40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Hafnarfjörður, Iceland

Amanda’s summer 2017 return visit to Iceland brought her to many Westfjords pools, which you can check out in her photo essay. Herein, she tackles Reykjavík, site of some of our previous exploits. Due to the “no photography” policy posted at all of these pools, she’s listed links to the websites for the facilities, which include images. The photographs below are hers. 

After a spectacular road trip around the Westfjords, we ended our 2017 Icelandic vacation with several days in and around Reykjavík, which in turn provided opportunities to visit a few more pools. My first stop was a return to Laugardalslaug, site of the IGLA Championships in 2012 that first brought me to Iceland. Unsurprisingly on a beautiful summer day, the outdoor pools and hot pots were crowded, but I had the indoor pool essentially to myself and enjoyed a nice long-course workout. I thought that the sight guides on the ceiling were a new addition, but photographic evidence from this blog proves me wrong. Nonetheless, swimming backstroke here remains a challenge. Most importantly, we did not leave the complex without a joyous trip down the waterslide, which was just as much fun as I remembered.

We spent a few lazy days at our friends’ summer house in the village of Borg, about one hour east of Reykjavík. Borg’s swimming pool is connected to an athletic complex featuring a gym, soccer fields, basketball courts, and a playground. Our 1000kr (US$9.30) entry fee gave us access to 4x25m outdoor lanes, one designated for lap swimming, two hot pots, a kiddie pool, and a basic (especially compared to the one at Laugardalslaug) waterslide. I found this pool unremarkable except for an epic meltdown by a young girl in the locker room, complete with crying, screaming, and the slamming of bathroom doors.

spectacularly blue waterfall

The spectacularly blue Brúarfoss, found not far from Borg.

What I did find remarkable was a pool in the quaint Reykjavík suburb of Hafnarfjörður, a picturesque harbor town and the third-largest city in Iceland, with 30,000 inhabitants. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Hafnarfjörður is that it is essentially built into the lava, with its well-kept houses, yards, and streets nestled carefully among hardened lava flows.

flowers

Some landscaping among the lava flows in Hafnarfjörður.

The city of Hafnarfjörður boasts three swimming facilities. We visited one: Suðurbæjarlaug. The 1100kr (US$10.25) entry fee included towel rental, which was convenient because we had walked there from where we were staying in Garðabær. The swimming facility is edged by a beautiful dark wood-paneled building, with a 5x25m outdoor pool with marked and roped lane lines for lap swimming connected to a smaller open swimming area. This large pool is also connected to an indoor pool, separated by a wall above the water, so you could swim under the wall and into the indoor section. It must be terribly convenient on rainy or snowy winter days.

At most of the pools we visited in Iceland, if anyone was using the designated lap-swimming lane it was usually only to swim a few leisurely laps before retreating to one of the hot pots. Suðurbæjarlaug was the only pool where I saw several serious lap swimmers with caps, goggles, and “toys” like fins and kickboards. There are also starting blocks, so my guess is that this is regularly used as a competition pool. As much as I enjoyed coming across this ideal set-up for swimming proper sets, I tried to keep my workout short so as not to get in the way of the locals.

The outdoor area at Suðurbæjarlaug also featured three hot pots and a cold pot, a kiddie pool, two waterslides, a steam room, as well as gender-specific nude steam rooms. The main locker room was spacious with full-size lockers, mirrors, and hair dryers. But one of my favorite features was the open-air locker room. When it’s available, I always opt for an outdoor shower. There is something especially pleasing about showering with an open sky above you. The presence of a neighborhood swimming facility like Suðurbæjarlaug makes it easy to understand why Iceland repeatedly ranks high in happiness measures.

A lovely street in Hafnarfjörður

A lovely street in Hafnarfjörður.

