This Is Your Life

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Headlights fucked the dirt road they were crawling up. Piercing. They poked a bright hole in front of them. Night had oozed across the hillsides as the sun lent itself to another part of the planet. A faint smear of red hung on the ridges to the west. The driver and passengers shifted uncomfortably. The young men were sure the old nudist colony was somewhere ahead of them. Friends spoke of it in awe. It wasn’t the legendary stories regarding the hotel and its reputed famous clientele that had them bouncing up a desert road after dark, it was the huge empty kidney-shaped swimming pool that perched on the hillside just below the ruins of this once secretive weekend getaway. The skateboarder’s blood pulsed and thrummed. By all accounts, the pool was massive.

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They laughed, smoked weed and traded stories that they had heard. Post war America. Rat pack. Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and subtle innuendo. Hollywood heavyweights would drive out from Los Angeles and spend the weekend sipping drinks in the hot sun. Gorgeous, big breasted girls would be on hand… to lend a hand, a mouth, or whatever else might strike the fancy of the famous visitors. Stories had been passed down all over the local area. Legend has it that Frank Sinatra looked down at the pretty girl kneeling in front of him as he zipped up the fly on his pants. When she said, “Will there be anything else?” He smiled and quipped, “Brush your teeth, honey.” The nineteen fifties in America were a time of hubris. The war years were behind them. Adolf’s Aryan dream had burnt around him and–cowering and sweat-soaked–he put a Walther pistol in his mouth and ended his life in a dank, Berlin bunker. At least he was still on the stage when the curtain fell. He could’ve done the world a favor and followed through with that plan far, far earlier.

Southern California flourished in the new optimistic mood of the country. People moved towards the Los Angeles area in huge numbers. They were building homes, putting in swimming pools, buying new cars, going to the movies… life was good again. Developers built from Los Angeles eastward. The desert was a dry and desolate place. Engineers tunneled under hillsides and built dams and waterways. They rerouted water. The thirsty desert lapped it up. Freeways were poured. The asphalt ribbons of road, wound and twisted on themselves. Concrete, bricks and mortar rose up out of the earth at every turn. The railroads were already in place. Decades gone. The Chinese labor force buried beside the tracks they toiled on for so many years. Progress. Expansion at any cost. The guys in the car knew that there was always a cost. Ultimately someone paid. They crunched over a narrow gully and found themselves on a flat plateau… it was dark but they could see the outline of an empty swimming pool spread out before them. ” We’re here…” The skateboarders set up a tent by the glare of the cars headlights and built a small fire. The orange flames cast wavering shadows on the pool walls and the skaters drank beer and passed a joint back and forth. They told stories and their words and laughter rose up with the smoke. They talked about the lines they would draw in the pool the next day.

The skaters slept under the desert night. One of them sat awake outside. The cold uncaring stars glittered. He let the ancient desert seep into him. Wind fluttered the tent flaps. The foundation slab and ruins of the old nudist colony resort loomed in the background barely visible by the dying firelight. “Fitting…” he mumbled quietly.  A dying fire. A long dead resort. The whole area seemed that way to him. It was like the desert didn’t want them there. Mankind was pushing into the desert… the desert was pushing back. It was reclamation on a purely primitive scale. As he went to sleep that night, the skateboarder realized that wherever they looked for pools, they always ended up in the remains of someone’s broken discarded dream.

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The Nude Bowl –as it came to be known–is one of many abandoned pools that litter the east Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Indio and Salton Sea areas. With temperatures topping out in the one hundred and twenties at times, swimming pools became ubiquitous. A necessity. During the post war era, investors scrambled to keep up with the American Dream by putting in neighborhood after sprawling neighborhood on the long winding Interstates that run east to west. Palm Springs became a retirement and golf destination. The Salton Sea, which is south of Palm Springs, was developed as a boating resort in the nineteen fifties and held major boat races on its fifteen by thirty mile surface. Movie stars made the drive to its glimmering waters. Jet boats ripped across the lake and the hotels, bars and clubs began doing a brisk weekend business. The lakes salt content began steadily increasing over the decades and this began killing off the fish. Masses of dead fish soon washed ashore… a rapid decline in tourism occurred, the area foundered and the Salton Sea shoreline is now largely abandoned. Inhabitants are a mixed settlement of stubborn original residents, people on the run from a less-than-laudable past or just those that lead a bleak nomadic life. Through this dystopian wilderness, skateboarders scoured the run down and abandoned hotels along the north shore. Pools were drained. With the exception of the squalor, danger, smell of rotting fish, clouds of flies and brain-boiling heat, it was a paradise for the skaters.

