40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#106: Lancaster DoubleTree

view down pool to stingray tilework on wallLocation: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Configuration: 2 lanes x 20 yards

Fee: Available at no additional charge to hotel guests only

My first indoor pool swim in six months happened here at the Lancaster DoubleTree in September, where I stayed in order to visit my mother — through two panes of glass, natch — in another first of the pandemic era. I’ve been back twice since, most recently with my tape measure to check the length because, yes, I am that much of a pool nerd. This is no time to be picky, given the paltry pool openings and hours these days, but this place is actually pretty good.

play pool with frog slide

The hotel — originally the independent Willow Valley Resort — bills itself as a golf resort with water park. Boosting its claim to the latter are the two lap lanes, rec area in the regular pool, hot tub, and spacious play pool that earned my young nephews’ stamp of approval. Also, check out the great murals all around the deck of the regular pool — sea turtle, whale, and stingray, oh my!

Lap swimming is a pleasure with the morning sun streaming through the eastern wall of windows. Although there are no Ts on the walls or backstroke flags, it’s easy to follow the line on the bottom and the ceiling ribs and pipes. The 20-yard distance was good for easing back to indoor swimming, even encouraging me to do some IMs. The water is a tad warm as you’d expect of a hotel pool. Depth ranges from 3 feet at the walls to 5 feet in the middle.

view from the other end of the pool

The CDC has indicated that chlorinated pool water deactivates the coronavirus, but nonetheless I’ve noticed a tendency of pools to be overchlorinated these days. The chemicals here are so strong that I end up with a dry, sore throat, which is a worrisome symptom in this COVID era. Today I drank diluted orange juice during my swim and had hot tea afterward, both of which helped.

During all three of my morning lap swims this fall, I had both lanes to myself and never shared the pool with more than two other people. Today it was just me the whole time.

During my most recent two days in Pennsylvania, the state implemented new restrictions for travelers. Whenever I’m able to return, I’ll be glad to do so for many different reasons, this pool being one of them.

hot tub with underwater mural

The wall art is especially nice in the hot tub alcove.

 

 

 

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103 and 104: The Club at the Claremont

lounge area within poolLocation: Oakland, California

Configuration: One 25-meter pool, one 25-yard pool, plus hot tub and kiddie pool

Fee: Members and hotel guests only

Here’s a throwback Thursday look at an incredible facility in the Bay Area.

I was graciously permitted to join in a masters practice at the Claremont during a trip in February. While this hotel and club rightly boasts “rich history and elegance since 1915,” what now qualifies this post for throwback status is the facility’s temporary but lengthening closure, since late March, due to COVID-19.

north wing of the Claremont Hotel

Here’s the north wing of the hotel and, to its left, the club and spa areas I visited.

This castle-esque structure sits on a hill rising out of Oakland and Berkeley, and I’d long admired it from afar. A couple of years ago, an East Coast friend was going to be staying there right after I was in the area, so I dropped off something for her at the hotel desk and got a quick peak around the grounds. Pool coveting ensued.

For my February trip, I looked at splurging on a stay at the Claremont but dithered and the rates shot up — and I was happy to end up at the Berkeley City Club instead. The Claremont website clearly states that visitors aren’t allowed at the Club, which includes the pool, but just in case I reached out to the masters coach. After a while I received approval to join a practice on Valentine’s Day! What’s more, the workout would be coached by Suzie, a fellow open water lover I came to know years ago.

training pool

Training pool.

Thrilled that my name was on the manager’s list, I ascended Claremont Avenue and walked through the parking area to the spa. Check-in was an exercise in agreement: Would I be using the towels and locker room? Would I like a robe? Yes, yes, yes!

On Suzie’s advice, I’d arrived a bit early, so I stretched out a bit in the 25-meter pool in my own lane, of course. Over in the 25-yard pool for the masters practice, I enjoyed the company of jocular swimmers and Suzie’s technique-focused workout. Both pools were crystal clear saline, with a minor temperature variation between the two. They had digital pace clocks and plenty of gear, plus a hot tub for apres swim.

view from the pool deck

The view on the pool deck.

It’s hard to say what I liked best, but it just might be the view. From the training pool, you looked into a wooded residential area. From the deck, it was down into Berkeley and out toward San Francisco Bay. My photos don’t do any of it justice. Had I not been meeting my brother and family at a delicious bakery nearby soon after my swim, I could have easily enjoyed a long, comfy, umbrella-shaded lounge on the deck.

Months later, we have no idea when previously common activities like cross-country travel will resume, let alone indulgences like luxury resorts. Thanks for the memories.

