Pool Sharks

Photos & Text by Justin Kosman 

Click any image to see our entire Pool Sharks Photo Album. 

For two months I made finding pools my priority. Late night sessions, early morning missions, and excursions into the desert were spent to find some diamonds in the rough, and Dean Dickens was my guide. He swam in the first pool he ever rode in Washington when he was 16, and it tweaked his riding life forever. Moving from a limited pool environment in the Pacific Northwest, now he calls the deserted motel deep ends and cracked backyard foundations of Southern California his home. Armed with a five-horse water pump, empty milk jugs, and a push broom, our first trip began at 1:46am on a weeknight with Dean’s usual accomplice, Kurt Rasmusson.

October 6, 2005
“What were you guys doing behind the building at two in the morning?” asker the officer. The headlights of two patrol cars blinded our eyes as a flashlight danced over Dean’s truck and a helicopter’s spotlight circled above. The police had our IDs and we could hear the dispatcher reading our wrap sheet over the radio.

“Oh, we heard there was this trail along the highway fence. My friend told me about it, but there was nothing back there,” replied Dean, as Kurt and I sat silently. About ten minutes earlier we had emerged from a two-hour session having parked in an empty parking lot of a business complex to access an abandoned pool that butted up against the back of the complex. When we walked out a security officer waiting for us and had already called the police.

Eddie footjam “A trail? Did you guys have shovels and a camera bag back there?” the officer continued.” “No, well we did have a broom; in case the trail was too dusty to ride we were going to sweep it. We though it would be a cool photo with the highway right there,” said Dean. The chopper had been on us the whole time.

“Subjects have no priors…security reported no damage reported to the property…over,” said the voice from the radio in the background.

“All right, you guys can go,” said the officer and we quickly left in the truck feeling like we had barely dodged trespassing tickets.

“That’s B.S.,” said Dean as we drove away. “I’ve parked there before to ride that pool, but I guess before it was always on weekends.”

“Yeah that was weird they didn’t hassle us more,” I inquired.

“Yeah, you gotta know what to say, each person is different,” said Dean as if he was leading into a lecture about the etiquette of deceit. “You have to tell cops something right away, but usually it’s not them you run into. I’ve got something for everyone, whether it’s an owner, security, or a neighbor. I guess for every pool I go to I try and have story pre-planned. Like I'm looking for my wallet or my grandmother’s cat. Those always seem to work well. The trick is to come up with a believable story that an average person could have sympathy for.”

“Oh, there’s another one on this street,” he said with an uncommon excitement after our unexpected buzz kill. He pulled into a Tustin hotel parking lot and faced a nine-foot tall brick wall, with the adjacent motel’s pool on the other side. Dean’s night wasn’t over. Not 30 seconds after putting the truck in park, employees from the lobby of the hotel came outside toward our truck and all of a sudden Dean was leaning out the window with his cell phone going on about how his cousin is sick and in the hospital. He was speaking at a volume just loud enough for the approaching manager to hear important distressed words like “hospital,” “emergency room,” and “right now!”

All of a sudden the approaching manager slowed his stroll towards us while Dean addressed him in an over-acting monolog: “Sorry sir, my cousin is in the hospital and…” He turned back to his inactive cell phone. “What’s that mom? I should come now?” This stopped the manager dead in his tracks like he was interrupting an important conversation. Meanwhile, a half drained pool sat on the other side of the wall that Dean was dying to feast his eyes on.

“Is everything okay,” questioned the manager who was no longer interested in coming any closer.

“Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve got my cousin in the hospital, he’s alright, I just need to stop driving to talk to my mom…” The manager started to back away. I sat watching him buy every last bit of Dean’s scatterbrained story, hook, line and sinker as he backpedaled into the lobby.

“Everything’s okay, though?” he asked, as he left us alone.

