A portrait of pool skateboarding in the 1970s and 1980s

June 20, 2022 | Skateboarding
Pool skateboarding: it all started during the 1970s California drought | Photo: Shutterstock

I was your typical five-year-old coming from divorced parents with two older brothers.

I grew up, for the most part, in Santee, California. Santee was a semi-rural town that was quite nice as I think back on it.

I was mainly interested in bikes until eighth grade, even after seeing Gregg Weaver on the cover of SkateBoarder magazine carving a pool.

I remember how that picture blew my mind - I knew that skateboarding was cool and all, but to see that - the whole concept of what was going on entered my brain.

Think about how the urethane wheel invention changed skateboarding forever. You could ride on anything your wheels would grip on, an amazing thought!

This cover shot also ingrained in my brain how soulful and incredibly expressive the medium of skating in a drained swimming pool actually was.

The possibilities are endless. It is just a matter of how long you can hack this truly unique discipline of skateboarding.

Pools: a unique skateboarding playground | Photo: Skaia/Creative Commons

The Tidy Bowl

In 1976-1977, I witnessed the art of pool riding at an egg-shaped pool a few miles from my house.

It was called the "Tidy Bowl."

The guys riding the pool were completely oblivious to the politics of skating; they were just having fun.

I would be at home daydreaming, just imagining them riding this pool.

Another session I was fortunate enough to stumble upon being a youngster was at the "Massage Bowl" in El Cajon, California.

This pool was behind a massage parlor.

The session was heavy - players included Pat Weaver, Rodney Jesse, Rocket Man, Steve Cathey, Dave Repp, Layne Oaks, Ron Fletcher, etc.

Watching this at age 12 again left an impression on me of the raw energy being generated.

Growing up, my friends and I skated everything we could, although the Tidy Bowl was the first pool I ever rode.

I was getting more and more out of bikes and started to learn to carve a pool.

After witnessing those earlier sessions by the older guys, it was time for me to try it.

The Tidy Bowl scene was mellow for years, a flattened house with a pool next to it, but like a lot of pools, it eventually was bulldozed.

My friends and I were surrounded by pools at a young age. This is just how Santee is - many homes have swimming pools.

In 1978, my brother Dave built me a seven-foot-high quarterpipe.

Having a ramp at my house, my popularity grew amongst the local skaters and was a turning point for my deeper interest in skateboarding.

Dave Duncan: sponsored by Pro-Am Skateboards and a fan of Tony Alva | Photo: Duncan Archive

The Dogtown Influence

One day Dave Duncan showed up at my ramp. Dave was a few years older and was heavily into skating.

Dave was the new kid in town, and our friendship grew as we agreed on what and who was radical in the sport at the time.

Our biggest influence was Dogtown and anything that had to do with the skaters or style of Dogtown.

One entire wall in Duncan's room was covered with pictures of Tony Alva.

I had witnessed some radical skating by this time, but I started thinking more worldly about all the terrain before me just after meeting Duncan.

Dave had already accomplished so much - he traveled around, entered contests, and was sponsored by Pro-Am Skateboards.

With Duncan off to skate contests or travel, my friends and I kept the scene alive.

After my ramp was gone, we built at least four more ramps in the years to come. We had the terrain, and it was just a matter of picking what we wanted to ride at the time.

One day in the neighborhood, we stumbled upon a six-foot oval pool.

We went to the door and obtained permission to skate, but only if we cleaned the pool.

We could ride it for two weeks as payment for cleaning the pool.

We found dead frogs in the pool while draining it and named it the "Frog Bowl."

This early pool experience spawned many more instigations into the further discovery of drained or ready-to-be-drained swimming pool situations.

My friends and I called our town "Frogtown," appropriately named after our biggest influence.

Darrel Delgado: his riding style was influenced by the Dogtowners | Photo: Delgado Archive

Surf Style in a Pool

By 1983 the skating possibilities were endless, and Thrasher magazine was the staple periodical that kept us hyped up on finding and grinding anything in our reach.

As time and countless sessions passed, the more I learned that the main focal point of all my skating should be a surfing style.

This style, to me, was and still is the best you could have, and nobody looked better doing it than Jay "Boy" Adams of Dogtown.