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#98: Richmond Plunge

full length of pool

Location: Richmond, California

Configuration: 8 lanes of 25 yards plus shorter shallow lanes

Fee: $6 for non-residents

I thought I’d found pool heaven at Hansborough in Harlem, but it turns out that there is an even bigger, more light-filled pool paradise across the bay from San Francisco in Richmond, California. It’s the Richmond Plunge, which I visited on a sunny September Friday morning with local pool blogger Dave, who is a regular here on weekends. What a treat!

exterior with MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM sing

If only NYC’s Riverbank State Park had been built 70 years earlier, it might be showier, like this. The tunnel to the left leads to Keller Beach.

I’ve been unable to find an exact definition of this sense of “plunge,” but it seems to imply a cavernous, indoor, public pool built in the first half of the twentieth century, for both swimming and socializing, and situated near the California coast and likely near a train, too. The Richmond Plunge, opened in this bustling port and railroad town in 1926, ticks all these boxes. In fact, I first saw the building on my last trip to California, on the way to Keller Beach.

We had to wait a while out front for the pool to open due to a late lifeguard, something all too familiar to Riverbank swimmers a few years ago. The regulars who were gathered were reminiscent of Riverbank, too–a diverse slice of local life–making me speculate that perhaps my public pool of choice would have turned out like this if only it had been built 70 years earlier.

high ceiling above pool

How about that natural light and fresh air?

Once inside, I changed in the vintage locker room and paced the deck to fully take in the marvelous structure. The lights weren’t even turned on, all the better to appreciate the beams of sunshine streaming in from the east through windows that actually open.

The north half of the pool was set up with 8 x 25-yard lanes, and it was uncrowded enough that circle swimming wasn’t necessary. There was shorter-distance lap swimming without lane lines in the other end. The water had a silky quality due to the saline treatment system that was installed during a major renovation/rebuilding earlier this decade and is touted for its environmental sensitivity.

The San Francisco Bay Trail is adding new travel and recreational options for the area, which is part of a historic district in a town that’s seen some rough times. Anchored by this exemplary public amenity, and with a number of parks, museums, and historic sites nearby, Richmond and its plunge seem to have a bright future in store. I certainly hope to be back, especially now that my count of nearby nephews has doubled.

women's locker room windows

Simple yet classy locker rooms.

mural

This mural, based on a nearby park, was added during the recent renovation.

Hannah and Dave

Thanks to Dave for facilitating this pool visit.

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#68: Boy Charlton Pool

Boy Charlton lap pool

Location: Woolloomooloo Bay, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Configuration: 8 lanes x 50 meters

Fee: AUD6

The Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool’s brochure says exactly what I would: “Set on the shores of Woolloomooloo Bay [I just like typing that] near the Royal Botanic Gardens, this beautiful outdoor pool offers breathtaking views of Sydney Harbour and provides a tranquil environment for swimming, relaxation and socialising at the cafe.”

view from locker room level

The location has been a swimming hole for millennia according to a sign at the entrance, so perhaps this is my oldest pool? The modern-day facility was built in place of baths in 1968 and reopened after renovations in 2002. Its name comes from an Australian swimmer from Manly who broke records at this location in the 1920s en route to Olympic gold.

My swim here was the longest to date in an Aussie pool, since the training schedule of my pool buddy Frankie called for 40 x 100s with :20 seconds rest. This gave me plenty of time to drink and look around and also kicked my swimming into a higher gear than I’ve mustered otherwise. Although it was a very hot morning, the water was refreshingly cool, and the hundreds ticked by quickly. I loved the views of the docks across the bay and the skyline behind the park; you are at once in the thick of things and at a pleasant remove. The views in the water were quite nice too–this pool has the best-looking swimmers of all those I’ve visited in Sydney.

My only complaint is that the water was terribly salty–“an unpleasant mix of sea water and chlorine” as a local contact described it. I sipped freshwater from my bottle throughout the swim, but it still took most of the day before my mouth returned to normal.

caballeras

The change rooms were pleasantly breezy due to small gaps at the base and louvered walls. When on my way to the shower, I accidentally knocked my hairbrush out of my bag and before I knew it it had hit the gutter and bounced overboard into the harbor. Oops.

