Mister - when are the waves coming on?
If Lisnagelvin duty manager Jayson McIntyre had a pound for every time he heard those words, he’d be a rich man.
With its archaic coloured baskets, canoe boats on the wall and giant inflatable floats, fun times at Lisnagelvin swimming pool and leisure centre are ingrained in the memories of old and young across the city.
And when it finally closes its door in April, almost 35 years to the day it opened, it’ll mark the end of decades of happy times in a pool that brought together people from all communities in Derry.
But a new era beckons with the opening of the Foyle Arena and a brand new swimming pool in St Columb’s Park.
Jayson has been part of the fabric of Lisnagelvin since it opened in 1980 - and he remembers how years ago he got chucked out of the pool for throwing a ball at a lifeguard when he was a boy.
“My mother was the receptionist here, I got a clip round the ear that day,” he said. “I got started swimming here and eventually went on to be a lifeguard.
“My vivid memory of the pool when it opened was the queues. People would have queued right round to Lisnagelvin Primary School. We used to get the staff to go outside and count people and put them in sessions. There could have been four or five sessions waiting outside, that’s how popular it was.”
The William Street pool and Templemore Sports Complex were already open when the Lisnagelvin pool opened its doors but from the moment the tickets were issued it was clear there was something special about it.
“The pool is a mirror image of one in Shankhill,” said Jayson. “The only difference is the roof. These were the only two pools that had waves.
“We had children coming in from all over - Limavady, Dungiven and Strabane - from as far away as 20 miles. The youth clubs from Shantallow, Rosemount, Irish Street and Nelson Drive all used it and we never had any bother. Everyone got on.”
Jayson, like thousands of youngsters in Derry, learned to swim at Lisnagelvin.
“We have the best structured swimming lessons in this town,” said Jayson. “And we have great teachers such as Donna Philson, she is first class.
“I’ve been working here as a casual since I was 16 so I’ve been here 25 years now. My abiding memories are of the BMX track outside and the weeks we spent doing summer camps, first at the Lisnagelvin pitches for football and cricket and finishing off the in the pool.
“People often talk about the big monster inflatable (known affectionately as IT) we used to have in the water. And of course the rumours that went round that if you peed in the water everyone would know because the lifeguards had put a special chemical in that would make the water go red.
“There was a bit of reverse psychology that went with that. The lifeguards used to joke that they kept sharks behind the bars.
“When I was younger I was afraid of going down the deep end because the water was dark blue. One day the lifeguard fired me into the water and it made me lose my fear. But Lisnagelvin is just six foot deep, William Street is ten foot and Templemore is eight foot deep.”
But Jayson said the question that everyone asks - at least 20 times a day is - “when are the waves coming on?”
“If I’ve heard that question once I’ve heard it 1,000 times,” said Jayson. “And it’s not just the wanes. At night time when it is quieter we only have two lifeguards on. For the waves you need three lifeguards, and the adults swimmers are still asking for them to be put on.”
As staff prepare to move to the Foyle Arena, Jayson said there’s a sense of sadness to leave Lisnagelvin because it is such a unique pool with its beachstyle depth and wave machine. However Derry City Council says while the new pool will not have a wave machine, it will have a separate children’s pool and moveable floor to adjust the depth.
And as for Lisnagelvin, a spokesperson for Derry City Council confirmed that the pool will be closed and that a number of options for the building are being proposed for discussion and consideration by elected members.
Juliana Harkin from Circle of Support told the Journal they’d been using the pool two and half years.
“For kids with autism there are a lot of things we have to take into consideration,” she said. “It needs to be quiet and there needs to be a one to one focus. Staff here have been absolutely brilliant and they gave us our own sessions. They were totally understanding at the beginning about what we need, the kids need routine and consistency and are used to having the same instructors in the water every week.
“All our children come in with an adult with them so they all have one to one supervision. Originally we had ten kids who were almost terrified to put their feet into the water, now have 25, they get short bursts of instruction and they are all in the water and enjoying the water.”
Jeannie Flanagan said the pool has been great for her Aquanatal sessions.
“It’s a great pool for it,” she said. “Lisnagelvin gave us a nice peaceful time to do it and it has great benefits.”
Collette Higgins said her daughter Zoe, who has Down Syndrome, is the pool’s biggest fan.
“Zoe has been coming here since she was three,” she said. “It has been fantastic for her confidence. Zoe gets one to one sessions with her instructor and comes every Friday with the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust. She loves the waves and the staff. Without Lisnagelvin Zoe wouldn’t be able to swim.”