By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Photo by James BunoanThe low desert around Palm Springs is a dubious destination: trailers explode (meth), irrigation is so unnatural as to resemble Martian terraforming, and vintage post cards hint at a promise that tarried once briefly, then kept going. Its claims to fame are date shakes, lesbian golf, and the wind. Eight months a year, this sump grinds down anyone unlucky enough to venture outside. Pounding heat desiccates you alive, gritty winds sandblast your flesh, and endless sun tans the remains. But a handful of these tiny, sweaty, sometimes bankrupt towns are the perfect place for footloose Orange County skateboarders on the prowl for cracked, half-empty swimming pools to drain, patch and skate with other people's money. They're far enough from the long arm and tight grip of suburban law that you can do pretty much whatever the hell you want. Remnants of their past—a winter playground for tourists and celebrities like Jerry Lewis, the Marx Brothers, Raymond Loewy and Desi Arnaz—survive, from an era when pools were still built right. Fortunately for pool skaters, the buzz died and pleasure seekers began leaving in the late '60s—around the time the first pool ride was documented—making the low desert an acquired taste again: cash-poor, which has hobbled development, and sparsely populated by snowbirds, retirees and desert rats.
Today, these parts are ground zero for a certain type of pool skater: the kind with a wanderlust and a keen sense of adventure, who sees the fun in driving three hours after last call in search of a half-empty peanut, kidney or square gunite-lined hole that could be shot to shit by off-duty cops with machine guns or filled with dirt, washing machines or abandoned cars.
"It's a whole little subculture in and of itself," Eric Sentianin, managing editor of TransWorldSKATEboardingin Oceanside, says of pool skaters. "When it comes to skateboarding, certain people just prefer certain terrain."
People like Huntington Beach pro skater Dave Reul, a.k.a. Hank Reuler, lead singer for the Skatanic Rednecks, a bar band whose members are part Hank Williams Sr., part Bam Margera. Reul, 36, styles himself the quintessential HB skater dude: he worked on the LordsofDogtownmovie now in theaters; he had a ramp in his garage until the Weeklywrote about his house and, he says, neighbors complained; he stays afloat without being overly employed; and he can name-check you back to the Stone Age with a who's who of skate-dom. But underlying the local-boy roots is a soul surfer's rootlessness and yen for the unknown. It makes Reul the perfect guy to lead us out the 10 freeway to a place he skated so long ago that he's forgotten how to get there.
On a warm night in mid-April, his crew is Matt Ortolani, a.k.a. Pancho Boomhauer: "24 of Huntington Beach, and I stand 5-10," he tells me when we finally meet over Coors Lights in the desert darkness. And the pool . . . well, the location of this location is classified, though our photographer is quick to point out that if you've been a serious skater in Southern California, you may already know it. Reul helped clean this pool and skated it for a Thrashermagazine photo shoot about 10 years ago. Then he and his crew rode it a few more times, and then, well, they went somewhere else, like everyone who got a little tired or bored of the desert. Until now: lured back by the prospect of a free road trip paid for by the actor Stephen Baldwin, and by the almost indescribable feeling of skating a really, really good pool no one else knows about or remembers—in the middle of the night.
"It's, uh, definitely the most amazing feeling—at least compared to other skating. What's good about pool skating is you're always moving and changing," Reul says. "Whatever pool you're skating, it's always different from the next pool. It's a sensory thing, the wall's always coming out, up at you. You're coming out of one transition and pumping hard for another. What feels so good about it is going so fast." Made to last, then abandoned, desert pools magnify all this.
"It was a real feeling of freedom," Reul says, explaining why they ended up out there in the first place. "You really can do whatever you want out there."
Diehard Inland Empire pool skater Steve Alba—who hears of Reul's adventure via the pool skater grapevine long before this article goes to print—agrees.
"I think pool riding is the closest thing to riding a roller coaster. You pull some Gs sometimes, it feels like that when you're zipping around. You can feel the wind on your face and your hair," says Alba, 42, whose existence focuses on "trying to find a steady diet of new pools. That's my thing. The thing is, every crew's got their own little deal. [Dave] kind of had a hard-on for the Nude Bowl." We're not at the Nude Bowl on this particular night—it's been filled in for several years—but even in death, the Nude Bowl is thereason we're here at all, huddled around the beam of a lone flashlight, exploring an abandoned, graffitied building next to an abandoned, graffitied pool—where a bat whirls and squeaks in the next room and pigeons nest in the walls. The Nude Bowl made Reul; its restoration is his blueprint for tonight's mission.