Pool Lane Etiquette for the Swimmer’s Soul

If you participate in lap swim at a public pool (whether you’re at the Y, a community pool, or your fancy schmancy gym), you’ve witnessed a spat about pool lane etiquette. Every pool has its own rules that swimmers must adhere to, and every swimmer has his or her own interpretation of these rules. Below I’ve shared three pool scenarios that my friends and I have encountered. Hopefully you’ll learn from these anecdotes and remember to play nice while sportin’ your Speedo and goggles.

Scenario #1: Getting in the Pool
Scenario #1 was witnessed by fellow mediocre athlete and training buddy Beth Garrison. There was an incident at her gym between two irate swimmers. One swimmer was doing laps in a lane when the other one entered the pool area and wanted to begin his workout. Since the lanes were full, he decided to hop into a lane occupied by someone else. The only problem is this dumb ass decided to hop into the pool at the exact same moment the swimmer in the lane was doing his flip turn. As expected, this resulted in a collision and some exchanged words. The end result is that now multiple lifeguards need to babysit the lap pool. Yep, the lap pool full of grown adults is more staffed than the kiddie pool area.

Lesson learned: If you have to share a lane with someone, make sure you hop in when he or she isn’t at the same end as you. Also, getting the swimmer’s attention and letting him/her know that you’re going to be sharing is a plus. (I recommend whacking the swimmer in the head with a water noodle, or maybe dipping your toe into the water and going “Yoo hooooooooo.” Or maybe not.)

Scenario #2: Sharing a Lane
Scenario #2 occurred when Jason and I arrived at the public pool near our house to do a swim workout. We showed up after work, so the pool was pretty packed. There were four lanes available: Easy, Medium, Fast, and Very Fast. The Easy lane had 2 swimmers in it and the other lanes had 4. Logically, Jason and I opted to go into the Easy lane because it was the least crowded. (Also, we’re slow swimmers. Don’t you judge us.)

We started our workout and eventually the woman in our lane left, leaving us with an overweight older man sporting baggy red swim trunks, gigantic goggles and some ridiculous pool accessories. His workout consisted of “running” up and down the lane, and he was quickly getting irate that Jason and I were swimming and constantly passing him. He got so irritated that he stopped at one end of the pool, glared at us for a few laps, and finally resorted to complaining to the lifeguard that we were swimming too fast for the Easy lane. Yeah, that’s right, Jason and I got tattled on by an old man who was jazzercizing during lap swim.

As expected, the lifeguard shrugged at the dude as if to say, “What the hell do I care?” Unsatisfied, the man waited until we swam back to his end and started whining to us about how we’re swimming too fast, dagnabbit! (If he had a cane he would have shook it at us.) Jason pointed out to him that this lane was by far the least crowded and that it’s not fair for him to hog a lane to himself just because he’s excruciatingly slow. They continued to argue back and forth (but thankfully refrained from angrily splashing each other), with the man eventually challenging Jason to guess how old he was. Jason’s response, logically, was “I don’t see how that matters.” Our swimming companion countered that he was sixty-something years old, and I’m not sure if we should have been impressed that such a “geezer” was doing a swim workout, guilted into respecting our elders and giving him the lane, or what. We kind of just stared at him until he finished his tirade and left the pool.

Lesson learned: If it’s lap swim hours and you’re using that time to NOT SWIM LAPS, you shouldn’t get pissed when actual swimmers who need to do a workout have to share with you (and repeatedly pass your non-buoyant ass).

Scenario #3: Infringing on Someone Else’s Space
I had the following conversation with my friend Matt over Gmail chat:

Matthew: last night at the pool there was a wait
so the protocol is you put your name on the whiteboard and you start waiting
and then as lanes free up you remove your name

Me: the pool had a wait?
you don’t share lanes?
what the hell

Matthew: nope, no splitting lanes. anyway, i ended up showing at the exact time that like 4 people started their swims
so I had to wait for like 25 minutes for a lane

Me: aw

Matthew: so as soon as my lane opened up, this fat old lady with giant space goggles walks out of the dressing room and plops into my lane
and begins to “water walk”

Me: hahaha
“Ooh, I’m really movin’ now!”

Matthew: so I walked over and said “you’re in my lane, that’s the whiteboard, it’s my turn, out you go!”
and she said “well the lane next to this one should open up soon”
so I just stared at her in silence for like 15 seconds until she got out of my lane and proceeded to go into the lane next to it
which had a swimmer in it doing laps

Me: did he get mad?

Matthew: he stopped swimming and told her to get out of his lane
so she went into the lane next to that one
which ALSO had swimmers
it was pretty funny

Me: geez

Matthew: you think she’d get the fucking idea and get out of the pool
and go sit in the hottub and wait like everyone else

Me: so how many lanes did she get kicked out of

Matthew: well, she finally got into open swim
which is the end of the pool that’s full of fatties with large goggles
so she was reunited with the herd
like a whale lost in the bering sea

Me: did she jump over a kid standing on a wall pumping his fist in the air?

yeah, pretty much
normally i’m not one to make fun of someone’s weight
but if you steal my lane, i’m gonna insult your weight

Lesson learned: If your pool has certain rules, you need to abide by them. Also refer back to Scenario #2’s lesson about being respectful to actual swimmers doing an actual swim workout. Oh, and finally, don’t piss off Matt when he’s swimming or he’ll insult your weight.

3 Responses to “ “Pool Lane Etiquette for the Swimmer’s Soul”

  1. Christine says:

    You know, I would’ve found this interesting–I’m a new swimmer and am trying to learn the ins and outs–were it not for the fat-shaming. I’m a fat woman, and it doesn’t make a difference to me that Matt’s hatred of fat people was directed at someone else–it’s still hurtful. That woman’s weight has nothing to do with how rude she was. And the people in the open swim area (which, as a learner, is where I go when I go to the pool) weren’t even acting like jerks, it would seem, and your friend still thinks it’s okay to mock them. Where are they supposed to go where they WOULDN’T be mocked? Judging from the conversation you quoted, for this guy, they couldn’t go anywhere without being worthy of his vitriol.

  2. Rebecca says:

    My friend Matt is the creator of The Oatmeal (http://theoatmeal.com). He’s not right in the head. I’m assuming he was just disgruntled because a woman tried to steal his lane and disrupt his swim workout. I get angry when people show up during lap swim and try to fool around in the lane or do water aerobics — I get that they’re trying to work out, but lap swim has a specific purpose, and it’s hard to share a lane or the pool with someone who’s flailing and disrupting your workout (I’ve been hit numerous times by people who aren’t being considerate with space).

  3. Allison says:

    I’m a fairly new runner (been almost a year) and I’m recovering from an injury. Swimming has been recommended as the best way to maintain fitness while I heal. One thing i’ve loved about the running community is their willingness to help others, especially newbies. Unfortunately, after this post, and several others I’ve googled today that fit into the “pool etiquette” category show me the swimming community is NOT like the running community and that i should expect to be yelled at for doing something wrong. Now I’m not looking forward to pool at all. Which I guess might be good news to you and the swimming community. Better to keep out the riff raff, right?


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