Jay set the standard for the way skating should look.

The low body positioning, looseness, hand placement, and snappy body contortions are all part of the true surf style.

The Dogtowners showed me that style is everything.

By 1984 I was a surfer-skater. It didn't matter that I lived 24 miles from the beach.

I was also a control freak of sorts. I made it a point to have a handle on every skate spot in San Diego, my hometown.

I wasn't trying to prove anything. I just wanted to know what all my options were.

I would follow up on any tip, lead, or connection that would get me access to a spot.

I wasn't shy when confronting people I didn't know as long as, ultimately, I would get in the door to skate.

Soon I realized that I had to keep lists of pools to remember them, which I did.

Darrel Delgado: he got in touch with the art of bowl skating in 1976-1977 at the Tidy Bowl | Photo: Delgado Archive

Pro or Am?

1987 was another turning point for me.

By this time, I knew that pool skating was the best discipline of skateboarding there was, so leading up to this year, pools had taken more precedence over the other disciplines of skating.

When Dave Duncan said that he had met Tony Alva and had skated with him, it was a big deal.

Alva - an original Dogtowner and one of the true pioneers of pool riding.

After Alva saw me skate at Del Mar's Kona Bowl II pool, he told Duncan I could get free boards, wheels, and accessories.

No other company was more badass than Alva at the time.

I was honored to ride Alva's products - nothing could compare, especially for a pool rider.

I took my sponsored amateur status seriously but never wanted to get a big head over the whole deal.

I just wanted to be myself and stick to my program as I always knew it. I had worked full-time for two years by 1987 and was attending college part-time.

I had to really decide what to do with my life. I was 23 and wanted a decent future for myself.

After contemplating everything and everybody I had ever met in the skateboarding world - and also trying to be realistic about my skating ability - I decided that I would continue to work full-time, keep going to school and, at the same time, try to be one of the best backyard pool skaters in the world.

I felt that this was the only direction that would make sense to me.

I knew that I could never be good enough to be a professional skateboarder and that it would be more beneficial and smart of me just to take my sponsored amateur status as far as possible.

I am really happy that I made this decision.

I have obtained far more than I could have ever imagined from skateboarding by simply not expecting too much out of it.

It seemed that once someone went pro, the opportunity to travel and make money increased, but the turnover rate was high, and trying to make ends meet was hard for most.

Maintaining my head and not claiming to be more than I was, gave me a beautiful path on which to enjoy skateboarding.

Carving and Riding Every Wall

In 1988, I seriously hurt myself while skating a backyard pool. My skating has never been the same since that day.

I am so happy just to be able to walk again.

I broke both bones in my ankle and had a metal plate and ten screws put in my leg.

My doctor told me that my ankle could be 90-95 percent of what it had originally been.

I took that thought, and I have been running with it ever since.

I know I am not as radical as I used to be, but I have come damn close at times, much to my amazement.

I was still rehabilitating ten years later. I am fortunate even to be able to ride, but now I am stoked just to have fun.

I have sometimes felt that I have never met my objective in skateboarding. I mean to obtain credit for what I was trying to do up until 1988.

My main objective was to take pool riding to a more thorough level.

I am talking about riding the entire pool, every wall, nook and cranny, shallow end, and not leaving any wall unskated.

Carving was to be the fundamental base mixed in with any other maneuvers you could do.

Picture in your mind a super ball being thrown into a four-wall racquetball court, bouncing everywhere and in all directions.

This was my intended contribution to pool riding. This type of skating takes a lot of work, but once accomplished is very satisfying.

I was in the process of showing the world my perception of how a pool should be ridden.

I am not sure how many skaters received the message. But I know I have ridden with some of the best riders in the world.

I have met all the skaters I have looked up to and sessioned with a lot of them. This, to me, is success.

When some badass tells me that I have inspired them, it makes me feel that I have met my objective in skating.

It doesn't matter if you are in the magazines or not. It only matters that you are satisfied with yourself.

Skateboarding in a pool is like being a painter, every new pool is a blank canvas, and you are the artist.

Every artist has a different approach, and every pool is different, which keeps the intrigue alive.

You can go wherever your mind is, and the transitions will let you go.

Words by Darrel Delgado | Skateboarder and Author ("The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding")