The back yard pool is ever alluring and ever elusive. How many times have you been at someone’s house and just drooled at the thought of emptying their swimming pool and grinding the fuck out of the virgin tiles with your back truck? If you’re anything like me, then it’s all the time. So here’s a little tale about how you can make your dry-pool wet dreams come true.
Words and Photos by Jerry Burke. Collage above: Shem Bragg backside indy air. Photo by Wade McLaughlin.
Apparently, one in 12 Australian homes has a swimming pool. This staggering statistic means that even on your street, right outside your window, right at this very moment, there are up to five potential concrete bowls just sitting there, wasting their lives away being full of pissy water and leaves. How many pools have you skated this year? Or in the past 10? I can count how many I’ve skated on two fingers.
The stats just don’t add up. What’s going on here? Australian pools very rarely resemble the curvaceous Californian bowls that sparked the beginning of modern day skateboarding. Our transitions are usually fucked up or the coping is made of boulders or the surface was poured with some kind of pebble-crete. Plus, over here, they’re all pretty much full of water and are still functioning as they were intended. The States, on the other hand, has had some economic mayhem in recent years, causing tonnes of foreclosures and abandoned housing, which has left hundreds of pools empty and unguarded.
Even when you miraculously find an empty one here in Australia, it’s usually pretty much a wallride session and you’re left with a bittersweet feeling of what might have been. Occasionally a proper gem does arise but it’s often guarded with Gestapo-like secrecy and an average-Joe like myself would never get invited anyway. Abandoned pools are usually short-lived and a total bust.
So what do you do about it? Well, a couple of Ballina boys recently did what any real skateboarders would: They took matters into their own hands.
It all started a few years ago when my friend Tony Chavez stumbled across a guy named Grimace who said he should take a look in his backyard and see if he could do something with his pool to make it skateable. Grimace’s pool was empty and unused and sat in a privately secluded section in the leafy suburbs of Ballifornia. The amoeba-shaped bowl was perfectly rimmed with brick bull-nose coping, plus it had a love seat, death boxes and hips, and was adorned with the most seductive turquoise-blue band of mosaic tiles.
The only problem was that the trannies were virtually non-existent. There wasn’t even a little tease of a curve, just a slight rise from the flat bottom to the wall. It had potential, but didn’t look very promising and most people would have just walked away with one last little look back for the old spank bank. Not Chavez though! The DIY pirate had the vision to somehow make this thing seaworthy.
Tony Chavez blasts a backside air in the shallow.
Tony ‘El Capitano’ Chavez is LA-born and raised but has become a linchpin of our scene around Northern NSW. He has a sharp mind, a keen imagination and a take-no-prisoners attitude toward life. Tony owns and manages Truck Stop Skate Shop (and skate school); owns a dent removal business where he’s turned his work garage into a skatepark; hosts competitions; sponsors skaters; builds shit all the time (including the infamous Creekside bowl); and skates every single day. He’s 45-years-old and rips harder than most people half his age. He’s just one of those guys who knows how to get things done.
But even Big T was going to need a bit of help for this project. His recruitment strategy went something like this: if you don’t help in some way, then don’t come and try to skate it when it’s finished. Simple, yet effective. The first guy to put his hand up to help was Shem Bragg, a rock-solid stunt-wood rider and a pool-builder by trade (which I guess was pretty handy). It was basically these two guys and Grimace that made this thing happen.
Grimace [Lee Jonsson] is a surfer dude who doesn’t even really skate much but is so down for the cause that he let the boys turn his backyard into a session pit. I’m not sure what he thought he was getting himself into but we try to show him and his family the utmost respect when we turn up to skate.
Halfway through preparing this article, something crazy happened to Grimace. While out surfing at his local beach break he was attacked by a white pointer. You might have seen it on the evening news. Even as I type these words he lies recovering in a hospital bed having just been through the most terrifying ordeal anyone could ever go through. He literally fought off a bloody shark using his surfboard after it had already taken a massive bite of his leg. Miraculously, he somehow made it into shore and we’re all so happy he’s still alive. It could have gone either way.
Shem Bragg, backside noseblunt.
When you ask Shem and Tony what it took to achieve this renovation, they insist anyone could do it (to just about any pool). Basically, they smashed out all the existing concrete with a jackhammer and shaped up new transitions.
The idea was to make it skateable while keeping it tight and steep so it still feels like you’re skating a real pool. They left the original tile band and the coping untouched. All the tiles, even in the shallow end, are vert, and with just a touch of acrylic lacquer, she grinds super nice and those little half bricks give you that ultra-satisfying clickity-clack sound when you get your trucks up on them. As Shem said, “At the start we had a vision of something that could be pretty rad. But the end result exceeded all our expectations. It turned out truly amazing!”
Sure, there are lots of parks being built these days but you can’t always wait around for someone else to facilitate your skate. Sometimes all it takes is a crazy idea and someone crazy enough to go through with it. Sometimes you’ve just got to say, Fuck it, let’s do it! So next time you see a pool that’s not doing anything worthwhile with its life, ask the owner if you can turn it into something special. You’ll never know ’til you ask.