But we were still the only car in the parking lot and Dean wasn’t about to scale a nine-foot wall in plain sight. We decided to come back another night. “Last time we were here there was only two feet of water. I dropped in and carved over the water and went straight to coping first try; it was so good but the motel lady kicked us out. We tried to bribe the lady with cigarettes to let us drain the pool—she was a total tweaker but I think we can convince her another time.” We left with plans of coming back later in the month.

Later I asked, “Kurt told me that you posed as a pool cleaner up north to drain a pool at a fully operational hotel; is that a little overboard?”

Kurt barspin “Probably (laughs). This one time I rented a pump and things didn’t work out with Plan A, so I was desperately driving all over the place trying to find a pool to drain. It started to get late and I had to move on to Plan B, which was an eight-foot deep square pool that had three feet of water in the deep end at a fully functioning apartment complex. The area was kind of sketchy so I called up my good bro Eric and asked him to help with the mission. Twenty minutes later he was ready for action. We carried the pump and the tools to the fence next to the pool. My arms were about to fall off when raising the pump up and over the fence. So we got in there and started to get everything going, when all of a sudden we heard a bunch of people screaming at each other and throwing empty 40s into the air, shattering right next to us. The only thing that separated us from them was a four-foot tall fence. Things cooled down, so I started the pump not knowing what would happen and the thing started to roar like the loudest lawn mower you could ever imagine. This thing was sending a fire drill to everyone in Portland and not spitting out any water so I turned it off. Not knowing what to do I turned up the speed and started it up again and it started spraying hundreds of gallons of water out of the pool and all over the parking lot! I looked over and saw this guy yelling at us outside of the pool in his bath robe. I calmly walked over to the guy and said, “Can I help you?”

"What are you doing? I'm trying to sleep here when you guys are making all this noise! It’s 1:30 in the morning!”

The first thing that came to my mind was, "Sir I'm just trying to do my job. We got a call to clean out the pool and we drove down from Seattle. I have a wife and kids and I’m just trying support my family." The old man looked at me like I was crazy walking back to his apartment with confusion on his face. So Eric and I threw the pump over the fence, grabbed all of our tools, and we left in a flash. We never went back there again.”

Oct 22, 2005
It rained on and off for the past week. Dean had the whole weekend off from work and wanted to ride a pool in Ontario on Saturday morning. He was sure it was full of water so he brought his big-dog pump along. Five-and-a-half horses will get you about three gallons a second once you get the pump primed and flowing, which isn’t always an easy task with only a couple people: Kurt and Sean “Fish” Hoskins were part of the crew that morning. After hopping a cement wall around a collapsing house we saw a kidney-shaped pool about nine feet deep. Some skaters had cemented over the deep-end light. From the looks of Dean’s two armfuls of dirty clothes and ratty old sheets he found inside the house, bums had definitely been living there. The constant traffic in front of the house was enough noise to drown out the roaring engine of the pump, and once the hose was primed we had the water flowing out into the backyard through a hole in the privacy wall. Dean and Fish bucketed out the remaining water and used the old clothes to dry up the remaining water and slime. The transition was smooth and Fish wasted no time carving over the steps in the deep-end and was trying tuck-no-handers-to-manuals by the end of the day. Kurt was trying some flyout-barspin stuff from the over-vert but kept clipping his pedal on the way out, but he finally stuck a barspin and a 360.

Pool lifesaver At one point we were sitting in the shallow-end in between runs and I heard a car door slam right on the other side of the wall. My heart stopped—we didn’t even hear a car pull up. A thousand scenarios ran though my head. My eyes first tried to find where we had put the 50-pound pump and then at my three camera bags all wide open with film and lenses laid out like a picnic. Cops, construction workers, a neighbor? Either way we were trapped rats. I looked over at the wall to see a bike being tossed over and my panic subsided. It was Fish’s friend Tom, who I forgot was meeting us to ride. My heart attack came and went within five seconds, but my usual paranoia lingered. Apparently neither Dean, Kurt, or Fish had even noticed my short panic attack. We rode for what felt like an unusually long time and dipped out smoothly, but Dean still ended up forgetting his push broom and buckets. We had to come back the next day to get them.

