Dried Up: Why Cali’s Latest Drought Hasn’t Revived Pool Skating

In 1961, the Los Angeles Times reported Southern California had more swimming pools than any other region in the country. Then in the late ’70s and ’80s the region experienced a severe drought. That drought led to the emptying of all those backyard swimming pools, and kickstarted the pool skating scene which informed modern skateboarding as we know it.

More than 40 years later, California is once again at a loss for water. But this time, pool skating has become a less popular way for skaters to get their hands dirty.

Toby Burger is a devoted pool skater who has been emptying and skating pools for 27 years. He drained and skated his first pool when he was 11, and remembers emptying the black water using plastic trash cans with two of his buddies at the time.

“I don’t remember thinking that we shouldn’t do it,” he says.

Records show the current drought is even more severe than the landmark drought that hit in the late ’80s.

But for skaters, there are many key differences this time around. For one, water agencies have proved pools aren’t the water wasters people thought they were.

And Burger says there was more to the start of pool skating than just the drought.

Shortly before the drought there was a surfboard revolution, where boards went from long and clunky to shorter and sportier, made from polyurethane material. Then the urethane wheel was introduced to skateboards.

“If you cut a pool in half and spread it out from the shallow end it resembles a wave coming in, the way you ride it,” says Burger.

“So at the same time as surfers were just starting to be able to do more radical turns, guys were able to start doing the same type of maneuvers on skateboards in the pools.”

Another reason for the lack of pool skating this drought is that the scene in Los Angeles has become spread out: there are no popular central hot spots.

“Young guys are so competitive,” says Burger. “If they’re smart they’re not gonna wanna advertise their secret practice spots.”

The Internet and social media also haven’t helped to expand the scene like one might think.

“There’s been a big leap in our culture in the last 10 years or so,” he says. “We haven’t really increased our numbers in guys who just focus on riding in backyards. The nature of the culture has been so secretive, and exclusive almost.”

He guesses that the secrecy of the scene has hurt the culture’s growth, attracting fewer younger guys and “getting them stoked enough to want to take on the adventure of it.”

Finally, there’s something much, much simpler: skate parks.

“All the skateparks with the bowls made it easy for guys to not look really hard,” says Burger. “I think it helped and hurt the actual pool skating culture itself; it’s not the same thing. It’s a completely different beat and whole approach.”

The third pool Burger ever skated was the “Nude Bowl,” in Desert Hot Springs. This was a legendary example of a pool that inspired a culture around it, albeit a brutal one (police got rid of the bowl in the ’90s because of violence.)

“It was a gnarly place where people partied,” says Burger. “The only good thing that ever happened there was the skating.”

Latest News