Come on in, the Water’s Fine!

As the weather warms, we’re dreaming of taking a dip in the pool! What community pools were popular in the Canal Zone? Were you on a school or community swim team? Did you prefer to swim in natural bodies of water?

As always, any information you have about the photographs below is welcome.

2005.48.38.6Bill Hatchett diving off a springboard, 1950s.

2005.48.41.19Arline Schmidt Winerman in a swim lane, undated.

2013.1.60 Balboa poolBalboa Pool, undated.

2003.45.9.1Hedvig Seedborg and Janet Potter Cunningham at Chorrera Falls, 1930s.

2000.29.75Swimmers playing with a ball at a beach in Portobelo, Panama, undated.


  • loosemarbles

    Thank you for expanding this collection. My maiden name was Tina Boostrom.
    I was a member of the Gamboa Dolphins swim team a couple of years in elementary school, 1964-65. I recall competing in Gamboa and Margarita. I placed 4th in Backstroke at Margarita, 1965.
    A swimmer two years my junior was Susan Call. She broke records at all the pools.

    Tina Stallings, REALTOR
    Fields Gossett Realty
    508 Martin Street South
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  • Carl N. Berg of Cocoli, CZ

    On the West Bank of the Pacific Side we had swimming pools at Fort Kobbe, Farfan housing, and Rodman NavSta. Am quite sure that the Kobbe pool was Olympic size (ditto Fort Clayton and Albrook AFB) with high dive platform. During the late 1950s my two younger brothers and I enjoyed night swimming at Kobbe. The Farfan pool was near the main highway that went from Thatcher Highway past Big Tree and to the front gate at Kobbe. My Cocoli buddy Jerry McNabb was a lifeguard at the Farfan pool in the early 1960s. Everyone in Cocoli, Rousseau, and Rodman used the popular pool at Rodman NavSta. It was busiest during the summer months, when school vacation allowed us to swim there for days on end. I can’t recall if night swimming was allowed. Dozens of sailors would crowd the pool when a Navy ship tied up at Rodman; there were wash tubs full of ice cold beer for the swabbies that we sneaked many cans from. The peephole at the women’s locker room was popular with some of the boys. Whitey, the skinny Navy lifeguard, would blow his whistle when dark clouds and lightning threatened our recreation. Back then we were cautioned not to swim until at least thirty minutes after eating for fear of stomach cramps. The American Red Cross offered swimsuit badges for those who had passed certain swimming requirements. The deep end had two low diving spring boards and a diving platform in the middle. A covered eating and rest area was close by, convenient for parents and young swimmers. I went into the abandoned Rodman pool area in 2011 and was shocked beyond belief to see the disastrous condition of the locker rooms, the pool, and the Officers Club above the locker rooms (not to mention the unoccupied housing area)….Along the Army’s K-9 Road northwest of Cocoli we had the Cocoli River swimming hole, a popular site for splashing, rope hanging, beer drinking, etc. Cocoli Lake, a fresh water hole that was part of the abandoned Third Locks Project, near Miraflores Locks, was also very popular, beginning in the early 1960s…The Balboa swimming pool was pretty much, for us in Cocoli, a school pool only for PE classes.

  • James Sweeney

    I lived in the Canal Zone/Panama Canal Area from 1972 to 1999. My wife, Diane, grew up on the Atlantic Side and learned to swim at Gatun Pool. The Zone and its bases had lots of swimming pools and free swimming lessons for residents’ children. The Pacific Side had Balboa Pool behind the Club House and Balboa Theater. Bob Barnes spent time as the pool director and later Vince Thomas and Shorty worked there. Vince trained lots of kids and even the St. Mary’s Swim team. He also gave those of us who coached the swim teams our WSI training. Russ Stromberg taught a number of courses for the College at Balboa Pool.
    I coached the BHS swim teams beginning in 1972 as Al Sprague’s assistant coach. Al and I learned much of what we used for our school practices from the Canadian coach of the private swim club, the CINER’s that put out some really successful swimmers, such as Suzanne Call. The Los Rios Pool had lessons and Dave Beldus ran his swim program from that pool. He also developed some good swimmers for the schools meets and AAU teams, including his daughters. We had our swim meets at Balboa Pool, three league meets to determine the Schools Champions and All Isthmus swimmers and a Championship Meet, initially at the Gamboa Pool. Vince also organized a Special Olympics meet at Gamboa which our swim team members supported. Cristobal High School had its own team and a long course pool and we would also swim there for at least one meet. Curundu Junior High had a 33 yard pool used for Coach Magee and Coach Anderson’s teams, and later for Coach Wruck’s Courgar swimmers. I taught PE for a few years at Curundu and my favorite unit was at the pool. We got lots of kids swimming using the life guards for various levels from beginners to the better swimmers, which I selfishly coached. I met some later in our swim meets. The military had pools, Amador, Quarry Heights, Clayton, Rodman, Howard, Albrook, Ft. Gulick, Ft. Davis, and Paraiso Community had a pool as well as the YMCA and Margarita on the Atlantic Side. I may have left out some. Kids could sign up for lessons and earn their B Badge, which allowed kids to go to the pool without their parents. You could work your way up with advanced badges as you took more classes and improved your skills and passed the swimming tests. The YMCA had Baby and Me classes for new mothers and their infants. It was always warm and the pools were accessible year round and free, except for the military bases. Great place for birthday parties, workouts, playing with the kids, or just hanging out. There was also water volleyball. Coach Sprague invented an new game, underwater hockey. He made little wooden hockey sticks and a puck. Swimmers would try to dive down to the bottom of Balboa Pool and push the puck to the far pool wall or defend against it. We would also play water polo on the afternoons before swim meets. Coach Sprague brought his scuba gear and our team picture was taken under water as the teammates held their breaths. There were several women’s coaches including Kathy Sears and my wife, plus some others.
    Other great places to swim were Kobbe Beach, Amador Beach, which both had “shark nets” though full of holes. The beaches in the Interior, especially Palmar, Gorgona, and Rio Teta were popular for surfing and on the Atlantic Side Isla Grande, V Land, Ft. Sherman beach, and the beach across for Ft. San Lorenzo were popular. On the lake was the private islands where you could waterski or have a picnic under a bohio, for a time there was a beach on the Chagres at Gamboa where the old golf club was. It had a series of booms to keep out the hyacinth plants. Amador Beach had a float to swim to and a snack bar. Gatun Boat Club was another place to swim on the Atlantic Side. For a time each large pool sponsored AAU swim meets for kids. Mr. Naum I think ran that program. Going way back the Canal Zone had some very serious swim programs.

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