October 23, 2005—Pool Today, Gone Tomorrow
The following day, Dean, Kurt, and I met up with Larry Alvarado in Riverside to check out a smaller pool in another part of the city. We were a couple hours behind schedule, but Dean still had his pump to speed up any water removal. We were creeping through a shady neighborhood looking in between houses to spot any pools, and as we passed a few haggard houses we caught a glimpse of a couple heads sticking out of a hole in the ground passing out buckets of water. We parked the car and walked over fallen trees and old vinyl siding to find a small pool that looked like it had a lot of tranny in its seven-foot deep-end. Two older skaters were bucketing out the last six inches of the pool. I guess it pays to get an early start, which we didn't. Water lines on the pool were visible from where they had bucketed almost three feet of water. They’d been here all morning. Dean started the “bro down” and they assumed he was a skater, too, but there was a weird vibe while we were talking to them, like we had come across a stray dog feeding on a fresh kill and they weren’t inviting us to dinner. We weren’t about to roll back there with bikes when we could easily come back later when they were gone and ride under our video lights. We helped them dry out the deep end and they started spilling the beans about some other pool close by that had water—basically they were trying to get us to leave and go waste our time at some other pools. We took the hint and headed to an abandoned country club with full intentions of coming back later that evening.

Stair carve “Wow, that was weird,” I said.

“Yeah, those guys thought we were skaters, they didn’t see the bikes in our truck when we drove by,” said Dean.

“Do you usually have problems running into skaters at a pool?” I asked.

“Up north skaters used to get real stoked when we’d show up. They would always try and get pool [locations] off us but we would always have to shut them down considering they were the ones telling us ‘No Bikes’ at the public skateparks. I love that. Now in SoCal, skaters are on it because everyone and their momma has a pool in their backyard. You always have to be ready to run into skaters. Go by your gut feeling and just play it by ear. You would be surprised how cool some pool skaters can be, while others could die tomorrow and the world would be a better place.”  

We really didn’t stick around long enough to find out which kind those guys were, and in no time we were at the country club. There were tennis courts, an abandoned clubhouse, a hot tub that looked like a toilet, and a pear-shaped pool with shallow-end stairs that Dean wanted to carve over. I beat out the handrail out with a cinder block while Dean and Kurt drained the deep end with the pump.

Tire slide From inside the pool house I drug out some old rolls of carpet and used it to scrub the slick-as-snot algae off the bottom of the pool. The deep-end was pretty tight and had some tricky vert—so much that Kurt’s footjam plans were quickly put to rest. Dean proceeded to carve over the stairs and onto his face a handful of times until a pinch-flat put him in a temporary time out. Very little tranny in the shallow end, eight inches of tire space above the top step, and now Dean was riding Kurt’s bike. The sun had since gone down and my flashes were no doubt blinding him on every attempt. He landed a few, better than I thought possible, but our curiosity in the pool we found earlier was growing the later it got.

When we returned to the original pool, the skaters were gone and the pool was dry. We set up Larry and Dean’s video lights and started riding. The pool was small, but the deep-end like a perfect quarterpipe and the corners were so mellow that pocket airs were easy. Kurt and Larry toothpicked the loveseat right before our batteries died out. Assuming the pool would be there for another week, Kurt wanted to come back and ride in the daytime. Unfortunately, later that week the pool was filled in. On the way home we stopped by the pool from the day before to get Dean’s push broom and found a strange scene. Dean broom was there, but the coping in the deep end was not. A tank of compressed air and a long hose was chilling on the deck and we could only assume that skaters had jack hammered the coping out to use for another pool where they could replace some damaged chunks, but the deep end tile was broken and falling apart. “Skaters do that when they know a pool is going to get filled in,” said Dean. “This one is going to be gone soon.”

