Back in late September we took a trip down to Kent for a session at Dan’s newly finished backyard pool joined by Monster luminaries Rune Glifberg and Sam Beckett, plus a host of visiting UK heads and locals. Two days of serious skateboarding took place in the blazing sunshine, which you can get an idea of in both the clip and Griff’s photos, so we figured we ought to sit Dan down afterwards and get the full story about his backyard dream-come-true. Enjoy.
Dan Cates talks backyard pools
This is by no means the first time you’ve lived in a house with something skateable obstructing your back garden is it Dan? How far back do your DIY impulses go and how many different ramps/bowls/etc have you had over the years?
My parent’s house: Bank ramp, fly off ramp, 4' wide mini ramp.
House of Doom II: 6' high mini ramp with sub box spanning the entire width of the garden, 2' deep concrete capsule bowl behind the ramp.
The Death House: 20' wide 4' high mini ramp with roll in, that was then rebuilt courtesy of Monster Energy into a 25' wide mini ramp 4'8" high with 2 tomb stones at 6' and 7'.
My House: 4.5' deep concrete kidney pool with pool coping, 2 free standing slappy curbs.
And how many of these previous builds were actually skateable to anyone but you?
Aside from the 4' wide mini ramp in my parent’s back garden, they were all pretty good. The one that people widely regard as totally unrideable is of course the concrete capsule bowl that I built in Harrow, but strangely enough that was the one that we probably had the best sessions on. I even managed to film 4 video parts on it! That thing is actually still there, I looked over the fence to check on it not so long ago, it's a pond now, but it's lasted 16 years so far with barely a crack in it anywhere, that's not too bad for a first attempt at DIY concreting if I say so myself.
So take us back to the genesis of this particular backyard ‘facility’ – knowing you, this will be something that you’ve always dreamed of doing but weren’t able to, so what was different this time around?
Basically, having my own place has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember, but after going to Australia in 2000 and having my eyes opened to just how weird and wonderful you can go with the construction of skateable concrete, and then having that little bowl at our old house, the dream became firmly set in stone: BUY A HOUSE AND BUILD A BOWL IN THE GARDEN. It just took me a lot longer to do that than I hoped it would.
In terms of things being different this time around; because skatepark construction has come such a long way in recent years, I suddenly found that there were people around me who had a lot of experience with this kind of thing, plus my girlfriend and I actually own the house where we built the bowl, which obviously allowed us to go to town on it, rather than building a watered-down version because it's in a rented property and you know you won't have it for long.
Did you consider anything less ambitious first, or was the pool always the idea?
It was pretty much always going to be a pool, not because I'm a 'bowl troll' or anything like that, I just knew that I wanted a pool so that the emphasis is no longer so much on tricks, but on how you approach it. It's more about carving and putting lines together and going over the stairs rather than trying to be the best, or struggling with something really difficult. I wanted something that could give you a feeling that you couldn't easily get from street skating, thus making it special.
Can you give us a rough over view of the timeline involved here?
It actually took around 18 months by the time I'd figured out exactly what I wanted, where I wanted it, how I was going to go about it, who could help me build it, how I was going to afford it, etc. From my initial phone calls to John Flood regarding the design, to sourcing materials, getting money together, waiting for winter to end and then getting the ball rolling again, it took about a year. Then the actual build itself took 17 days; then a further 5 months to put the garden back together.
Where did the design specifics come from? Is the pool based on anything already in existence or have you built it to a particular spec based on anything in particular?
The pool is loosely based around the bowl that my friend Dick built at his house. (It's the one from the Bumblebee photo that I had in Thrasher.) The design for Dick's was done by our friend 'Soup' who lives in Hawaii, he came over with Zarosh to help build it about 5 years ago and I decided to fly him out again to help build mine. I used Soup's original sketch as a starting point, then made my own changes to help make it even more skateable. I made it slightly lower, added a little extra length to the transitions, put in a straight side-wall, and put stairs in the shallow end so that the end result was a cross between Dick's and the pool at Manly Vale in Sydney, which incidentally, is one of my favourite things to skate in the whole world.
