I recall that it was the winter of 1990. Pennsylvania was a frozen place. Frost, ice and snow covered the entire space of things. My good friend, Buster Halterman had just started riding for Chris Miller’s new company- Planet Earth. Buster was elated. Chris Miller had always been a huge influence on him. Many other skateboarders around the world felt the same. Chris was the definition of style and power. He dominated pools, bowls and vert ramps. Riding for Planet Earth would be a dream come true. The first time Buster received a paycheck as a professional skateboarder for Planet Earth, we gathered around him. He slid a knife along the edge of the envelope. The check fell onto the counter. The check was made out to Buster from the company, Zachary’s Planet Earth. The company was named after Chris Miller’s son.
Fast forward eight years. Buster had moved to California and I followed. Skateboarding. Pools. Bowls. Great weather. I would hang out with Buster at his house in Encinitas and Chris Miller would sometimes be there. He had his sons Zach and Lucas with him. They all surfed together often. They were barely in their teens, but Chris had them skating bowls, vert ramps, pools and the Encinitas Skatepark, almost daily. Zach developed rather quickly. His style was Teflon smooth and he struggled with consistency early on. Zach knew that he loved skating. It was hard-wired into him genetically. Gifted. Over the ensuing years, he learned exponentially at times and at others… he fought with himself to progress. Skateboarding is not an easy endeavor. Some pain and frustration are a typical requirement. Most people quit. Zach Miller didn’t. Turning point. The future is his.
October 2013. San Bernardino, California
We moved through the hot afternoon sun. Dry grass crunched underfoot and Zach carried a bucket, broom and a bottle of water. His eyes moved over the nearby houses. He turned to me, “Are the neighbors cool?” I nodded. We’d skated the pool before and hadn’t been bothered. I think that the neighbors knew we pumped out the mosquito-infested water and kept the place clean so… Why bother us? Zach had been to backyard pool sessions before and knew the drill. We pulled ourselves over the fence and helped each other with gear and tools. It was warm. The sun glittered off the white plaster and old graffiti had been painted over by someone… The house had burned in the old fires about a decade ago. Little had changed since then. Abandoned, overgrown lot. Crumbled foundations. Time on rewind.
There was a few feet of black water and debris in the bottom. Broken beer bottles sparkled. Zach began sweeping and others started the bucketing process. The sun sat on our backs. Sweat. Strain. We made a line and passed bucket after bucket of stinking water up and out of the pool. A final scoop of muck and a finish rinse made the pool rideable. We sat and peered around at the pool waiting for it to dry. It wouldn’t be long. “This deep end looks really good. The line over the side ladder looks awesome.” Zach pointed with his hand. He stood and looked around the pool. Envisioning lines. It is how things are done.
In the hothouse climate of San Bernardino, things are bone dry and usually stay that way. The pool was ready in less time than it takes to tell it. Zach pushed in and we all quickly joined him. We felt out the transitions and soon started putting things together. Everyone was super stoked to finally sample what the pool had to offer. Personal barriers were bested. Limits pushed. In pool skating, there is a code of conduct. One must earn it. You earn your rides because you have to work first. A skater can go to a skate park and just skate. With pools, they need to be located, a thorough evaluation needs to be completed and oftentimes, a huge drain or cleanup is required before it can even be ridden. We had cleaned this muck pit and now we were enjoying the fruits of our labor. Zach rolled quickly into the deep end and cut a scalpel-sharp arc up the left wall. He carved hard. Surf-inspired roots. Approaching the side ladder stairs, he unweighed. A strobe splashed. Zach hung suspended over the side ladder. Backside ollie. A swift descent. A perfect moment. Earned.
