It’s a fact: Empty pools attract skaters.
That’s not exactly something our industry celebrates.
Ask most any pool builder if they’ve ever constructed a skatepark and they’ll likely reply, “Not intentionally.” That’s because they’re not keen on seeing their creations shredded by unruly daredevils.
But could this (at times) destructive force actually be an asset to the industry?
Some say yes. In fact, your next great hire might be a tatted-up skater dude who can work a trowel like a veteran plasterer.
Here, PSN explores this emerging cross section between backyard leisure and extreme sports and finds common ground on which both parties can construct some killer-cool pools.
A love/skate relationship
Some who live by the motto “skate and destroy” grow up to build the very things they used to destroy.
Just ask Jon Temple.
Skateboarding culture runs deep at his pool plastering firm in Jacksonville, Fla. Roughly half of his 60-person crew comes from a background building ramps and obstacles designed for riding. He’s found that skaters have a knack for crafting concrete bowls replicating the contours of kidney-shaped pools. They already know how to excavate, tie rebar, mix concrete and shoot and finish surfaces to perfection.
The president and owner of Tempool Inc. is happy to bring them on board.
“They’re perfect for the pool industry,” Temple says. “They’re incredible craftsmen for the stuff they’re building. Many of them are more of a craftsman than the guys just shooting shells.”
As he sees it, those plastering skate pools have more on the line. “You can’t hide deficiencies under water,” he says.
Temple, 45, stumbled on this untapped talent pool when he, a lifelong skater, decided to develop a 9,000-square-foot skatepark on his farmland property. As the project took shape, skaters began showing up en mass to lend a helping hand.
“I had people from Canada come and camp in my backyard for a month ... [There were] guys from Colorado, Seattle, Texas, San Diego, Kansas. Nobody charged me. We built this thing for almost nothing.”
His private park, which features two skateable pools, hosts a semi-annual bowl riding competition that attracts some of the nation’s top pro boarders. So, while the industry frets about where the next generation of pool builders will come from, Temple need only look in his own backyard.
Rise of the ramps
Another fact about skaters: Many spend as much time building as they do thrashing.
This has everything to do with the history of skateboarding. In its 1980s heyday, skaters had to construct their own ramps of lumber. Lately, concrete and rebar have been their go-to building materials. This DIY movement gave rise to legendary skateparks such as Burnside, a concrete playground in Portland, Ore. that is tucked under a bridge and, like so many of its kind back then, was built without permission but later granted approval.
The X-Games came along in the late 1990s, and skateboarding became mainstream. Cities began funding skateparks, the best of which were designed and built by skaters. Suddenly these renegades had jobs as certified shotcrete nozzlemen.
Whether they realized it or not, they were gaining experience in the pool trade.
“Most of the guys that were building parks were traveling a lot,” Temple says. “Now they’re settling down into shotcrete crews, shooting regular swimming pools.”
Dave Libhart, 41, knows that life on the road doing skatepark construction can be a grind. He was with Team Pain, a Winter Springs, Fla.-based builder of world-class skate structures, before exiting extreme sports to set up shop as a pool builder.
To go from erecting ramps to excavating pools isn’t much of a stretch. “From a structural and construction standpoint, everything is the same,” says Libhart, who is now Tempool’s construction manager.
Libhart, a celebrated figure in the skater community, helped groom several skateboarding peers into proficient pool plasterers. They sometimes leave for opportunities in the skatepark industry, but the pool biz isn’t a bad safety net.
It could be argued that nobody appreciates a pool more than experienced skaters.
But they prefer certain pools over others because they’re more conducive to the sport.
Their love of Blue Haven Pools, the nation’s largest builder, is well-documented in enthusiast ’zines and videos. Skaters know the builder’s brand because pools in the 1970s and ’80s often had its logo stamped somewhere within the interior, usually on the stairs.
But the larger, deeper bowls with gradual radiuses are becoming a thing of the past as pool builders dig more modern, geometric vessels. This hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“You rarely find a brand-new pool now that’s any good [for skating],” says Mark Hubbard, CEO of Grindline Skateparks in Seattle. “The ’70s pools were the best because they built them big and round.”