The Salton Sea
We’d been talking a lot about going into the desert to hit a bunch of pools, and a place called Salton Sea kept coming up, so I did a little research. Located in Southern California smack dab in the scorching hot desert, someone had the brilliant idea of flooding this area to tap into potentially unlimited agricultural land—just add water, right? Initially the farmers were stoked and the unlimited irrigation was plentiful. Land developers poured money into this new 376 square miles of water front property. Motels, businesses, and real estate thrived in the 1950s until the California Fish and Game Department figured out that that the huge salt flat on which the water was resting rendered the salt levels of the lake virtually uninhabitable for fish. Fast forward to today and the Salton Sea is a ghost town. A huge stagnant lake with banks covered in thousands of dead and rotting fish, hundreds of birds dead from botulism, and everything is covered in salt where water has evaporated. Not exactly Disneyland. Now only abandoned buildings, a couple of eerie trailer parks, and one pungent stench that you don’t get used to remain—and several empty swimming pools.

Tools of the trade Usually the “drive until we find it” technique never works, but since our destination was once a boat club we figured that it was on the water somewhere, and Dean led us right to it. The salty stench burned our noses if we were right on the water and if we were that close, chances are that we were also standing on piles dead fish. The pool was pretty amazing even though the view was quite foul. No water to bucket out, a fresh gray paint job, and good coping—people had been taking care of this place for a while. Brian Martin was going nuts right off the bat once he figured out that he could air out. Dean got his footplant on in the ten-foot deep end and Larry Alvarado chinked about twenty downside-icepicks for the cameras. Did I mention it was hot? Scorching. We killed our water jugs pretty quickly and we kind of forgot that there were other pools in the area. When fatigue set in we hopped back in the truck to salvage some daylight and drove around the perimeter of the 35-mile sea. Just as the sun was setting we came across a boarded up motor lodge with a nice square pool. The only problem was that it was filled with tumbleweed, and probably on purpose. Last time I checked tumbleweeds couldn’t climb fences. Dean hopped in the shallow end and started to toss out the bunches of branches and then we all realized that the deep-end was also filled with stink bugs the size of golf balls, hundreds of them. Dean finally said what everyone was thinking, “We could just burn it, but this whole place would probably go down,” as he looked out to a yard of dry tinder and the old wooden lodge. We moved on, deciding against arson and instead got tacos at what looked like the only inhabited place in town. The boat club was pool number 49 for Dean and we were hoping to find number 50 for him on this trip, but we spent too much time at the first pool and we were beat. With stomachs full of dog tacos we headed home, sun burnt and satisfied.

“Fifty pools is a lot, Dean. When did you ride your first one?”

Fish tabletop “The first pool I ever rode was this super-sick square pool that was at a burnt-down house in Seattle. Mike Hoder took me and ten other dudes there one day. Everyone one was peg stalling and dropping into the pool while I was barley carving over the light. I'll never forget that day. I’ve now ridden 49 pools since the summer of 2002. It will probably take me a little while to get to #50 because my bike got stolen from school the other day. But man, 49 pools—I never thought I would become so obsessed (laughs). It’s hard to say which one has the best tyranny because a pool might have perfect tyranny but the coping sticks out three inches making it hard to air or do whatever. But good transition doesn't make a pool good. It’s all about different obstacles and creative lines. If I wanted to ride perfect tyranny then I would pay $12 to go ride a crappy mini at the Vans Skate Park.”

Pala Pool
Easy to find and fairly well known, it wasn’t a hunt for the Pala Pool. We arrived in time for some gorgeous sunset light, but when we passed by we saw that skaters were already there, so we went and rode some full-pipes down the street until the sun set and the skaters left. Dean was working on a video for school so it was just Kurt, Dean’s friend Dakota Roche from Washington, myself, and Cody carving around the pool, generator roaring and construction lights blazing. Dakota had wanted to send a no-hander over the love seat since the summer and since he was only visiting from Olympia for a couple days it had to happen soon. The Pala Pool is down near San Diego but in the middle of nowhere, so when we saw headlights creep up behind the house we froze, not knowing who was going to come out from the car. Dakota figured it was go time so he got his hands off the bars so I could get a shot in case we were about to get kicked out or our asses kicked by some locals.

