Full disclosure: David Alan Harvey is a great mentor and dear friend and the fact that we’ve almost been arrested/killed together at various times in our travels means we’re pretty close. So, admittedly, my track to the pages of Burn was an inside one.
That being said, I hope his call is a good one and you, the Burn viewer, will enjoy this look at our obscure little subculture of skateboarding in empty swimming pools around Washington D.C.
The roots of our crew go back to the late 1990’s when a group of DC residents with surfing backgrounds and I started to bomb hills on longboards in DC and particularly, Adams Morgan, trying to keep the flow alive while stuck inland.
Shortly after, we discovered a downhill racing pro tour in California, called EDI or ‘Extreme Downhill International’ and immediately started to fly out West for competitions. At the time, most riders belonged to, or were aligned with, some sort of team, usually based around a skateboard manufacture.
So we decided we needed a team name as well, and thus was born ‘The District of Columbia Downhill Club’ or ‘DCDC’ for short.
The DCDC was a combination of the Waikiki Outrigger Surf Club of the 1920’s and the Jamaican Bobsled team of 1980’s Olympic fame, since the Jamaicans have no snow, we have no (serious) hills. But still, like that inspiring team of misfits, we would show up and charge just because we loved it. And the Waikiki vibe came from just having fun while competing and enjoying the company of your friends. Nothing to take seriously at all.
After a few years on tour and competing in places like Europe, Canada and South Africa, the team pretty much disbanded as a competitive entity.
I continued to skate hills for fun, but my time was soon grabbed by an underground skate spot in DC called ‘Fight Club’ where I documented the scene for five years (more on that later).
While I was away from the downhill scene, it had grown immensely and I’d heard some younger guys in the DC area were charging and flying the DCDC flag. So one day I decided to hit a local downhill jam and try and catch myself up, shoot a few photos. It turned out to be a hill packed with 75 skaters, all between 10-23 years old and most not doing anything substantially exciting, besides getting dropped off by their moms.
Then all of a sudden a guy came screaming downhill in a tight, mean tuck and at full speed, threw down a 100 foot layback slide. Just a gnarly, aggressive approach.
We started talking and found out we’re both DCDC and he asks, “do you skate pools? My girlfriends dad has a pool he’s destroying and said we could empty it and skate it”. So we decided at that moment to leave the race and go visit the pool. It was filled with muck and plants and four feet of soil and it was a very hard pool to clean, but we knew it had to be done.
Shortly after, a contact told us of a pool at a house slated for demolition, located in a very exclusive Washington neighborhood.
It was such a beautiful pool, but totally on private property and on a street rife with active neighbors.
The plan was set forth. We would charge it at 9am, try and get all the water out within two to three hours, then maybe skate for twenty to thirty minutes before the neighbors called the cops. Totally worth it. Turns out the neighbors loved it and came by daily to watch and even brought us food and drinks. We called it ‘Patawomeck Pool’ after the Indian word for Potomac.
Two pools, two months.
We were now infected with the pool bug and soon turned to the internet for remedies, utilizing maps from space, real estate ads and foreclosure sales to ease the symptoms. Now the DCDC is also known as ‘District of Columbia Drain & Clean’.
The approaches are to knock on homeowner’s doors and ask permission, or, in the case of vacants, totally barge. When barging vacants, the houses are generally unkempt, with fallen mailboxes, uncut grass, old newspapers, collapsing fence etc. We then knock on the doors of the neighboring houses and let them know who we are and our reasons for being there. Explaining our motives honestly and giving the property a shiny makeover makes neighbors happy and less likely to notify any sort of authority. It makes their place look better.
The best scenario, by far, is the backyard permission pool. That’s when a homeowner allows people on their property to skate their pool, many times for years and years. This gives the skaters many visits and attempts to conquer their moves.
Pool skating goes back to the early 1960’s and there is a great photo from the era of surf icon Herbie Fletcher riding up the walls of a pool, replete with team jacket and bare feet. Years later, the advent of urethane wheels, coupled with a major west coast drought led to the creation of modern pool skating as we know it, best exploited by the legendary skaters from Dogtown, a rough, run down area encompassing Venice and Santa Monica, California.
The sheer abundance of pools and the climate keeps many West Coast pools dry and available, so guys will barge a pool, get chased away, roll down the block, skate another pool, get chased again, and do it all over the next day, without ever going back to the same pool.
For us, however, we have a limited amount of pools and none are ever empty, with most having a full 8-10 feet of muck and slime.
So it’s best to find a friendly port and anchor for a bit, try and see if we can stay awhile. That’s why we love a good permission pool.
The racial component to our actions can’t be overlooked. Most of the neighborhoods we scour are predominantly black and our crew is predominantly white, but we believe differences are easily overcome with thoughtful, straightforward dialogue. And growing up in a city with a very large black population, I’ve learned that they appreciate white guys that aren’t afraid of a simple human interaction – guys with gumption, that aren’t afraid to knock on a door. The crazy request to skate a pool can actually lead to great friendships.
To us, those that allow pure strangers on to their property to skate their pools—an act altogether reckless, dangerous and destructive—are some of the coolest, most open-minded people you’ll meet.
This project is dedicated to them.
How this book came about
As I stated earlier, David Alan Harvey is a great friend and a huge inspiration. We’ve worked together in NY, Mexico, Italy, Canada and Brazil and one year I threw him a show at Fight Club for FotoweekDC.
Fight Club was a notorious skateboard slum started by myself and skater/artist Ben Ashworth and located in a run down, abandoned warehouse that was a once a crack and prostitution complex. Ben and I both hated the name but the space looked so much like Brad Pitt’s house and fighting pit from the movie that it was the first thing people said when they walked into the place. Over it’s five year existence it hosted many sessions, contests, concerts and art shows. A skate contest with boxing theme–complete with rope, bell and roller-derby ring girls one night–David Alan Harvey or Steve Olson art show then next.
I documented the action at Fight Club for it’s five year run and accumulated fifteen thousand images and sixty hours of mini DV footage and had intended from the start to make a photography book and documentary film, knowing that something pretty special was going down.
One day I started to discuss the Fight Club book with David and he suggested we hold off on publishing it for a while. Turns out he’d been following along with our pool exploits on Instagram and decided that material was better suited for immediate release. Fight Club had been defunct for a few years at that point. We could do that project anytime.
Well, I started to panic a bit—I believed in the FC work as a project because that was my focus at that time—but I never really shot the pool stuff with any intention of creating a book—or even creating great pictures—it was always quick snaps at these pools because hey, there’s muddy work or skating to do–but how could I say no??
That means it’s a bizarre combination of landscape and still life photography, alongside art, action photography and photojournalism. It’s all over the place.
It’s probably not up to the standards of what’s considered professional skateboard photography—my deeper influence would be photojournalism–but I hope the uniqueness of the locations and the passion of the participants carries over to a satisfying experience for the viewer.
author: COPING MECHANISM …coming soon! BurnBooks