Pool etiquette is as important as any other kind of etiquette on earth. For starters, everyone is standing around half naked, or might as well be. So there’s the first and primal duty of keeping your eyes where they belong when you arrive at the pool.
Of course most serious swimmers are long past that point when they’re at the pool. More important thoughts such as how to survive the pending workout occupy much more thought among serious swimmers.
There is still important swim lane etiquette to consider however.
There’s this issue of sharing a swimming lane with someone else while you’re both moving. It sounds simple enough, and people who practice swimming quickly learn the importance of etiquette in the pool.
But conditions can vary, and even etiquette from pool to pool. But here’s some simple advice. If you’re swimming at a pool where the lanes are narrow you really need to put the priorities of your lane partners first. You don’t want to mess up your lane partner’s workout. What a wonderful example of how to get along in this world!
Of course there is also the pace of your swimming to consider as well. If the person swimming in your lane is much faster than you, it is vital and respectful to allow them to own the timing of the lane. For example, if they’re in the middle of a hard repeat 400 interval and you’re only doing repeat 100s at a much slower pace, you should be the one that accommodates their need to make turns and maintain a rhythm and flow.
Most good swimmers negotiate this stuff fairly easily. They’ve done thousands of hours in the pool with swimmers who are both good and bad lane partners. Some have shared lanes with two or three people at a time.
Swimming is unique in this respect of sharing intimate liquid space with someone else. It’s a fact of physics: everything you do in the pool reverberates for everyone else. Cut that down to a single lane and it’s even more important to keep an eye out for your lane partner.
In these respects swimming differs from a sport such as running, but not entirely. For example, one of our teammates in college was known to sweat so badly it was gross to run in his vicinity. Sweat consistently flew off his body and struck you in the face if you ran behind him. “Hey,” we’d yell. “We didn’t come out here to go swimming!”
In cycling there’s this thing called “riding in the draft” that is akin to swimming in the wake of a boat, only you’re cutting through air, not water. But there’s a real challenge in riding a draft behind a person that can’t hold their line and weaves down the road with nary a consideration for the rider behind them. It’s distracting, dangerous and tiring to ride behind or beside a riding partner like that. Generally you’ll see experienced riders jump out from behind a wobbly cyclist and find another spot in the line to ride. Some would much rather lead the pull for miles than try to ride behind a cyclist that cannot hold their line. In racing, those principles become even more important. Poor cyclists cause you energy and time.
Which brings us back to swimming and the whole sharing a lane thing. If you have to share a lane at the pool, here’s a list of people you’ll want to avoid:
1. The Big Wake Swimmer. Some people know how to swim smoothly through the water. Others seem to have evolved their strokes by working as a waterwheel at a grain mill or as the propeller on an ocean line. They move water around so much with every stroke you nearly get knocked into the ropes when you pass by them. There are reasons for their big wake style. They may be a “head-raiser” or “shoulders out of the water” type of swimmer, which generates tons of wake. Or they have a rotating or thrashing stroke that turns a 10 meter circle around them into a Wave Pool. In any case, if you arrive at a pool and see the Big Wake Swimmer churning up the water, pick another lane to share.
2. The Human Orca. Yes, Killer Whales are beautiful, amazing creatures in the wild. But the swimmer who consistently tears at your feet while using your lane is no blessing of nature. Some people never look up when they swim. In triathlons they are the same folks that swim right over top of you as if you were a helpless seal. It’s hard to tell a Human Orca from a distance. But if you wind up in their lane it can be best to get out of the pool and choose a new lane partner. No sense getting eaten alive.
3. The Snot-Nosed Cough & Hacker. It’s simply a gross thought to have to swim through the watery detritus of another swimmer’s nasal or congestive issues. Nothing turns you off to sharing a lane with another person more than the sound of the snarking up Farmer Snots or coughing loudly like a clogged bellows with every pause at the wall. Ick.
4. The Bob and Weaver. Let’s face it, for some people it’s hard to swim in a straight line. When you share a lane with a Bob and Weaver, it means paying close attention when you approach them from the opposite direction lest you get clonked by their head or slammed by a wayward arm or body shot.
5. The Olympic Caliber Jerk or Jerkette. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes even people who offer to share lanes are not the nicest folks you can encounter. Their every action screams “I wish you were not here.” You can almost feel the electric charge of despise and inconvenience in the water. Sure, they’ve likely earned their right to feel like they own the pool, having perhaps swum thousands of miles and won everything from the Kiddie Junior Olympics to the Master’s Swim National Championships. Some people just can’t help lording their ability over others.
Of course you can also encounter a jerk or jerkette that just thinks they’re too good to share a lane. In some ways that’s an even worse situation. The best you can do is be polite and hope you never encounter either species of swimmer again.
Fortunately the swim world is by and large one of grand consideration and etiquette. That’s because the pool is a pleasure for all those who enjoy swimming. Many people like to share that experience. But the fact remains: how sociable can you be really, given that 90% of your time is spent with your face down in the water? It’s not like riding or running where you can carry on a conversation while working out. It’s pretty much you and the bubbles you create for company. When you finally come up for air between laps it’s to catch your breath, not waste it discussing the world’s problems.
Now there’s a good idea! Perhaps the world really would be a better place if more people spent more time in the pool! Hot air and stupid political opinions tend to dissipate when blown into the water. Perhaps we should require that the next set of Middle East talks might be conducted in the confines of a pool, where both space and etiquette are better appreciated. That’s where bitter resentments can be drowned, as well.
May you share your lanes in peace.