The salt could well have been a ploy to attract visitors to the Poolside Café for smoothies, not that it needed any tricks. Overlooking pool, bay, and gardens, and offering delicious food plus loaner sombreros, it was a lovely post-swim stop.

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#67: Prince Alfred Park Pool

view from the deep endLocation: Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Configuration: 9 lanes x 50 meters

Fee: AUD5.70

New Year’s Eve in Australia has much in common with the Fourth of July: people barbecue, look forward to fireworks, and head to pools and beaches to cool off. Thus, it amazed me that we were able to have our own 50-meter lap lane at the gorgeous, newly rehabbed Prince Alfred Park Pool right by the Central Station in downtown Sydney.

pool entryway hill

Reopened this past October, this outdoor pool has all-new change rooms, kiddie pool, and stands. The pool itself dates to 1958 but was completely refurbished. I found the whole thing to be reminiscent of the reopened-in-2012 McCarren Park Pool, only without the crowds and police.

The approach to the pool is cleverly marked by a hill of native meadow grasses that doubles as green roof for the change rooms. A cafe selling artisanal popsicles and other temptations is on the other side, right by the entrance. On the deck, rows of yellow umbrellas atop wide wood bleachers make for a bright, festive feel, and there is plenty of room to spread out. Behind the deep end, there’s a grassy area with lawn chairs and shade trees.

change roomsThe change rooms also got primo design treatment–dark wood and concrete juxtaposed with blue terrazzo stalls. Natural light pours in through a giant skylight cut into the hilltop and open-air vents, again reminding me of McCarren. Other contemporary considerations include the use of recycled stormwater in the toilets and water-saving fixtures in the showers. Alas, no lockers in here–you have to pay extra for those out on deck.

Swimming here was wonderful. The lightly chemicaled freshwater was sparkly clear and a pleasant contrast to the hot day. Two lanes accommodated playing and the rest of the pool was for us lap swimmers, which I found nothing short of miraculous on this holiday eve. In winter, sources tell me, the pool covers come off and the steam rises, making for a surreal swim experience.

Since reopening, the pool and park have won design awards. The true testament to the success was all the happy people, young and old, making the most of the summer day.

Frankie, Jo, Hannah

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#62: Hostos Community College Pool

Hostos Caiman logoLocation: South Bronx, New York

Configuration: 6 lanes x 25 yards

Fee: $13.33 TNYA drop-in

Ever resourceful and adventurous, my team recently added an outpost in the Bronx: Hostos Community College. This change, made because the City College pool is likely to remain closed the entire school year, reflects both the beauty and frustrations of the City University system–the former being that so many of the campuses have pools, the latter how poorly they are maintained.

shallow end

Happily, the Hostos pool is a worthy substitute for my beloved City College, with six lanes of sparkling clear water. It dates to just 1994, when the school’s East Academic Complex was built, and recently underwent renovation, so we can hope that it still has many good years ahead. Moreover, for many of my teammates, it’s easier to get to than City College despite being across a borough line, because it is on the same block as an express subway station. Arriving via bike, I was glad that the location is just a few blocks from the 145th Street Bridge.

We had a good turnout the night of my debut swim there, last Thursday, with Coach Scott at the helm. Pool pals Janet, Audrey, and I shared a lane going on the same intervals as the boys next door. Could the water have been cooler? Yes. Better pH-balanced? Definitely. Would I go back? Of course. Can you swim here? Only with my team or if you have a Hostos affiliation, as far as I can tell.

suck it in

What’s up with the alligator on the wall, you may wonder. I thought it may have been a reference to the mythical alligators in the sewers of New York, something best not to dwell on when in a pool connected to said system. However, it turns out that the logo depicts a caiman, which became the school’s mascot in 2002.

The locker room had more lockers per square foot than I’ve ever seen, a feat accomplished by a great slimming down of usual locker dimensions. It took some muscle to get my bag jammed into the locker, and even more to get it out again later. The ratio of showers to lockers is rather skewed. Of the three showers, only one had a handle, making it the only one we could use. Next time, bring a vice grip.