A couple guys in hooded sweatshirts walked up to the shallow-end and just stood there watching. We didn’t know them, but they were standing next to my camera gear so I was uneasy not having my eye on them where they were standing on the edge of darkness behind our flood lights. Dakota found his groove stretched a big no-hander. I was ready to pack up and get out the hell out of there, not about to hang out with the local shades. As I was packing up, one of them stayed and skated so we decided to ride until the gas ran out in the generator, which ended up being a couple more hours. Kurt wedged his front wheel in the love seat for a brakeless nosepick photo, Cody tried turndowns over Dakota’s gap, and Dean wished he was there with us riding on the new pink paint.

When we got back that night I asked Dean about riding Pala, and he said it was one of his favorite pools. But his dream pool was up in Washington.

Found pool “Dream pool? The Fisher Pool (RIP) was damn near it. My parents were friends with the old owners and supposedly I swam in it with the McCabe Brothers when I was a little kid. [I rode it] years after they moved out the house when it was up for sale. It was 12 feet deep, [and I had] permission from the real estate agent. There were lights in the pool that glowed all night, and hardly anyone ever rode it. I would go there after work and ride it for hours alone until my friend Trevor, the kid from next door, would come and join the session. But then some rednecks bought the house and one day they fired their guns in the air to chase use out. That ended the sessions at the Fisher Pool.”

Washington is kind of a unlikely place to find pools. How did you go about searching for a pool up there?
“Things were a lot different when I lived in Washington. Aerial internet photos, talking to drunken skaters, watching the news, reading the news paper, asking bums were abandoned house were. You name it. Mostly just driving around with my friends acting like we were looking for a house for buy. Whenever people would ask what the hell we were doing I would just say, ‘Is this house for sale? Because my mom is giving me $5 for every house I find with a pool.’ But in SoCal things are a little different. I work 40 hours a week and go to school, so when the weekend rolls around I'm out driving around finding new pools, looking for water slides sticking out over fences, pump house sheds in backyards, some privacy fences you can tell have a pool behind them, or places where there have been fires. Sometimes skaters will take a brick out from the top of a wall if there is a pool at the house—real subtle clues.”

Pool fastplant What was the difference in your friends from Washington and California?
“The Northwest was the Searching Crew. That would have to be, Jason, Chris, Josh, the McCabe Brothers, KC, and towards the end Gnar Gnar Shad Johnson. Those guys ruled! It’s funny, though; everyone thought the Northwest didn't have any pools considering the rain and all, but we proved them wrong. I remember draining pools at midnight in the pouring rain just to ride it the next day. Those were the good old days. Now in SoCal that would have to be Kurt, Fish, Tom, Brian, Zapata, Larry, Joe, and this racer kid has been coming along with us shralpin’ around like crazy, making us veterans look like old men. I'm just so glad I hooked up with such rad guys because if it weren’t for them I wouldn't have anyone to ride with.”

What’s the best thing about riding a pool? Is it the hunt?
“It’s the experience. Just driving around the ghetto finding an abandoned house with a swimming pool in the backyard with hundreds of gallons of disease sitting in the deep-end. But under all of the discolored water is the best riding experiences of my life. Some pools feel like a wallride while others feel more like a mini ramp. But pool riding is what you make it. Some dudes show up to a pool carving around finding new lines while others will be more focused on 360-ing the stairs into the shallow-end. I have more respect for someone who comes up with a new line or a creative trick than someone who kicks a tailwhip four feet below the coping.”

Watching Dean drop into the deep-end at Salton Sea was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen, and it’s what he lives for. The strangest thing about pool riding is that these transitions were never meant to be dry, and ten years ago someone was probably floating on an inner tube in the deep-end drinking a margarita. What were once status symbols of wealth and prosperity are now fragments of the American dream, and chances are a black truck with Washington license plates is idling by the front of the boarded up house and slowing to a stop.


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