My first memories of swimming are at the Takitimu Community Pool in Ohai. I was five, my little legs couldn’t reach the bottom and I would hold on to the rail all the way along the edge of the pool. I flat out refused to put my head under the water (it ruins your curls). The pool was heated with coal from the local coal mine, and instead of inflatable toys or floatation devices to play with we had wine bladders. Whoever took it upon themselves to drink enough goon sack to give those twenty little kidlets some pool toys should be made Mayor of Ohai, a job well done. As far as I know, nobody went on to become a competitive swimmer, but everyone is pretty decent at drinking booze.
Not being able to swim well is only half the problem when embarking on an adventure to the land of Pool. It’s like travelling to a foreign country, where you must learn the customs, the language, and the politics of the Poolinese people.
Pool tourists can unwittingly offend local Poolinese by violating beliefs of their culture without ever intending to. If you’re planning to swimingle with the locals, do your research first so that there are no awkward misunderstandings.
BEFORE YOU GO
Put your togs on underneath your clothes to save on time and potential nip-slips in the changing room. Forget to pack spare underwear. Remember to pack a pair of unused and un-adjusted goggles, a swimming cap, an inappropriately sized towel and something to drink; the water that you swallow doing laps isn’t the best for hydration.
Travelling is always more fun with a friend, so grab a mate who you are pretty sure is a terrible swimmer and totally foreign to the land of Pool. This way you can sympathise with each other, and band together if the locals give you any stick.
Check the lane timetables so that you don’t turn up at 6 am to start Aqua Jogging only to find that all the lanes are chock-full of swimming squads, and there is no space for you to meander along with your floaty belt apparatus.
For $30 per half hour (or thereabouts) you can enlist the services of a local to help you to get acquainted with the pool. The tour guides can spot a tourist a mile off, and the good ones will notice you struggling and come to offer their help. This is how I met Dougal, my lovely, patient swimming tutor. With his expert knowledge I have been able to go from swallowing 3 litres of water over 11 lengths, to drinking a mere 500ml over 54 lengths. You may also be able to arrange payment for your tour guide using wine, the Poolinese seem to enjoy this beverage.
The land of Pool uses a class system, and categorises people in to slow, medium, and fast. There is also a lane for Aqua Jogging which at times will attract the people who are not coordinated enough for the slow lane. These people are of great value as they become spectacles for the upright bored-out-of-their-minds aqua joggers.
Use the appropriate lane. If you are doing one of the following strokes; breast stroke, dog paddle, or ‘bird caught in fishing net’ then please do not do this in the fast lane. The fast lane is that magical lane right in the middle of the pool, where people who have huge backs and tiny waists frolic, have hilarious banter, and glide through the water like Maui dolphins. If you are new you should stick to the slow lane, where you won’t feel ashamed about taking breaks after one lap, and most of your fellow lane buddies are also more like eels in the gutter than dolphins. These eels will become your new tribe.
Treat the lanes of the pool like the lanes on a road; pull over if you are holding up traffic, or have bad fumes escaping from your exhaust.
What kind of lingo do the Poolinese use? When most of your time is spent underwater or gasping for air it is hard to hold a conversation, much less pick up some of the local dialect. Here are a few terms to get you started;
Pull: Place a foam buoy between your legs and pull using just your arms. This lets you focus on training your arms, and your body position. Pull sounds like Pool in Kiwi speak. I must say it’s pretty disappointing when a Pool Boy is a Pull Buoy.
Kick: Use a kick-board and just kick, with your legs. This is slower than a legs/arms combo so remember your lane etiquette.
‘You go ahead, I’m just kicking’
‘No no you go ahead, I’m slow, I’m just arms-ing’
Apparently ‘armsing’ is not Poolinese lingo.
Laps: My logic, and my fondness of rounding up tells me that one lap is one length of the pool. This was challenged by a Poolinese girl I had befriended by the name of Sophie Lee. She said ‘I will just do ten more laps’ then did twenty! What the flipper? I don’t want to change my definition so won’t be checking this one with any of the locals.
Tumble turn: What people who don’t need an excuse to rest do when they reach the end of the pool. It’s an aquatic roly-poly and when you tumble towards the wall you work it out so that you are spat back out facing around the other way and you can keep swimming.
Goggle marks: Proof that you have been swimming. You won’t get sweaty pits or crotch as you do with a gym workout so this is how you let people know you’ve been working out. The severity of the marks will let the Poolinese know exactly how fresh you are to the land of Pool.
Traditional dress around the pool complex is quite minimal, less is more when you are dragging yourself through water. It is also possible to wear a combination of tight lycra, latex, and rubber while slapping things and still appear conservative in the context of a pool.
Wearing a bikini to swim lengths is like running wearing a bikini; if you have loose bits then things tend to fall out of it. I recommend investing in a one-piece that has no chance of untying mid-length, or a sporty two piece with a crop-top to hold things firmly in place.
For the men, get yourself a pair of Speedos, these are also known as DT’s. DT stands for Dick Togs, I learned this from my Australian friend Matthew who owned a bottle opener that was a pair of kangaroo gonads complete with original hair. He celebrated the masculine physique and if you too want to celebrate all things manly then a pair of these togs will suit you down to the grundle.
It seems to be generally accepted in the changing room of the pool that it is a no pants zone. Don’t worry about people looking at your rudey bits, nobody cares! The Poolinese people like to test their flexibility in the changing rooms, lifting legs on to high surfaces, and without the shackles of underwear to prevent them getting that extra millimetre of stretch in there. You too can participate in the stretching and flexing, just check the location of the mirrors first, please.
DANGERS AND ANNOYANCES
#1- It would have to be drowning. Take precautions against this and get a few swimming lessons. I have been seeing Dougal every couple of weeks and have avoided drowning so far.
#2- Always assume that everyone is naked. Be cautious when running in to a shower cubicle that it is not already occupied by another nude Poolinese person. No surprise hugs in here.
#3- Hitting people. This doesn’t happen (often) while running, but kicking and poking people in the pool is a regular occurrence. If you are slow, you will be hit.
BEST POOL SAFETY TIP:
DO- Ask for advice from friends that have been to the pool. Ask experts and newbies so that you know both what you are supposed to be doing, and what you will end up doing accidentally.
DON’T- Expect to just nail a swimming stroke like you would a run. This sport isn’t a ‘turn up on the day and just do it’ kind of sport. Unless you have gills, just don’t risk it.
Have you got any advice for someone new to the Pool? Will I ever get to swim in the fast lane?