Friday, November 26, 2010

Size Matters

Size may not matter for a great many things, but it matters for pools. 
I grew up swimming in 25 yard pools.  My YWCA pool as kid was 25 yards.  My high school pool was 25 yards.  Most lap pools are 25 yards. That’s just standard.  OK, so maybe there’s a shallow and deep end or not.  Or maybe there are only 3 lanes, or 4, or 5.  But for me the standard length is 25 yards.  Even if it’s 25 meters, that’s still only an extra 6 feet and change. No biggie. I like 25 yards.
I went to a YMCA day camp for a couple summers that had a pool that was probably smaller than 25 yards.  The walls of the pool room were mostly a dingy yellow tile with black trim.  I’m not sure if the tile started out dingy yellow.  Who would choose that color?  I only hope that the walls evenly faded over the years of camp kids and swim lessons to finally take on the color of a depressed canary. This of course made the pool room dark, with eerie watery reflections on the ceiling, like in a bad slasher movie where the next victim is, for some unknown reason, swimming alone.  But I don’t want to misrepresent the Y – it’s not like there was a bare 60 watt bulb swinging over the diving board.  But no amount of artificial light could have overcome that depressed canary color.  So when we camp kids were in the pool, we had to play hard to make the room seem brighter.  The sounds of our voices and splashes played against the walls and ceiling.  The pool room was lit by our voices and imaginations, as we dove and burst up from our 10 foot vertical playroom with pool rings.
Size does matter.  Since those many decades ago of summer camp, I’ve found a number of 20 yard “lap pools,” but they’re not real pools to me.  Five strokes and I’m looking for the wall.  But I don’t want to seem like a snob.  Many people don’t care and that’s fine.  If you walk back and forth from one end to the other, it doesn’t matter how long the pool is.  If you like to float on your back and kick or if you’re just learning to swim, then what does size matter.  If the only reason you use the pool is to cool off after sitting in the hot tub at the gym, size doesn’t matter.  Otherwise, it matters a lot.
The University of Pennsylvania was my first 50 yard pool.  It was enormous!  I got to use it just once a year at the Philadelphia all-city swim meets, for the two years I competed in high school.  I swam the 100 yard freestyle, but I trained and competed all season in 25 yard pools. Come spring during the big city meet in that 50 yard pool, it felt like 100 yards was swimming over to Jersey and back.  Since I only had one wall to bounce off, I couldn’t judge the competition.  Am I winning my heat?  I don’t know.  I’m in open water.  Is that a tug boat?  The sound during those meets was deafening.  Hundreds of teenage teammates and parents filled the stands, screaming encouragement at their favorite competitors who were for one, busy, and two, had their heads in water.  The space was loud, but the swimmers couldn’t hear a thing.
The MIT pool is also big.  It’s somewhere between 50 yards and 5 miles long.  I should say it’s the “new” MIT pool.  The older Alumni pool is a fancier version of the old dingy Y pools, but with bleachers and only a slightly better paint job.  The pool in the newer athletic facility gets some natural light and is the size of an entire zip code.  This was the pool we used for WSI class.   The first day of class the instructor said, “To warm up, everybody swim to the other end of the pool and back, any stroke you want.  I want to see how you swim.”  OK, what time do you want us back? I have dinner plans.
The only people who swim in 50 yard pools are adults swimming laps and teenagers, who are either doing competition training or life guard classes.  Which means that when there isn’t an all-city competition, 50 yard pools sound different than 25 yard pools.  Sure the walls are further apart, so sound reflection is less severe, but otherwise 50 yard pools are in huge bright rooms with petite well trained splashes.  There’s no yelling or screaming; no diving and coming up with pool toys; no audio color.  People are there to just put one arm in front of the other.  So 50 yard pools lack some character.  I wonder how many rich guys have 50 yard pools.  If for no other reason than so women can see them and think to themselves, “Wow, that’s a big pool.  I wonder what he’s compensating for?”
Then there are hotels.  In the movie Up In The Air, George Clooney’s character is seen swimming laps in a 25 yard hotel lap pool. Where the hell is that hotel?  It doesn’t matter – I couldn’t afford it if I knew.  I’ve never seen a hotel with a 25 yard lap pool.  The hotel chains I stay in hire architects on crack.  The pools are weird rounded shapes vaguely resembling a kidney or an amoeba.  You have to be on crack to look to microbiology for shape inspiration for a pool. Or maybe it’s some concrete contractor having fun after smoking a lot of pot.  
“Dude, if you cover one eye, the pool kinda looks like a turd, doesn’t it?  So Cool!  So I thought we’d dot the turd with a little round hot tub next to it.  I mean come on – what do people expect for 75 bucks a night, right?”
When I wanted to improve my strokes before WSI training, I found the site for Total Immersion Swimming.  Their videos are great, but they demonstrate some of their strokes using an Endless Pool.   An endless pool is basically an overblown bathtub with a current.  Swim against the current and you never reach the end of the tub. Like magic, a pool where size can’t matter.  Yeah well, as my mother used to tell me, “Save all your pennies and one day…” But she would never finish that sentence.  One day I’ll be able to afford my own pool, which will be the right size and which I hope to use endlessly.  And it will have pool toys – for color.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tub View