 

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Iceland’s Westfjords Pools

Amanda and I loved exploring pools and cultural attractions in Iceland in 2012. I was thrilled when she asked about writing for the blog in advance of a return visit with her husband and two Icelandic friends last summer. As if we needed more convincing, her photo essay provides full evidence of Icelanders’ love for the pool. Stay tuned for a separate post about the pool in Hafnafjordur, outside Reykjavik, which was her favorite of the whole trip.

The (very short) list of “stuff” that we would need for our trip to the Westfjords of Iceland included this bullet point: “Swimming gear! Let’s hit every pool in every town. Goal.”

Photo of waterfall in distance behind fields

Water, water everywhere. A roadside waterfall on day one of our Westfjords road trip. Photo by César Martínez.

I was 100% on board with this plan. My first trip to Iceland in 2012 included visits to several of the pools featured among the original 40 of this blog, and I have since remained a big fan of the country and the people, due in no small part to their passionate pool culture. Since I had already volunteered to provide some guest posts for 40 Pools, I was grateful that my fellow travelers shared in my enthusiasm to visit local pools in the Westfjords.

Photo of green hills

A typical Westfjords view. Photo by César Martínez.

In fact, a pool was on the itinerary for our very first day of travel, with a planned stop at the pool where Einar’s grandmother learned to swim. Attached to the Hotel Reykjanes, this pool has two things that are remarkable: it is large (50m long and 12.5m across), and it is geothermally heated to quite a hot temperature. It was not difficult to imagine Einar’s grandmother, along with everyone else in town, splashing around in this giant “hot tub” while enjoying the spectacular views of the surrounding fjord.

Amanda underwater with bubbles

Taking a dip in the heated pool at Hotel Reykjanes. Photo by César Martínez.

Steamy fields and water

Geothermal steam rising from the grounds outside Hotel Reykjanes. Photo by César Martínez.

Spectacular views quickly became a theme as we continued to check Westfjords swimming pools off our list. I had planned to swim some laps when possible, but in many cases this proved difficult, as the pools were oddly sized and usually only had one or two lap lanes available. Not to mention that most were far too warm for a proper workout.

Sketch of pool

An example of odd pool dimensions from the public pool in Suðureyri.

The pool in Suðureyri was packed with local families on a beautiful Westfjords summer day, with plentiful sunshine and temperatures in the high 60s. It indeed seemed that the entire town was there, some splashing in the small swimming pool and others lounging in one of the three hot pots. Given the strict rules about bathing properly before swimming in Iceland, I was surprised to see the largest hot pot full of small children eating popsicles while their parents enjoyed miniature cups of coffee from a dispenser on the pool deck.

Pool view

Photo by César Martínez.

We discovered a true gem of a pool in Patreksfjörður. The complex was clearly recently built, with a 16.5m five-lane pool, complete with lane lines painted on the bottom, as well as the customary three hot pots, on a deck with truly breathtaking views of the fjord. We timed our visit to coincide with summer’s extended dusk and puzzled over the Lonely Planet’s description of the town as “unattractive.” A full gym is attached to the pool complex, with a number of trophies from regional swim competitions on display in the hallways, one of the only pools we visited that seemed to offer a competitive swim program.

Hot tub and scenery

Dusk over Patreksfjörður.

Twilight view

Dusk over Patreksfjörður. Photo by César Martínez.

Eerie black and white image

The moonscape on the drive between Bíldudalur and Tálknafjörður. Photo by César Martínez.

That said, we completed our circuit of Westfjords pools with a beautiful competition pool in Tálknafjörður, featuring five 25m lanes with painted lane lines and starting blocks. By the time we arrived at 8:00 in the evening, the shade of the setting sun was beginning to encroach on most of the facility, so we didn’t enjoy basking in the hot pots as much as we had in Patreksfjörður, but what this pool lacked in atmosphere and views it made up for with a spectacular water slide.

talknafjordur hot pots

Raudasandur beach

Iceland also has beautiful beaches. Here’s the photographer on Rauðasandur (“red sand beach”).

Snow-capped mountains in distance

On the Snaefellsnes peninsula, on the road back to Reykjavík. Photo by César Martínez.

Westfjords map

Iceland’s Westfjords

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#82: Willow Valley Communities Aquatics Center

Four pool fans

Rub-a-dub-dub, four women in a tub: Janet, Mom, me, and Aunt Alice Ann.