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The skateboarders at the Nude Bowl rose early. Sun split rocks, stone and very little else were to be seen. The skeletal remains of the hotel were long gone. The foundation was a huge thick slab of smooth graffiti-covered concrete. Around the area, chunks of cinder block and fragments of walls sprouted out of the earth. It was difficult to believe that this place was once a desired destination in any way …  It seemed as though nothing lived. No animals, no insects, no birds or people, nothing. Here and there, a small cactus nosed its relentless face out of the barren, rocky ground. Even they looked like green bones. The skateboarders started into the pool early. The searing heat was quickly felt, even by ten in the morning. They cut into the face wall and carved quick lines, surf turning and slashing the vertical surface. They talked quietly among themselves about how skating had originated from surfing and what it meant to them. They talked about heroes of the past, old desert pools — now gone — and nearby Mt. Baldy with its giant spillway and pipe, the top of the mountain, which could barely be seen in the distance. Legendary places and names were invoked. Baldy Pipe. Date Bowl. L-Pool. Tony Alva, Jerry Valdez, Tay Hunt, Gunnar Haugo, Kent Senatore, Gregg Ayres, Jon Warneke. The skateboarders knew the history of the area and its pioneers. For them, pool skateboarding was a minor religion. It wasn’t a fad, a sport or a hobby. Skateboarding was life.

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Gregg Ayres at Mt. Baldy pipe

Jerry Valdez at the L-Pool

Jerry Valdez at the L-Pool

They rode the Nude Bowl until it became a hothouse. The skateboarders climbed into the car and drove into nearby Joshua Tree for lunch and camping supplies. They had cell phone reception and called some friends to join them for the night. In hours, they were back by the edge of the pool. Two trucks of friends had arrived. Drinks were poured, the unmerciful sun waned and the temperature soon dropped. Skating began in earnest. The friends that joined them had been in Borrego Springs, on the edge of the Salton Sea. They had bucketed a huge old pool out there for several hours. The skateboarders had been startled by the sound of car doors closing. They were shocked when legendary skateboarder Tony Alva walked around the corner. The skaters at the Nude Bowl laughed in amazement. It really must have been something. Tony Alva was considered by many to be the Godfather of pool skating. A good day indeed.

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Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs

Tony Alva

Tony Alva

The night ended with all of the friends sitting around a small fire. They talked among themselves as all skaters will do. Shit talk. They gave each other a hard time but it was only in good fun. Contests were spoken of and old pools that had been bulldozed long ago. Sacred spots. Legendary skateboarders were compared and they argued about who did what trick the best. All of these things were brought out into the firelight, polished, examined and put back away. It was a time-honored tradition. The firelight sputtered and a clink of bottles coming together in a toast was carried off with the wind as the night swallowed them up.

Shawn Ahringhoff at Nude Bowl

Shawn Ahringhoff at Nude Bowl

Marlon Whitfield at Nude Bowl

Marlon Whitfield at Nude Bowl

The next morning found them driving back to the world that awaited each of them. Jobs, family, weekend-ending rituals were on their minds. They split off and some of them drove into Palm Springs for one last grid search. A friend had told the crew about a possible empty pool in an old nineteen fifties neighborhood. He admitted that he was no skateboarder, but the pool looked pretty round. They decided that it was worth a look and shortly before nine o’clock, they were pulled up outside of the house. One of them checked the gates. It was definitely an empty house. The side gate was latched. No lock. He reported back. Water in the deep end. It could be bucketed in no time. They spoke quickly and quietly. Each man had his task. It was a high end neighborhood and it was Sunday morning. Sleepy. Nothing moved and no dogs barked. They slipped inside the property.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Bulldog at Palm Springs

Bulldog at Palm Springs

Rick Stine at Palm Springs

Rick Stine at Palm Springs

Each man took the inherent risks in stride. Trespassing and potential charges are always in the back of each skaters mind. They did what they did in order to be what they are. If that meant, shoveling dirt out of a half-filled pool for two days straight, so be it. Every single one of these skateboarders has been in the pool hunting game most of their skateboarding life. They’ve bucketed the filthiest pools one could imagine. Most defy polite description. Dog feces, human excrement, piss, diapers, syringes, slimy condoms, oil, car batteries, tires, dead dogs, car parts, pieces of buckled walls and cinderblocks, paint… it goes on and on. They are discoverers. Artists. They seek out these fragmented pieces of this broken America, they take it out of the muck, lift it up to the light, clean its surface and ultimately express themselves. It was this way with skateboardings pioneers, and it will probably always be this way. – Ozzie Ausband / West Hollywood, CA.

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