The Wet and Eldery History of the Sai Wan Swimming Shed
Hong Kong/ Nomads/ Explore

An Elderly Swimming Paradise and Youth Instagram Hotspot at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed

An Elderly Swimming Paradise and Youth Instagram Hotspot at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed 1

Mr. Wo is 88 years old and has swum at Kennedy’s Town Sai Wan Swimming Shed for more than 40 years.

On a warm Friday morning in October, Mr. Wo strips off his baggy white t-shirts, dons a pair of black swimming goggles, and waddles over in sandals to the rickety swimming deck, connected to Sai Wan’s two green-painted metal sheds and overgrown surroundings. He dives in and bobs around in the water for 30 minutes before returning to land and a sunbathe.

Often in weekday mornings, a group of healthy boomers and octogenarians gather at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed, a steep jungle walk down from Victoria Road in Kennedy Town, to chatter and enjoy the cool west Hong Kong waters.

Ask any teen or budding young Instagrammer in Hong Kong (a quarter the age of the daily swimmers) about one of the city’s most beautiful “secret” spot for a sunset snap and Sai Wan Swimming Shed will be at the top of their list.

The swimming shed in 1970 was founded by the community of elderly adventurists that make up the peculiar hobbyist commune. The story of the shed and one of Hong Kong’s most Instagrammable hotspots traces back to the early 20th century and the plight of Hong Kong’s poor.

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Hong Kong’s growth under a colonial British political and business centre was slow at the turn of the 20th century. Funds for municipal services in recreation and education to serve the city’s poor were low, whilst space in the city was scarce amongst sprawling villages and jagged mountain cliffsides.

In 1911, the wealthy Chinese Recreation Club of Hong Kong, seeking an opportunity to provide an inexpensive service for recreational swimming to the city, set up a swimming shed and an accessible deck at Seven Sister Beach in Tsat Tsz Mui, now Braemer Point.

A generation following the 1911 construction, in the 1950s, Hong Kong saw the construction of additional swimming sheds dotted around small cloves and jagged beaches in residential communities.

Kennedy Town’s Chung Sing Swimming Shed and Mount Davis’ Kam Ngan Swimming Shed were the most famous destinations for ocean swimming. Boat rental services were organized out of a swimming shed in Lai Chi Kok Bay and a short deck was installed in Pokfulam’s Sandy Bay.

Beaches at Siu Sai Wan, Tai Kau Wan, and Hung Hom Pier were also popular with locals.

Photo by Website/Whampoa

Entrance fees to the swimming sheds were cheap, accrued in a monthly membership fee, and swimwear was available for leasing to swimmers – at a cheap rate of HK$0.3 for female swimming suits and less for males.

The communities took form along the public docks through bamboo and metal sheet huts and outdoor tarpaulin changing rooms. The sheds were an inexpensive government plan to provide residents a way to cool off in the tepid Hong Kong summer water.

Due to the insufficient number of public swimming pools during the 1930’s until the 1970’s, the group of swimming sheds grew in popularity and garnered a wealth of Hong Kong’s working class.

In 1932, the Chung Sing Benevolent Society, a Hong Kong-based charity focusing on funding opera and theatre arts in the city, amongst elderly and health causes, built the Chung Sing Swimming Shed, located adjacent to the Kennedy Town Bus Terminus.

A popular spot for working class and elderly swimmers, the swimming shed was its demise as the Hong Kong government began land development around Hong Kong Island.

With Hong Kong modernizing and the shipping industry seeing its growth, water in the harbour became an issue and lack of maintenance saw the use of the swimming sheds decline.

Few swimming sheds survived beyond the 1970s which saw reclamation efforts expand the length of harbours in Hong Kong. Due to reclamation in Kennedy Town, the Chung Sing Swimming Shed moved to the coast of Mount Davis and merged with the Admiralty Winter Swimming Team, today’s Sai Wan swimming community.

The swimming shed closed shortly after a drop in frequenting locals.

Photo by Website/

In 1988, Yin Honghui and his friends, members of the Kaifong Welfare Association of the Western District in Kennedy Town, a non-governmental organization funding neighbourhood recreational services, appealed to the government for approval to reopen the Sai Wan swimming shed.

Swimming sheds, for 110 years, are not supervised by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. The swimming clubs are required to sign contracts with the government to pay a service rate for renting out the space.

After a successful tendering for the space to continue a swimming tradition at the foot of Mount Davis in Kennedy Town, the Sai Wan Swimming Shed survived, under the current directorship of the Admiralty Swimming Club.

Members, ranging from 50- to 90-years-old, pay an estimated monthly fee of HK$120 for the facilities at the shed. Two two-floor green sheds, made from corrugated iron-clad sheeting, make up the “shed” of the Sai Wan Swimming Shed complex.

Enclosed within the green compound is a kitchen, a male and female changing room, closet for garden materials to tend to the surrounding area, and a make-shift bed for tired swimmers.

On a Friday morning in October, only three men were seen swimming or resting within the Sai Wan complex. Approximately 80 members make up the community of swimmers.

The steep declining entrance to the Sai Wan Swimming Shed, nor the lack of a lifeguard, snaggy barnacle-covered rocks, or deaths of four swimmers, have deterred neither the elderly swimmers that commute from far to Sai Wan nor locals with a camera to enjoy the calm vista of Green Island, Tsing Yi, and the Victoria Harbor strait.

Visitor numbers by both local tourists and swimmers have decreased in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong. Despite this, the community behind the Sai Wan Swimming Shed still sees a strong daily presence of elderly members dipping into the (relatively) freezing ocean of Hong Kong.

The Sai Wan Swimming Shed is accessible by MTR, riding on the Island Line to Kennedy Town and taking the 58 green minibus to the Island West Transfer Station on Victoria Road.

Cross the street and locate two signs in Cantonese that reads “Western District Kaifong Welfare Association / Adult Peaceful Club / Admiralty Swimming Team.” Head down the stairs.

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