Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
The most frequent accolade expressed by YMCA habitus is a deep appreciation for the unending supply of fresh towels, and we agree -- especially since the huge stacks here are often warm. Add state-of-the-art, clean and diverse workout facilities (including an indoor Olympic-size pool), a helpful staff, income-based membership pricing, a fully equipped password-protected women's-only workout area and an in-house Smoothie King, and you'll see why the YMCA Downtown trumps every other gym in the city. Another reason we can't get enough of this gym is the regular-people factor: Families, social groups and friends gather here after work and school to play basketball, squash, volleyball and racquetball, and a packed schedule of classes from yoga and kickboxing to water aerobics and spinning ensures a place for members of all fitness levels and ages. Giant locker room facilities contain day and overnight lockers, hot showers, steam rooms, whirlpools, dry saunas and restrooms, as well as oversize vanities with hair dryers.
This man-made Brays Bayou feeder teems with wildlife both native and exotic. From the levee that protects the western edge of the Ayrshire subdivision you can gaze down on a usually sluggish (and, truth be told, smelly and trash-strewn) stream full of minnows, frogs, snakes and three kinds of turtle -- black-and-yellow sliders, prehistoric-looking (and surprisingly speedy) softshells and vicious snappers. Herons and egrets wade the muddy waters in search of aquatic snacks, while glossy brown nutria loll about in the ponds. Night brings owls, opossums and raccoons, and just across the ditch lies a 500-foot-wide CenterPoint Energy/Union Pacific easement, an oddly pastoral strip in which horses graze and green and gray Argentine monk parakeets nest, all under the watchful eyes of wheeling hawks. Sure, the arboretum is cleaner and shadier, and Brazos Bend has gators, but Kilmarnock Ditch makes up for that by being more unknown and infinitely more surreal.
There are few places left in Houston where one can drink, smoke and bowl, all at the same time. There's just one, in fact, and that place is Palace Lanes. The joint is technically located in Southside, rather than in Houston metro, even though it fits within the borders of Bellaire. Thanks to this little loophole, you can smoke and drink to your heart's delight while throwing some mean strikes down the lanes. Here's to true athleticism!
Near the busy intersection of Richmond and Shepherd rests the modern oasis of Dawn Mountain. From its spacious, airy new home, the Tibetan temple, community center and research institute welcomes all seekers to its meditation sessions every Sunday at 11 a.m. Enter quietly, place your shoes in the snug cubbyhole and take a seat in the temple (pillows and chairs are provided). Amid beautiful Buddhist imagery and artifacts, your leader will briefly explain the proper posture and the morning's plan of (in)action. Sessions usually consist of two calming parts and last about an hour, with a brief break in between. Often the instructor will lead you and your contemplative cohorts through a visualization and a chant or two. The meditation is free, though donations are appreciated. You are asked only to dedicate your practice to the welfare of all sentient beings. And we can think of nothing more serene.
If you're looking for a good way to break some bones, Memorial Park's bike paths can do the trick. Known as the "Ho Chi Minh" mountain bike trail amongst regulars, you can find yourself smack in the middle of a Mountain Dew commercial before you even realize what hit you. Once you get over the fact that there's a gigantic, beautiful preserve of this magnitude within the bounds of metropolitan Houston, get ready for some of the highest jumps and sperm-killing drops you can imagine. The VC would be proud.
If there's one thing Houston isn't short on, it's golf courses. Our fair city has enough rich white men to fill several GOP fund-raisers, so it's only fitting that we have an abundance of excellent places to swing some clubs. The best place by far to get your drive on is Hermann Park. Centrally located, affordable, within minutes of hot Rice University coeds and open to the public, Hermann Park Golf Course is the quintessential American driving range. The people's driving range. But don't tell the Man, or he just might have to shut it down.
With 124 acres of lush green land and the city's most popular Frisbee golf course, Buffalo Bayou Park offers the aspiring thrower 18 holes of opportunity to perfect his or her tomahawk against the backdrop of the beautiful downtown skyline. As Dave said in The Tao of Steve, be desire-less, be excellent, be gone.
Houston isn't generally known for its natural beauty and places to hike, but it boasts some close-in hidden gems that you can quickly escape to when the urban lifestyle starts to degrade your mojo. When it's time for a recharge, take a trip to Brazos Bend State Park in Needville. Named one of America's Top Ten State Parks by...the people who name such things, BBSP is filled with 5,000 acres of trees, creeks, lakes and alligators, plus miles and miles of hiking trails. By the end of your hike, you'll be ready to return to the urban jungle and show off your newfound sense of primitive survival skills. Either that, or you'll be dead.
It's a shame that, in the 21st century, coming out of the closet is still a big deal for a celebrity. It's an especially big deal for a pro athlete. But when you have a president who wants to go out of his way to amend the freaking Constitution in order to ban gay marriage, you know you're dealing with a sensitive issue. Enter Sheryl Swoopes, Olympic medal-winning, NCAA record-setting, all-around ass-kickin' Comet. She came out last October, saying she was tired of hiding her relationship with partner Alisa Scott. Something like that shouldn't be a bombshell anymore, but it is, especially in her home state. Imagine an NBA star coming out. Or a major-leaguer. What about the NFL? "Well," you say, "none of those guys are gay." Right. In the meantime, props to Sheryl for showing guts and glory off the court as well as on.
A refugee from corporate America, Kay Westcott has been teaching yoga full-time since 1995. She leads 20 classes a week at different venues around town, including the Jewish Community Center, the West U Bally's and Your Body Center. What makes her classes so enjoyable is her positive attitude and playful approach: She likes to get feedback from her students, but that's not always easy when they're working hard. ("Y'all have stopped talking to me. Are you mad at me?") For years she's taught an advanced class at the Downtown YMCA, where students explore the outer limits of their practice with challenging asanas. And she revels in what she calls the "sweaty, grunty phase" of a new pose, encouraging her yogis and yoginis to express themselves with moans and groans. Whether you're just beginning or ready to hit some new yogic highs, Kay will lead you on the path to awareness, serenity and growth.
At high water or low, there's no place better for a human-powered boat to put in than Armand Bayou Nature Center. Early risers can watch deer, reptiles and waterfowl as they start their day in the wetlands. At any time, though, attentive visitors can enjoy abundant native wildlife in the water and along the muddy beaches of this briny estuary. Motorboats are banned here, so the safe cove with its slow-moving water makes the spot ideal for beginners and a great place for old hands to relax. Those with the endurance to make a day of it can paddle all the way to Clear Lake Park, where they can enjoy crabbing or picnicking before heading back. You can't miss the numerous pelicans -- brown and giant white -- that call this preserve home.
With Six Flags theme parks going the way of the World's Fair, it might not be long before SplashTown becomes a parking lot. So pay homage while you can to the Texas Freefall, one of the oldest spots in Houston where you can get a colossal water-slide wedgie. Remember all those relaxing days in the Lazy River dodging kids who were coming down off a sugar high? (And the random warm spots caused by too many sodas?) In its better days, SplashTown was a great place to take the kids for an innocent day in the sun. In its lesser days, it was a gathering place for unaccompanied teenagers wanting to ogle the opposite sex. And in its darker days, it was closed on account of rain.