When skaters do spy a neglected disco-era vessel behind a fence, they’re willing to do most anything to ride it.
Yes, even break the law.
But there are such things as “permission pools.” Say a landscaper who skates on his free time has a customer with an empty pool going unused. Those homeowners may allow skating in the pool. “We’ll offer to do landscaping as a bargaining chip,” says Phil Tedder, owner of Newberg, Ore-based Tedder Stone, a supplier of coping for skateparks. “That sometimes works.”
Certain materials are more skate-friendly, too. Tedder, 40, has seen pools in his native Northwest gravitate toward brick and natural stone coping — not exactly ideal for skating. So his company bought the forms used to mold vintage bullnose coping, better for sliding and grinding across, from a concrete products manufacturer. He produces the coping for commercial skateparks using a denser mix to withstand the abuse skaters dish out.
Tedder also sees a small, but emerging market for his product in swimming pools that are converted into skating facilities. Public pools that have fallen into disrepair are being handed over to the only people who could possibly get any use out of them – skaters.
“I think there’s going to be more projects like that coming around,” he says.
His isn’t the only company utilizing pool materials in the extreme sports arena.
Temple, the Florida plasterer, worked with Orlando-based CL Industries, makers of Hydrazzo finish, to develop a durable product to work in pools used for both swimming and skating. These are fully functioning, code-compliant swimming pools, equipped with well points and hydrostatic relief valves so that can be safely drained for a user’s skateboarding pleasure. Called swimmer/skaters, they’re becoming quite the thing.
Temple estimates he’s finished about a dozen of these multipurpose pools with the Hydrazzo material, said to grip urethane wheels better and hold up under the rigor of riders. Unlike conventional plaster, it doesn’t sweat during temperature changes, making for a safe, dry surface to roll across.
Hydrazzo, which also has a line of skate coping, is making inroads into the commercial skatepark market, as well.
Pool builders beware
It’s been established that skateboarders can build pools. But can pool contractors build skateparks? The materials and processes are essentially the same.
But not so fast.
Hubbard has seen the awkward results when pool builders carve out swooping obstacles. “The transitions, the layout, the lines, the way it flows, the way it works with a lot of people skating at one time ... the heights of things and the radiuses were wrong. You have to skate to know these things,” the 44-year-old cautions.
A smooth transition
Mark Hubbard confesses that he had an ulterior motive for getting into the pool industry.
“The reason I started working for the swimming pool guy is that I thought I could skate some of them,” says the CEO of Grindline Skateparks.
He got to sneak a few rides in some freshly formed vessels, but he mostly labored away making people’s backyard dreams come true while his went unfulfilled.
So, after six years of laying coping around things he’d rather be skating, he bagged it and became something of a vagabond, traveling the country via freight train in search for empty pools to shred. Backyards in Texas, Florida, Arizona and New Mexico served up plenty skateable terrain. But he found his true calling skating several fabled skater-owned pools in California.
“I bee-lined it home and said, ‘That’s what I’m doing; I’m building one of these in my backyard,’” Hubbard recalls.
One small problem: He didn’t have a backyard. So, he and his band of merry skaters began constructing a concrete bowl under a bridge in West Seattle. They were mixing the cement by hand when the police shut them down. The judge ordered them to fill in the hole.
An article about the incident in the Seattle Times was the best advertising Hubbard could’ve asked for. He soon began receiving requests for residential pools designed for boarding. That’s when he realized his obsession could be a legitimate profession.
Today, his Seattle-based firm builds about 15 skateparks a year all over the globe.
The 44-year-old sees how the people aging out of the extreme sports lifestyle could carve out successful careers in the pool industry. They already have the skills that would be applicable to crafting all kinds of poolscapes, especially wet-seal slick concrete slides, he says.
“We just haven’t quite popped into the industry yet,” he says. But when they do, they’ll be bringing some innovative pool shaping techniques.
“And design,” Hubbard adds. “We’re pretty into creating one-of-a-kind features.”