Oakland public pools offer year-round swimming, employment opportunities

Tanna Samone

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Lions Pool at Dimond Park.

“We have the best weather in the U.S,” said Justice Bolden, recreation supervisor for the City of Oakland Aquatics & Boating Unit. It is no wonder that 4 out of 5 Oakland public pools are in use year round.

The Parks and Recreation Youth Development department offers a variety of programs and lessons for all ages such as: Lifeguard/Junior Lifeguard training, Learn-to-Swim lessons, competitive swim teams, stroke clinics, lap swim, public swim, aquatic playtime, water aerobics, and other aquatic fitness classes such as water walking. Pools are also available for rental. 

Regardless of age or ability aquatic exercise is accessible and affordable to Oaklanders. According to William Davis Jr., recreation program director, classes are available for infants all the way up to seniors. Parent and tots classes begin as young as 6 mos and Learn to Swim is open to anyone of any age. Rates vary depending on the class. There are typically 8 lessons per session and range anywhere from $30-$60 dollars for 8, 30 minute lessons.

Junior lifeguarding was designed as a mentorship program and pathway to employment for participants ages 11-15 years. 16 years old is the minimum age one must be by the time of hire.

“We recruit a diverse workforce here in the Aquatics unit that matches and meets the needs of the community we serve. We want our staff to mirror the rich and diverse culture, in terms of demographics, of the Oakland community,” Bolden said. Bilingual pay for employees fluent in languages other than English are incentives for employees and help better serve the community.

Davis Jr. got his start as a participant in a Learn-to-Swim program. He then became a junior guard and joined the swim team. “It was the feeling I got when I was there,” Davis Jr. said. “I looked up to those individuals. They were heroes in a sense,” Davis recalled of the life guards who trained him long before he became program director..

Like Davis, many former participants have grown from mentee to mentor and gone on to civil service careers in the Aquatics unit, Police and Fire Departments. The Aquatics Unit plans to keep this practice flowing by partnering with programs like Oakland Police Activity League (PAL) and Oakland Fire. 

Lions Pool is located at Dimond Park near Dimond Recreation Center.

Oakland public pools have had competitive swim teams since 1970. Lions pool, in Dimond Park, is the City of Oakland’s oldest pool built in 1929. “We have swimmers who are older than that pool,” Bolden said, “Still in their 90s who come consistently throughout the year.” 

Bolden said that many former staff and swim team participants also participate in the alumni relay at championships each summer, with over 300 people in attendance.

Aquatic fitness can be a lifelong way to exercise. It is low impact and good for the cardiovascular system. With “ailments that plague our communities such as hypertension and diabetes, swimming and cardiovascular activity is one of the ways we, from a health perspective, can combat it,” Bolden said. Though Bolden’s career began in Memphis, he learned the benefits of aquatic therapy from his godfather, O.C. Lewis. Who was a Center Director at The Raymond Skinner Center, a facility which served individuals with developmental, cognitive, and physical disabilities. 

Kathleen Daves-Conner has been attending water aerobics and swimming at East Oakland Sports Complex since 2017. She learned about water aerobics while subbing at an Oakland public school. She attends water aerobics regularly during mornings and swims for about 20 minutes afterward. She said that there are about 25 students in the class. According to Daves-Commer many water aerobics students have gained such comfort in the water from aquatic fitness classes, that they have decided to learn to swim too.

She likes it because it is a low impact activity and she enjoys the music. Many people go there based on doctor recommendations, Daves-Conner said. She said that most of the other members of the class, “are there for health reasons and to get out of the house.” It is good for both mental and physical health, according to Ms. Daves-Conner. She also said the classes are diverse and the people are positive which promotes comradery. 

Defremery Park pool.

East Oakland Sports Center, built in 2011 with funds from Measure DD, is the only indoor pool, therefore it offers a lot of programming. Temescal, Lions, and DeFremery Pools offer lap swim year round. Lions and DeFremery also offer swim lessons. Many also offer recreational swimming on the weekends. 

Oakland’s weather allows outdoor pool access year-round. With swimming and aquatic exercise programs available for all ages and abilities, Oakland Parks and Recreation Youth Development helps residents promote and maintain individual and community health through fitness, fellowship, and employment opportunities.

Disclosure: Tanna is a former seasonal lifeguard and assistant pool manager.


Tanna Samone was born in “The City” and raised in “The Town.” She has gratefully served both San Francisco and Oakland in Emergency Medical Services and Education. Community journalism is community service. Oakland Voices is an opportunity for her to serve information for and from its residents, her neighbors.

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2024-01-08 22:26:27 , Oakland Voices

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