time left at Oceana, as he is moving to the Midwest after eight years in residence, so I cajoled a friend into joining me and hurried out to visit him and his pool. The visitor fee of $15 is high for this miserly pool tourist, but after this offer landed in my lap, how could I refuse?

men clean for women, women clean for menJohn and I arrived about an hour before closing last Wednesday evening and were immediately struck by the topiary (see above). The complex had a real community feel, with flowers abloom in neatly trimmed patches everywhere you looked, kids zipping about on bikes, and people socializing on the front stoops.

Tim brought us over to sign in at the clubhouse, where we scratched our heads over the locker room notice. There must be a reason for the mixed-gender cleaning schedule, but we’re not sure what it is. At any rate, the locker rooms were quite clean, with showers among the tallest I’ve seen.

Finally, the pool I coveted for so long was within reach! Tim injected a dose of reality into my dreams, letting us know that the size was just 25 yards and that Lenny is elusive. Further, he advised, “There is one lonely lap lane and common obstacles are kids and ladies with an amazing talent . . . they are able to slowly dog paddle while floating completely upright and without wetting their hair.” All of this turned out to be true, but it was nice to finally get to swim there nonetheless.

Oceana at closing timeBehold, the pool. It’s got a circular shallow end with underwater stadium seating, a separate wading pool, a separate fountain, and a decent swim area. Upon beginning to swim, I discovered white-tiled lane markings on the bottom, a nice surprise that’s not visible from out of the water. While we were joined by a backstroker part of the time, I’m sorry to report that he was not Lenny. We also had the good company of a very young swimmer enthusiastically working on her butterfly–an inspiration to yours truly. People were friendly and relaxed, with pool-goers of all ages enjoying the scene, and we even had a nice chit-chat with a resident Realtor who’d noticed our telltale visitor wristbands. By all reports, Oceana is a lovely place to live.

Oceana indoor poolWhen the pool closed at 8:00 p.m., the gate to the beach closed too, so we peered at the ocean from afar. The next stop was the attractive indoor pool, for sightseeing only, before leaving to explore more of Brooklyn’s culinary delights at a restaurant I’d been coveting with equal fervor. It was quite a fun evening and also a good example of how willpower can make dreams come true.


Pools I Covet: High Line Pool

I didn’t expect the new book about the High Line to contain pool-related material, but it turns out that Nathalie Rinnie of Austria envisioned the elevated rail structure as a mile-and-a-half-long, highly covetable lap pool in her submission for a 2003 ideas competition. Her proposal would have striped black lines on the bottom and filled the structure with water, allowing for an incredible swim above, alongside, and through buildings in Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. Wow. Just walking the High Line provides such a new and different perspective. Can you imagine swimming it?!

Out of 720 entries in the conceptual competition, which was run when demolition was still a threat, this was one of four winners, and it remains the favorite of one of the two founders of Friends of the High Line. (Click through to see the birthday-suit clad swimmer who added to the proposal’s appeal.) Since then the organization not only succeeded in preserving the High Line but managed the process of turning it into a beautiful and popular promenade and park.

The northernmost section, which sweeps dramatically over toward the Hudson, remains unfinished, so I’ll hold out hope that at least a portion of it could be turned into a pool. It would have to be a lap pool (rather than a wading pool or Dumpster pool) so that you could swim along with your head at water level and take in the views to either side. I can’t think of any greater incentive for people to practice bilateral breathing. A pool shorter than the full length of the line would have a particular benefit for me as well, because of my self-imposed requirement to swim two lengths of butterfly in every pool workout. A mile of fly sounds impossible, but I would work at it if only this pool were real.


Pools I Covet: Dutchess County YMCA

Poughkeepsie YMCA site availableWith the Poughkeepsie Middle School pool out of commission for a few months due to repairs and upgrades, the City of Poughkeepsie (pop. 37,000+) is now without a 25-yard pool. The other 25-yard pool from my youth, a YMCA downtown, closed in January 2009 and is pretty much blight at this point. Initial reports that a church group might take over the facility did not pan out, so it sits there empty. Makes me sad every time I pass it.

I could walk to that Y through my neighbors’ backyard, and often did for swim practice and other activities. It had your basic 25-yard, 6-lane pool. Prior to when I could walk there on my own, I attended various Red Cross swim programs, gym-and-swim, and even play group. I remember going to my brother’s gym-and-swim class too. It was definitely a well-used community fixture.

I hope that someone finds a way to return it to use.


Pools I Covet: + Pool

+ Pool

Image by pluspool.org.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, it was common for New Yorkers to take to the rivers to “bathe” or cool off. To allow people to enjoy the water but prevent them from drifting away in the tidal currents, large floating containers were devised. Several million people took advantage of these some summers, before river water fell out of favor due to pollution and the rise of indoor bathhouses and pools such as Met Pool. The story of these pools is fascinating; check it out [PDF]!

Starting in summer 2007, New Yorkers could enjoy a floating pool once again, thanks to the work of Ann Buttenweiser and the Neptune Foundation. The new pool, filled with chlorinated fresh water rather than drawing from the rivers, floated first in Brooklyn, then the Bronx. I visited it in both locations and plan to return this summer wherever it turns up. It’s the only one of its kind, which is a shame.

Drawing on this work, some young local architects have conceptualized a next-generation floating pool using river water and called + Pool. (Get it? It’s shaped like a plus sign.) They’d love to build it and plunk it down in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and then I’d love to go for a swim there. They’ve been testing some cool ideas about filtration, and the design would accommodate a variety of uses and users–lap swimmers, waders/splashers, and loungers. (Not enough lap swimmers, if you ask me.)

Since the pool does not yet exist, I’m just coveting it right now. Please join me in following the progress and helping these guys will the pool into existence.

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Pools I Covet: Oceana at Brighton Beach

As should be clear by now, if you invite me to a pool, you can expect me to eventually turn up with swimsuit in tow, ready to swim with you. Pools make it onto my suggestion list because I have every intention of swimming in them some day. Even if they are in Australia.

Another category of pool is becoming apparent as this project progresses, however. That is the coveted pool–the pool I want to swim in but am not invited to, or that does not actually exist at present, whether because it’s out of commission or not yet built. With the hope that the interwebs may be able to make some pool dreams come true, I am going to post some of my deep, dark, secretly coveted locations.

Behold, Oceana at Brighton Beach, a large outdoor pool that I have never seen in person, even though I swim in the namesake ocean across the boardwalk quite often. Janet alerted me to the rumored existence of a large private pool here a couple years ago, and sure enough I spied it on Google Earth and was able to figure out what development it was attached to with a bit more digging. Further rumors suggest that Lenny Krayzelburg lives in an Oceana condo, and that the pool is 50 meters. If you look closely you can see the suggestion of lines on the bottom. Wouldn’t it be lovely to swim there come summer?!

We have friended Lenny on Facebook along with the Shorefront Y, where he has a swim academy, but so far no pool party invitations have been forthcoming. (If you would like to enlist your swim school-age child in this quest, please be in touch.) Meanwhile, we keep swimming in the ocean and hoping that wicked backstroker breezes by.