Location: Willow Street, Pennsylvania

Configuration: 2 x 25-yard designated lap lanes, 4 more without lane lines

Cost: Free as guest of community resident

An underemployed friend and I used to quip that retirement is wasted on the old. That couldn’t be farther from the truth at Willow Valley Communities, a pair of non-profit-run retirement campuses just outside Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where my aunt and uncle settled in late 2013. The 2,500 “mature adults” who call this home make the most of many fine amenities at their disposal, including a Cultural Center with this Fitness and Aquatics Center.

100_2577_willow_valleyThe pool opens at 6:00 a.m. every day, sans lifeguard but with swim-buddy rule. The lap section is 4-5 feet deep, kept at a temperate 82 degrees, with a deep end off to one side that was host to a volleyball game during my visit. There’s also a warmer therapy pool where my mom and aunt took an arthritis class and a hot tub completing the square, all surrounded by a large deck and lounge.

Natural light comes in from a wall of windows along the lap side, colorful murals and flags add to the cheer, and it’s all impeccably maintained. Accessories include many toys (no pull buoys), and the locker rooms are lovely.

My aunt and uncle have made many friends in their new home, including champion swimmer Janet. She’s gearing up for the U.S. Senior Games, having already claimed a state title in the 80-84 age group. A freestyler and backstroker, Janet trains in the pool three times a week. I was thrilled when she turned up by my side the day after Christmas, because we’d thought our swims wouldn’t overlap. She and her husband chose Willow Valley partly because of its pool, and I don’t blame them. In summer 2014, Willow Valley even completed an outdoor (non-lap) pool on the other campus, just steps from my aunt’s place. What’s not to like?!

Janet attributes her health and vitality to her swimming, to which she confesses a happy addiction–something I certainly relate to. But there is plenty else to keep people active and fulfilled at Willow Valley: classes, volunteering, theater, restaurants, outings, clubs, model trains, walking paths, fishing ponds . . . the list goes on. All the people I’ve met during the course of two visits seem exceptionally satisfied with their decisions to settle here, so I’m pleased as punch that my aunt and uncle are among them–and that I can look forward to more swims at this pool.

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#72: Athletic and Swim Club

pool from far end

Image by Club Corp

Location: Midtown Manhattan

Configuration: 4 x 25 yards

Fee: Free as guest of member during membership promo

A New York Times article a couple months back noted that there are “only” 150 indoor pools in Manhattan. Considering this in light of my expired Reebok Sports Club membership, which I am mourning inconsolably, served as a good reminder that I still have a lot of water to test locally. After all, I’ve notched “only” 72 pools since 2012, many of them off-island.

To give myself a sense of possibility, I set my sights on one of the few facilities that I thought might stand a chance against the luxe Reebok Club, where I had grown very fond of the hot tub, the café, the spacious lockers, the hot tub, the roof deck, the nap-friendly spaces, and did I mention the hot tub? Yup, I miss it there.

The Athletic and Swim Club at Equitable Center caters to a similarly upscale demographic, but whereas I would feel tempted to stay all day at the Reebok Club, this one seemed geared to getting me in and out as efficiently as possible without a visible trace of the workout. How so? For one, the location in the belly of the Midtown beast, with direct underground access to the Rockefeller Center concourse, means that you can get here from all over Midtown without setting a foot outdoors. (I recommend entering from street level on Seventh Avenue so you can admire the Roy Lichtenstein mural on the way in. Do not try to take a picture, though.) You don’t need to bring workout clothes, since those are provided, and you can even have your business attire pressed while you’re not in it! (Swimmers do need to bring their own swimsuit.) There’s a full array of toiletries and styling devices, and you can grab a complimentary apple on the way out to chomp on your way back to the office.

This is not to say that the club isn’t very, very nice. It is.The hot tub jets were perhaps not quite as strong as those I’d grown accustomed to, and you could argue that the locker area would benefit from some refreshing, but this was still at the far end of the fanciness spectrum and leaps beyond my usual swim spots.

My visit took place on a weekday afternoon after a work event in Midtown, and I enjoyed the swim. I had one of the pool’s four lanes to myself the whole time, the water was pleasantly cool, and it felt light and spacious despite being far underground. Not so light and spacious that I’d want to relax in the lounge chairs, but they were a nice touch. My biggest gripe against the pool, which is really quite minor, is that the metal rim around the edge is not quite flush with the tiling and therefore proved annoying at the turns.

In a way I suppose I’m glad that I wasn’t as taken with this as I was with the Reebok Club, because its location is even less convenient, and it’s easier to have just one true love. If I worked in Midtown and wanted a secret hideaway, I would definitely keep this in mind.

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#71: Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre

indoor 50m pool

Can you find the 14 diving boards?