We didn’t push our luck. We left like we had arrived. Quiet. Unobtrusive. We took only the fun and left nothing but wheel marks. There are other pools to be sampled on this day. As we drove, Zach talked about the differences in skatepark bowl skating and backyard pool skating. “The transitions are so imperfect in pools. One wall can be so good and the opposite side can be kinked or steep… it’s something I almost like about it, just finding your speed and rhythm feels rad in itself.” I couldn’t agree more. Finding the speed is the most essential part of pool skating. It is the root source of everything after. After stopping for more water and snacks, we crept down a side street in a quiet neighborhood. An old man sat idly on his front porch. Small dogs yapped at us from a well-manicured lawn. We moved onto a smaller side street and I pulled the car to the curb. The others looked at me expectantly. “Come on Zach. Let’s check this out.”
We both walked to a block wall and eased ourselves over. A small right hand kidney pool greeted our eyes. Zach smiled. “Its empty!” I grinned and we high-fived each other. We went back to the cars and soon were all gathered around the coping like kids around the tree at Christmas. We swept it and I posted up near the wall to watch for neighbors or somebody unpleasant. “You guys have fifteen minutes.” I stated flatly. The crew started throwing themselves out of the pool. Things grew hectic behind me. I kept my eyes where they were supposed to be. Watching. Waiting. After a few minutes, Zach came to me and clapped a hand on my shoulder. “This is a good one, dude!” His eyes lit up. He was stoked. Behind him, I saw happy faces. Contentment. We were out of time. “Grab your stuff. We’re going.” The fifteen minute rule has been in place forever. Fifteen minutes is the approximate time we have to get in, make noise skating, have prying eyes call the police and have those police respond. Adhere to it. It’ll save you money and court costs. Thus endeth the lesson.
We ended our day at Ridiculous. The pool is perfect and many have ridden it. I live there. The crew pitched in and BBQ food was bought, cooked and we refueled for an evening session under the lights. When people come out to skate pools, I try not to allow anyone to warm up at Ridiculous. We go to the more challenging and difficult pools first, then end the day at the house. After struggling all day to ride the uneven, difficult pools, Ridiculous will feel like a skate park! Zach tapped into this directly after we ate. His first runs were full throttle. Insane airs, ollies and grinds were put down. The crew pushed themselves further and we skated on into the night.
The next day dawned early. Sore muscles were stretched, caffeine consumed and the freeway was navigated. The same crew met up at a permission pool that I knew of. Joining us on this day were, Jimmy Wilkins, Josh Stafford, Sam Beckett, Daniel Vargas and Brad McClain. The pool was an old Blue Haven from the early 1960’s. The deep end was mellow and perfectly situated with a deathbox and side ladder stairs within easy reach. Tricks began to go down at once. Daniel Vargas couldn’t wait. Rock-n-rolls, ollies and inverts were checked off his trick list in short order. Josh Stafford crushed the deathbox both ways. Zach pumped the shallow side wall for a speed burst and stuck chest-high frontside airs. Sam Beckett Indy dive bombed and Brad McClain tapped into a diabolical turbo boost engine that had him flying throughout the pool and us shaking our heads in wonder. The session was all-time. Permission pools are such a great thing. We didn’t have to worry about being hassled. We concentrated on figuring out the lines and speed. We learned. Progression.
By the end of the weekend, we were all exhausted. At the same time, all of us spoke excitedly about what we had seen and done. No one was injured, tricks were pulled that hadn’t been done before and the experience of finding a pool, draining, cleaning and skating it was a reward in itself. Zach laughed as Josh and Sam gave each other crap incessantly. It is the way of things, especially in skateboarding. Sometimes, all it takes is a friend nearby, to give you crap for bailing a trick. In pool skating, it seems that all things are earned. Zach Miller and his friends wouldn’t want it any other way. – This article appeared in http://www.desillusion-mag.com/. Thank you to Zach Miller and friends. For more of Zach Miller, you can follow here: http://r-o-a-m.com/. Thank you to Brooks Sterling for the images. Thank you to Arto for the portrait. For more of Brooks Sterling’s work, click this : http://iambrooks.com/photos/. For more of Arto Saari’s work, click this : http://www.artosaari.com/. Thank you to Shane Cox for the images. For more of Shane Cox, click : http://shanecoxphotography.com/ . Thank YOU for reading. Skate- Ozzie