Attendance exceeded expectations for the National Plasterers Council’s 23rd annual conference.

Approximately 500 pool plasterers, builders and service technicians filled the classrooms at the San Diego Hilton Resort for the symposium, held Feb. 1-3.

“A lot of the events were packed to standing room only,” said Greg Garrett, national technical adviser to the NPC, based in Port Charlotte, Fla. “From fund-raisers to classes to parties, the turnouts were even higher than we expected.”

Along with the conference’s signature event — a day-long Swimming Pool Start-Up Procedures certification program — pool professionals were offered three days of seminars led by scientists and construction experts.

Attendees also enjoyed catered banquets, a golf tournament and a boat cruise in and around scenic San Diego.

“The depth of the education is really impressive, and the instructors are so knowledgeable,” said Chas Bogardus, service manager at Budd’s Pools and Spas in Deptford N.J., a regular attendee.

Other popular seminars included a lecture on vanishing-edge pools and perimeter overflows by the Genesis 3 Design Group, as well as in-depth scientific walk-throughs of organic contaminants and cement chemistry, and a tutorial on California State License Board regulations.

It wasn’t just the instructors and content that distinguished these classes, but the atmosphere of open dialogue that prevailed inside and outside the classrooms. Attendees noted that teachers encouraged discussion and debate on the topics presented, and often opened the floor to students with differing viewpoints and informative field experience. Some of the most animated back and forth took place in the seminars addressing surface forensics and plaster discoloration.

“Knowing I’ll get to sit in classes with other guys who are just as smart as the instructors, and who share their own ideas,” Bogardus said. “That’s what keeps me coming back to this conference, year after year.”

Some credited the event with bringing together parties that sometimes find themselves at loggerheads.

“I had groups of plasterers and servicepeople come up to me together and say they want to work on problems and solutions,” said instructor James Schmitt, president of Schmitt Technical Services in Madison, Wis.

“There’s been some controversy between those groups, so it’s great to see that they want to work together.”

That feeling carried over into leisuretime events, such as the conference’s golf tournament and the opening-night cruise across Mission Bay.

Enthusiastic crowds also headed for the fund-raising auction, which aims to provide research support for the National Pool Industry Research Center at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo.

The event culminated in the final night’s exposition, where 55 exhibitors displayed their latest products.

“It was really a meeting of minds from all across the country,” said Rocky Birlew, service manager at Payan Pool Service in San Diego, a first-time attendee. “It’s great to see people from all aspects of the industry come together and help each other out.”