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Configuration: 10 lanes x 50 meters in both indoor and outdoor pools

Fee: Normally AUD7.40, but we got charged a higher rate for family fun day

MSAC, as it is known, offers just about every kind of aquatic opportunity imaginable: indoor 75-meter pool that can be configured as a 50-meter competition pool and a 25-meter diving pool with 14 diving boards, outdoor 50-meter competition pool, wave pool, water slide, a “flow rider” for practicing surfing, hydrotherapy pools, and hot tubs. Are we missing anything?

Outdoor pool

Outdoor pool with adjustable floor.

It sounds like swim paradise, but trying to get from one area to another was an exercise in frustration. Of the 71 pools I’ve visited in the past two years, none was so confounding: Locked doors, roped-off walkways, turnstiles, gates, and signs prevented you from taking a logical route from one pool to another. Making matters worse, I left my bathers  in the car (this was a day of many swims; please forgive me) so I had to make extra exit and reentry trips through this maddening morass, and it wasn’t any easier the second time. I was also disappointed that the outdoor pool’s adjustable bottom was raised to make it a wading pool for family fun, meaning we’d have to swim indoors.

entry

Don’t let this well-delineated entrance fool you. It’s a maze inside.

Some of the navigational challenges may stem from the construction history. The indoor pools opened with the rest of this massive sports facility in 1997. Turns out they weren’t enough, and in 2006 the outdoor pool and grandstand appendage was added so Melbourne could host the Commonwealth Games. That’s only part of the problem, though, as even the connections in the original structure just don’t flow right.

Once I got over my wayfinding issues and was properly attired, I enjoyed my swim. Compared to the screaming masses everywhere else, the indoor pool was blissfully free of family fun. The water was pleasantly cool and chlorinated (no salt), and the natural light much more abundant than at the similarly ginormous Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre. Frankie settled in to knock off another set of 40 x 100s, but I swam less given my delayed start and previous laps under the hot sun at the Fitzroy Pool.

wave pool and waterslide

OK, I’ll admit it, this wave pool did look like a lot of fun.

As we were finishing up, the Vicentre Aquatics squad hit the water. They were marvelous to watch, with such perfect form that they seemed to need just a few strokes per length. I especially enjoyed seeing them do starts from the blocks, for which their coach used a remote-controlled megaphone-light starter that I’ve never seen before. Theirs is another massive squad, surely rivaling Nanawading, with distance superstar Grant Hackett as one of the headliners.

If there isn’t enough in MSAC to keep you busy, simply step outside. Albert Park’s lake, cinder running paths, and grand prix racetrack are right outside and offer more respite from family fun.

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#66: Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre

Location: Olympic Park, Homebush, NSW, Australia

Configuration: 10 lanes x 50 meters in competition pool

Fee: AUD7

After 65 pools, I finally got to swim in one that hosted the Olympics! The Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre complex is absolutely massive, the equivalent of putting my favorite Icelandic pool facility all under one roof. Other similarities with Laugardalslaug include a water slide, play pools, hot tubs, and a second lap pool. We focused on the competition pool, following in the strokes of greatness in the fast lane.

Before I get to the pool, though, I want to direct your attention to the true highlight: the Dive into History exhibit. We almost didn’t even see this due to its location, and I wish we’d visited here before swimming because it greatly heightened my appreciation for the pool. If your time is limited, I would go so far as to recommend visiting the exhibit in lieu of the pool.

Starting with the building of the pool and Sydney’s Olympic bid, the exhibit then covers many of the great swims and events that have taken place in the competition pool. Some things I learned:

  • The facility opened in 1994, before Sydney had secured the 2000 Olympics, and was a key factor in the awarding of the bid.
  • The competition pool, where I swam, hosted not just swimming and diving but also polo and synchronized swimming at the Olympics.
  • It’s catching up to the North Sydney Olympic Pool for records broken, boasting more than 40 world records in its waters by 2008.
  • Features that make it such a fast pool include a “wet deck” or infinity gutter system and “wave eating” lane ropes to minimize turbulence, ozone filtration and UV light-treated water to make it clear and give it a “slippery” feel, and start blocks with a raised footrest.
  • Running the Olympic aquatic events smoothly required a staff of almost 2,400.
  • Design considerations for energy efficiency include maximizing the use of natural light and localized air conditioning in the stands.
  • The seating area was built out during the Olympics to add capacity and subsequently removed after the Games.
  • Loads of large-scale international events have taken place here since, including fun-sounding Qantas Skin Meets with elimination events and a “mystery” medley and the 2002 Gay Games, which TNYA participated in.
  • My hands are considerably smaller than Michael Phelps’s and perfectly match those of Aussie butterflyer Susie O’Neill.
  • The facility is extremely popular, notching more than a million visitors on average each year.
competition pooltraining pool and play area life in the fast laneDive into History exhibition me vs. Michael Phelps Australia wins!
Another highlight after my fast-lane swim was alighting the Olympic podium at the end of the exhibition. Jo and Frankie had given me an Aussie flag towel, which seemed the perfect accessory for the occasion.