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#61: Dwight School Athletic Center Pool

Dwight School pool deep end

Photo courtesy Bob Nelson.

Location: East Harlem, Manhattan

Configuration: 6 lanes x 25 yards

Fee: $10.25 with TNYA subscription

Because the City College pool has been out of service for an extended period of time, my ever-resourceful team has added yet another venue to its schedule: the Dwight School Athletic Center. Ever curious, I checked it out last Thursday evening. Rental fees are high, so we had just three lanes for an hour-long workout with Coach Matt, even though no one else was using the other three lanes. It was lovely.

locker roomThis feels like a new pool. It’s sparkling clean and so freshly painted that you can practically smell it. All the latest pool toys are available, there is an on-deck shower and water fountain, and the locker room has plenty of space and pleasantly tall showers. The water is a deep, twilighty blue.

Amazingly, this “new” pool is about my age. It was built in the 1970s for 1199 Plaza, aka East River Landing, an affordable coop development with more than 1,500 apartments. A renovation in the 1990s didn’t have lasting effects, but this recent renovation is part of a 20-year agreement inaugurated earlier this year with the Dwight School, an Upper West Side private school in need of athletic space for its students to develop their individual “spark of genius.” Tennis, volleyball, and basketball are some of the other sporting possibilities here. There are also fee-based community hours, including lap swimming daily from 7:00 to 10:00 a.m.

pool rulesSome have surmised that the cleanliness is due to lack of use. Certainly my sole visit showed nothing to the contrary. It is, however, worth noting the extensive pool rules, the most emphatic of which–in all caps, mid-sign–mandates rubber pants (?) for all children under four. Swim caps are required for all as well. Perplexingly for this underground location, if there is lightning, the pool closes for half an hour.

doorwayAnother perk is the location just a mile up the street from me. Like the nearby Thomas Jefferson Park Pool, the means of entrance is not immediately obvious from the street, but if you walk off the street into the complex, between two buildings, you’ll see the sign.

We’ll find out this week if the City College pool is reopening. While I hope to see that pool back online, and to resume one-and-a-half hour evening workouts, I do encourage a visit to this pool while we have it.

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#58: Reebok Sports Club Pool

Reebok Club pool

Photo by Reebok Sports Club.

Location: Upper West Side, Manhattan

Configuration: 3 1/2 lanes x 25 yards

Fee: I don’t even want to know, but there are ways in.

I’ve been slow to share my review of this pool because I still can’t believe my good fortune. I became a member of the Reebok Sports Club in the spring, courtesy of my work for NYC Swim, the first time I’ve had a pool membership in several years. While the pool is lovely and well-run, it’s the overall experience that is so special.

Let me start with the women’s locker room, which is a mansion in itself, as if all the space squeezed out of the inadequate locker rooms I usually find myself in somehow got combined and landed here. It has its own lounge and several different banks of lockers, all with central benches and plenty of space, surrounding a main corridor with make-up stations and mirrors–wall-to-wall carpeted and nicely appointed, I might add. Befitting the space, the lockers are quite large, and you can take as many as you need because they are self-locking upon entry of a code of your choosing. That said, you really don’t need to bring much. Provisions abound: towels, toiletries, personal care products, hair dyers, a clothing steamer, and more. I’ve been tempted to stop off here just to pull myself together.

Downstairs, still within the locker room, it gets even better. As you would expect of such an expanse, there are plenty of bathrooms and showers (all private and with amazing pressure). Keep going and you come to the main attraction: the giant hot tub. I have to build in extra time for my workouts to allow for a soak. The Jacuzzi area has lounge chairs and a steam room should you need other ways to relax.

