The horizon at dawn. A dirty smear of orange light. The sleepy family is hurried into the heavily packed truck. A father covers his young children with a wool blanket avoiding the worried eyes of his pregnant wife. The house crouches in the trees in front of them. Dark. Empty. The miracles of family and laughter are all gone. He nudges her toward the passenger side and gives the house one long last look. His face is grim and impassive. He has to do what must be done. He claws at the keys and starts the heavy truck. Dropping it into gear and backing out of the driveway of the family home, he hears his wife sobbing softly in the cold cruel morning. Her dream of being a housewife with her own home is ending. Driving into an uncertain future, he stares straight ahead.
Lately, this scenario is repeated over and over ad nauseum. Many factors contributed to the foreclosures and the ensuing debacle in the housing market but skateboarders seldom concern themselves with the minutiae of a given thing. They are content enough to reap the benefits of a homeowners unhappiness. From natural disasters such as fires, earthquakes, landslides, economic downturns and drought, skateboarders have always turned such mayhem into a creative outlet of expression. Pool skating started in the drought of the 1970′s. Back then, a homeowner couldn’t keep his pool filled. They emptied out and it didn’t take too much longer for a group of wandering skateboarders to see and realize the potential that an empty swimming pool offered up.
The skateboarding magazines of the time started publishing images of Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Jerry Valdez, Kent Senatore and others. All were riding the lip of these empty pools. Surf style, anarchy and lawlessness were blatantly represented in those photographs. I was a kid skateboarding in the farm lands of Pennsylvania and when I saw those photographic images, they burned themselves into my brain. My hard drive has never deleted those files. I can still see the image of Tony Alva on Maple Drive in Beverly Hills. He is poised precariously on one wheel, a sneer of defiance on his face, his middle finger raised in a message to everyone. I – like kids everywhere – saw those pool images and wanted what it represented. We wanted to ride backyard pools. We longed to surf turn and carve those pools and rebel against societal norms. There is a secrecy and coolness that oozes from pool riding… it is contagious. Back then, skateboarding was fairly new and pools were unexplored territory.
Pennsylvania doesn’t have very many concrete pools and I know this to be a fact because I looked. I built ramps and periodically would attach blue linoleum bathroom tiles under the cinder block coping in an attempt to create a ‘pretend pool’. It was all I could do. I rode parks when I could and ditches like everyone, but pools remained out of my reach. Over the years I rode vert ramps, went into the military after high school and served my country. While at Camp Pendleton, I rode Del Mar and a few other California skate parks. They were unreal, but I longed to ride the coveted backyard pool plaster. After my military service, I ended up going back to Pennsylvania, completing college and becoming an RN. Almost immediately afterwards, I returned to California for good.
I had been visiting my friends out here for several years and they introduced me to Steve Alba while I was in college. He took me to some of my first backyard pools and every time I visited the west coast, I rode pools with Salba. Once I lived in San Diego, it wasn’t long before I started driving around searching and finding pools. I became friends with many in the pool riding underground. I rode with Jonathan ‘Bacon’ Hobbs, Rhino, Preston, and Andy. There are a large number of guys out there that ride pools to the exclusion of all else. It is a difficult and acquired type of skating. It is mostly illegal because of the trespassing aspect of it, and one never really knows what one is going to find. Pool skaters drive long roads and look at many boarded up homes…
We find pools in many ways. Sometimes luck is on our side. Oftentimes, we drive the neighborhood grids in systematic fashion. We tend to confine our searches to areas that were built from the 1940s up to the late 1960s. For some reason, this time frame was when they seemed to build the most kidney, capsule & amoeba -shaped pools. Often, great pools are found in neighborhoods that were once upscale, but have
since –for various reasons– gone downhill. Highway projects, airport runway and flight path areas are some examples. Technology helps. We no longer have to hop a fence and look. We can Google Earth satellite image the location and if it looks like there is a good pool, we can then stealth our way back inside the yard and check it. We gather our friends…
Some pools are sitting on bank foreclosed properties. The people pack up and leave at the crack of dawn. There is trash everywhere. The pool lies stagnant and nasty because there is no power or water and drug addicts, alcoholics and squatters occupy them and destroy everything. It is brutal, dangerous and risky. When I go into a backyard to drain a pool, I am at risk. Trapped back there with my generator pump running, I cannot hear people come to the house because of the sound. My pump is worth a thousand dollars and I usually have tools, a camera and cell phone. I am an easy target. The neighborhoods are mostly rundown and people live desperate lives. Crime. Pain. So many have so little, for so long, that they will easily take a risk to acquire what is mine. I know. I have seen guys walk up on me and hungrily eye up my gear. It’s not a good feeling. I have been highly trained to handle myself in most situations and have done so, but it doesn’t take much strength or skill to pull a trigger. I could easily fall victim as much as anyone else.
When I worked in the hospital, people –doctors and such– would ask me what I do on the weekends but after awhile I gave up trying to tell them. I would just shrug and say, “I like porn and poker.” They might understand if I took the time to explain it all to them… but I didn’t and I won’t. The vacant uncomprehending looks and invariable response– “Do you know Tony Hawk?” always kept me mute on the subject. The search for pools is a strange thing for me. It is a need. A pathology. Inside, I just know that the very next ‘great pool’ is around that corner. For a few years, I didn’t ride pools as much. Responsibility kept me henpecked and –pretty much– out of the backyards.
One day I realized that I was living for everyone else and not for me. I was an alcohol -fueled, twisted, money-making hollow man. I became the very thing I hated most in the world. My only comfort was the sound of ice cubes falling into a glass of bourbon. I quickly found myself a rehabilitation bed at the VA hospital, slaughtered my dragon and got straightened out. Now I live my dream. I stay sober, soulful and in harmony with my creator. Am I going through a mid-life crisis? Some might say so. I don’t think that is the case. The only crisis that was occurring in my life was my inability to face up to my shortcomings and do the right thing. Am I to stay perpetually twelve years old? Maybe… I’m not sure. All I know is that I have walked this earth with an empty void in me that cannot be filled by anything except skateboarding. It brings me peace. I feel alive. I love to share pool riding with people. Some guys are very territorial. They don’t like to share their pools and I understand why. The more people that ride them, the quicker they are to be lost to us. I don’t really care. Skateboarding and pool skating saved my life. All or nothing has to be worth something. What I am doing… matters. Every single time I take someone new out to ride pools, I see that look on their face and it is such a reward… creative expression. Pure fun and freedom. That is what it’s all about. Thank you to PK, Rhino, MRZ, Tony Jones and Bill Sharp for the images. Skate- Ozzie
This was originally written a few years ago for Skateboarder’s Journal. I decided to post it here since it was never used.