I don’t own a home, but I’m a proud renter. The whole American Dream home ownership thing has never been a strong draw in my life.  Plus given the economy, I’m ok with not having scary mortgage issues.

But one of the down sides for not owning my own home is that I can’t own a hot tub.  I love hot tubs.  I fell in love with them almost 30 years ago when I moved to California and it’s been a torrid bubbly love affair ever since, no matter where I’ve lived or traveled.  If you are my friend and you own a hot tub, know that we are not friends just so I can crash your jacuzzi every once in a while, but it doesn’t hurt.

As a member of Bally’s Total Fitness,  I was greatly dismayed when they closed some clubs a year ago to help their bottom line.  They closed the one near where I work, which made dealing with daily traffic, cubicles and hours under florescent light far less appealing.  That club had a 25 yard pool (which unfortunately is rare) and a huge hot tub.  And the culture of that gym was geared more toward weight lifting, so there weren’t a lot of swimmers – score!  Now I’m down to just one club in my area with a full size pool for lap swimming… and hot tub.

Since I completed WSI last Christmas, hot tubs at Bally’s have not been the same.  Before, I sat in there to warm up before starting my laps.  This year due to either laziness or fatigue (or both), I’ve been soaking up those hot jets for longer and longer every time I get in.  Sometimes I won’t even do any laps, but just close my eyes and do the rotisserie thing – lie on my back for a while, then roll over to my front with my head in my folded arms, then repeat every few minutes.  Oh yeah.  This is water done right!

Once relaxed, I’ll poke my head up, feeling better, but not wanting to get out.  Instead I’ll just watch other people swim.  And here’s where my life has been changed forever.  It used to be that I didn’t care how other people swam.  I just cared that they got out of the pool so I could have the lane, thank you very much.  But now I watch and I analyze.  What are they doing?

  • She’s either afraid to put her face in the water or her hair in the water.  I wonder if anyone's ever worked with her on that?
  • Oh I see his problem.  He doesn’t think the water can support him, so he’s thrashing his arms from one end of the pool to the other.  It's so exhausting that he has to rest for minutes at each end.  
  • You know, her stroke would be so much better if she stretched her arms and glided like a swan. What’s the rush?  I could teach her how to do that. 
  • Hey muscle man, stop boxing with the water!  This isn't Taekwondo.

Of course, I never say these things out loud, but I want to.  I want to walk over and say, “Dude, let me help.  I can help.”  But that’s hard.  Most men would tell me to butt out.  Plus the dumbest thing in the world to do is make a guy uncomfortable who works out regularly and with whom you share a locker room.  And with a woman, how do you not make it sound like a bad pickup line?  What they’d hear is, “Hey baby, let me show you how to stroke.”

So until I get a swimming instructor job, I’ll just keep my mouth shut, my body in hot water and my thoughts on swimming.  But hey, if you know of a part-time swim instructor job opening, I live in the Boston North Shore area.  And I won’t even insist that the pool have a hot tub.  But it wouldn’t hurt.