If you are able to tear yourself away from the locker room, you don’t have far to travel to the pool area. You’ll find a brightly lighted, somewhat warm, shallow, 25-yard pool with an on-deck shower, plenty of towels and swim toys, and nary a hair ball. The only thing I’d add is a second pace clock for the far end of the pool. The catch is that it’s just three and a half lanes, meaning slow, slower, and even slower lanes for splitting or circle swimming plus a skinny lane for just one swimmer at a time. Markings on the bottom address every possible configuration, such that there are no fewer than ten Ts on the wall!

As at the nearby JCC, a wall of windows provides a classic Upper West Side view of apartments, rooftops, and water towers. The sun shines in directly at certain times, piercing the water and adding a wonderful energy.

Meanwhile, above head, there’s a very sensible novelty. Instead of backstroke flags, there are blue lines painted right onto the ceiling. It is such a simple solution, I’m amazed I’ve never seen this before. The only problem is that I sometimes forget to look for the line, especially if I haven’t been here for a while, so I’ve had some close calls with the wall.

The aquatics staff is very hands-on, moving people among lanes to best allocate the space and alerting you with foot taps if there’s a change in your lane’s swim pattern. Most of the time, I appreciate this, but on days with a lot of turnover I’d rather just keep circling uninterrupted.

Speaking of the staff, this place has a lot, and they are truly service-minded. They’ll go out of their way to answer questions, show you things, and generally make sure you are enjoying your experience. I’ve never seen anything like it! Many of the other members seem pretty accustomed to this level of treatment, and they are the better for it. No grumps here.

I’ve only just begun to explore the rest of the facility: nap mind-body studios, wifi-enabled lounge, cafe, large roof deck, machine rooms, and the like. You could spend a lot of time here and not be lacking for anything.

So, how do you get in? If you swam an NYC Swim event this season, you have a guest pass that is good until the end of the month. Go. Now. NYC Swimmers were also able to pay $15 to use the pool for qualifying swims this past season, and with luck that arrangement–and my good fortune–will continue.

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Almost a Pool: Barton Springs

Barton SpringsWhat I wouldn’t give to be in Barton Springs RIGHT NOW. Of all the special swim spots we visited in Austin, this one stands out on many levels: length, recreational options, and underwater views especially. Not quite a lake and not quite a pool, this eighth-of-a-mile swim spot remains a consistently cool temperature year-round (high 60s/low 70s), even during Texas’s scorching summers, attracting all manner of swimmers and bathers to its banks and waters.

As I’m starting to expect from springs based on this and my Florida experience, the deliciously clear water makes it easy to appreciate the lush underwater vegetation and sea life. Most notable here were the fishies, big and small. They’d let you get pretty close before darting away. Also of note were the ducks–fake ones to section off the diving board area and real ones to keep you on your toes. Sorry to say (or maybe not), I did not see any Barton Springs salamanders.

group photo by Barton Springs

Richard, Hug, Devon, Bruce, and Lance

I swam just eight lengths here and appreciated different things each time. You can do a flip turn at the solid wall by the deep end, or perhaps stop to look at the waterfall on the other side. On the shallow end, the bottom gradually approaches the surface, so there’s no wall to push off when you turn around. The not-a-pool is surrounded by grassy hills that call out for sunbathing, including nudists perpetuating the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. The only down side is that eating is not allowed here, allegedly due to an ant problem. Up the hill is a lovely open-air yet private, grassy courtyard that is in fact the locker room.

All this for just $3, or even for free at certain times of the day! We came here in the middle of our first full day in Austin and intended to come back for more luxurious laps and a diving competition, but somehow we didn’t make it. As mentioned previously, we have plenty of incentive to return to Austin for more swimming.

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#56: Deep Eddy Pool

Deep Eddy

Location: Austin, Texas

Configuration: 12 or so lanes of 33 1/3 yards plus large wading area

Fee: $3

We’ve seen how remarkable the year 1936 was for pools in New York, and it turns out to have been good to Texas, too. The state’s oldest pool, Deep Eddy dates to that same year and owes its existence to the same pot of WPA money. It made me feel right at home during a recent swimcation, when I joined a bunch of  marathon swimmers converging in Austin three weeks ago.