So, how was my swim? Pool-wise, I’d have to rate this as my least favorite in this country so far. It was busier than others we’ve visited, and some of the other swim tourists had a much less developed sense of pool etiquette than my own. I felt a bit like a New Yorker trying to speed walk through a crowded Times Square. The energy-efficient lighting was less than inspiring–the ceiling would have benefited from more clear sections à la Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre–and the bottom of the pool was getting discolored in spots.

The water playgrounds were extremely popular with families, so by the time of our visit late in the day the change rooms were pretty much a wreck, rivaling even Baruch‘s for grossness. As seems to be the norm in this country, you have to pay extra for a locker, and pool toys such as pull buoys and kickboards are nowhere to be found.

To get here, we took a long ferry ride west from the city center, meandering into coves and bays for stops along the way. I highly recommend this journey, both for the changing views of the famed Harbour Bridge and Opera House and to gain more appreciation for Sydneysiders’ relationship with the water. Every single building seems to be positioned to maximize water views. In look and feel, it reminded me a bit of Lake Austin, but with much more public access.

My gripes about the pool are all quite minor and a happy side effect of the fabulous other places we’ve swum. It is truly a thrill to swim in Olympic waters, and my cap is off to the designers’ foresight in creating a thriving community facility that endures long after the Games.

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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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#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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#47: Chelsea Piers Sports Center Pool

Lounging by the poolLocation: Chelsea, New York

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Free with guest pass, otherwise $50 per day

Fees to Date: $191.87

As impossible as it seems four days later, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a Hudson River pier was a relaxing place to spend Friday night. I hurried out of work to meet a few friends down at Chelsea Piers, the luxe sports complex, as Janet had some free passes that were about to expire. She, Rondi, John, and I got in some sorely needed practice with pool-to-hot tub transitions and did a challenging workout with the USMS team alongside our beach buddy Sil.

The four piers that are now part of the sports and entertainment complex known as Chelsea Piers entered this new chapter of existence in the mid-1990s, having outlived their glorious maritime past. (How glorious? This is where the Titanic was heading a century ago.) Photos from the piers’ heyday line some of the repurposed waterfront walkways, lending a sense of place and history. People who come here now intend to stay rather than to set sail.

The developers of the new Chelsea Piers focused on sports that weren’t widely available in New York. You won’t find tennis or handball here, but you will find gymnastics, bowling, boxing, rock climbing, ice skating, beach volleyball, a driving range, a marina, and a pool. Throw in a quarter-mile indoor track, a large assortment of machines and cardio equipment, and a spa, and there’s more than enough to do for days on end. The pool is part of Sports Center at Pier 60, which is the membership gym, whereas the rest of the piers are mostly pay-as-you-go.

hot tub!

Me and Coach David after the workout.

I can’t say I’m in love with the management here, nor do I appreciate how the complex squished the Hudson River Greenway into a dangerously skinny strip out front, but I always appreciate a visit to the pool and locker rooms. The pool is on the upper level at the western end of the pier, far out in the Hudson, with seemingly only a sun deck separating it from New Jersey. The floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides bring in my second-favorite pool amenity: light. In the corner, there’s my favorite thing–the hot tub. I only wish I had visited on a sunny day so that the pictures truly captured the experience. Instead, check out this 360-degree view.

Without these elements, the pool is just standard. It’s a bit on the warm side–though you don’t realize this when you come from the hot tub–and the water always seems to be a little cloudy. A strange rim around the edge a few inches below the surface messes up my flip turns. The lifeguards are fairly proactive about ensuring a pleasant swim experience, but space is limited.

The locker rooms, on the other hand, are a cut above, with attractive tiling and wood decor, private showers, plush chairs, and plenty of room. They give out bathrobes (see above), and I recommend that you take one for the long walk to the pool. Towels are abundant, as is all manner of product for hair and body. Pretty much all you need to bring is your swim suit, cap, and goggles.

The facility sustained significant water damage and lost power due to the storm and is now closed at least until next weekend. The piers have seen a lot in their day, so here’s hoping that they are soon again in business and that this latest challenge becomes just another page in the history books.

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