Would I be able to swim the same afternoon we arrived in town, I wondered? Sure, we can always swim, our co-host and tour guide Leslie reassured me. We made our first pilgrimage here shortly before closing that night and came back two other times during the weekend, basking in the cool, spring-fed, unchlorinated water that reminded me in color only of John Jay College Pool.

Deep Eddy takes its name from a deep eddy in the nearby Colorado River–visible in the top of the photo above–which was the local swimming hole before a proper pool was created. It’s a refreshingly cool temperature even during the hot Texan summers thanks to the springwater, which is drained out and replaced a few times per week.

We all loved swimming here. The 33-yard length didn’t feel that much longer than 25 yards, and yet the yardage racked up more quickly. The lap area is deep and spacious, and the staff and other swimmers were all very friendly.

View from the shallow end.

View from the shallow end, with the lap lanes way off yonder.

indoor-outdoor locker room

One of my favorite things here was the locker room, which managed to be both private and open-air. From the showers, you could admire the trees.

Circle swimming in this lane - sign

Texas is so big that swimmers don’t usually have to share lanes. According to Leslie, people usually queue up for a lane rather than sharing–except in a few specially designated lanes for those in a hurry.

John "Waldo" by the mural

An elaborate mural by the shallow end relates the history of the pool and park.

H&H

H&H, photo by Devon.

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#55: 92nd Street Y May Center for Health, Fitness & Sport

92nd Street Y pool

Photo by 92nd Street Y

Location: Upper East Side, Manhattan

Configuration: 4 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Free via Fitness Passbook

It used to take a natural disaster to bring me to the 92nd Street Y pool. Only when conditions made it extremely difficult to get to any other pool, such as during an ice storm a few years ago, would I stoop to swimming at this facility mere blocks from my apartment. Despite having two Passbook passes last year, I never paid a visit.

Fortunately, it has received a makeover in appearance, attitude, and even scheduling since my last visit, and I’m happy to be able to count it as my first “new” pool for this project in 2013. It’s not that I’ve slacked off on pool-hopping, it’s just harder to find pools after knocking off 54 low-hanging fruit last year. Had I known about the improvements here, perhaps it, too, would have made the cut in 2012.

Yesterday morning’s motivation was a pre-spring nor’easter that dumped a few inches of slushy snow overnight. I couldn’t bear to make my usual early morning bike trek to Riverbank, so I hoofed it to Lexington Avenue for a dip here. Am I glad I did! First off, everyone was friendly at this early hour–staff and patrons, many of them of a certain age–a pleasant contrast to the other pool near my apartment that I hardly ever swim at. The lifeguard in particular was kindly proactive in balancing out the lanes and warning swimmers of impending collisions, a helpful step given the wide disparity in swim speeds and styles among the four lanes. I got in a reasonably long workout, dodging swimmers here and there, followed by a poolside hot tub soak, in itself reason enough to visit. Other points in this pool’s favor include its bright lighting and the spacious, well-provisioned locker rooms and lounge. It feels like someone who actually knew what she was doing worked on the space, a sadly uncommon experience in a locker room. If only the pool could be enlarged! Pay attention to the schedule when planning to your visit so you go at a time with maximum lane space.

This is a good place to practice FINA-regulation turns, because instead of a gutter at the end of the pool there is a flat, attractively tiled wall extending more than a foot out of the water. The pool claims to be “the first commercial indoor pool in New York State to be primarily disinfected by ozone.” To be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference, unless it contributed to a slight cloudiness in the water. Another quirk is the misalignment between lane lines on the top–for four lanes–and markings on the bottom for five.

The Y’s cultural stature also deserves mention. This venerable institution, a YM-YWHA, was established in the late 1800s and now provides world-renowned programming for all ages in diverse realms such as arts, culture, Jewish life and education, as well as health and fitness. The first building on the site opened in 1900, and an annex with a small(er) pool was added in 1911. The “new” building with the current pool opened in 1930. Although clearly not young, it is well maintained, just like many of its members.

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