You mentioned that of all aspects of the build, removing the soil initially was the biggest pain in the arse – can you give us an idea of why it was so costly and so much of a nightmare? How much earth did you need to move?
Because of the structure of my garden, it wasn't as simple as just digging a hole in the lawn and landscaping the spoils into small banks around the side and then 'Bob's your uncle'. My garden is built on two levels, the top one nearly six feet higher than the lower one. There is no driveway to enable vehicle access and nowhere to get rid of the earth within the rest of the garden. To add to the problem, the lower garden, which is where the pool now sits, wasn't wide enough to fit the full width of the shallow end in, so we had to demolish around 40' of retaining wall and dig away a section of the higher part of the garden. This meant 6 days of excavating in a tiny digger that kept falling over (while Dick was in it) and somewhere in excess of 120 tons of earth to get rid of. This equated to having 7 full-size grab lorries come and pick up approximately 18 tons of earth each at a cost of £240 per load. If you do the math that adds up to being a rather large hole in the budget just for the privilege of getting rid of some mud, but such is life.
Who was your crack team of pool builders, and what did each of them bring to the table?
CAD design: John Flood
Invaluable advice: Marc Churchill
Utterly useless advice: Martin Ellis
Labour: Ted Cunningham, Aaron, Rich West, Mikey Patrick, Max Roton, 'The Doctor', John Horner, Will Burgess
Carpentry skills: Terry Stevens
Electrics/lighting: Backflip Tim
Concrete finishing and general expertise: Soup, Felix Parker, Div
What did you bring to the table? Aside from a back garden and the tears that must’ve been flowing every time you had to pay for something obviously…
I had to make sure that everything went to plan. So I would get up at around 7, make the tea, go for a quick walk along the beach with Dick, get diesel for the digger, book the grab lorry in for that day, go on errands to the builders merchants, make sure we had enough people to help us that day, make sure Dick had enough biscuits, make more tea, pay for everything, do the BBQ at lunch time, tie rebars, shovel earth, mix cement, put up the tarpaulin, make more tea, cut timber, sweep up, chop tree roots, demolish walls, dig, push wheel barrows, deal with the guy on the cement truck, make sure no one upset any of the neighbours, try to keep everyone involved happy, and so on and so forth.
Talk us through the process.
6 days of excavating
Timber and form work in place
Shaping the transitions and waterfall
Dig soak-away and install drain
Pouring the concrete
Coping blocks in place
Landscaping and tidy up
In the build footage, Div and co are floating the crete under a tarp – was weather an issue during the build?
Apart from that one day when we had the tarp over the bowl, the weather could not have been better; luck was well and truly on our side thank God.
Whilst we were there, you were constantly lacquering the coping – is there an issue with it, or is that just you being overprotective?
I used real swimming pool coping on the bowl, which worked out at almost half the price of the 'made to skate' equivalent, however, the expression: 'buy cheap, buy twice’ rings true here and with what I have learnt during the process of building the bowl, I would advise anybody thinking of building something similar to steer clear of coping that isn't purpose built for skateboarding. Swimming pool coping usually has a rougher, more porous texture and makes a really good sound when you grind it, but unlike the smoother 'made to skate' coping blocks, which are submerged in water as they're curing and left to soak for several weeks to make them super hard, swimming pool blocks aren't as durable and chip really easily if you don't constantly lacquer them. Contrary to popular belief, concrete coping needs to be lacquered regularly, but the swimming pool stuff needs a lot more to keep it intact. The basic theory is this: the slicker your coping, the grindier it is, the grindier it is, the less resistance your truck will have, the less resistance your truck has, the less chance there is of it biting and taking a chunk out. So lacquer, or should I say, 'Salba Sauce' is basically the life of your coping.
I have to ask and feel free to refuse to answer – how much are we talking for this thing, roughly?
Including all the grab lorries that we had to have in to remove all of the earth, building the bowl itself ran to around £7500. On top of that, my girlfriend and I had to put a further £2000 on the credit card in order to pay for the retaining wall that goes around one whole side of the bowl. So yeah, I guess it has cost a rather large amount of money, but it's a fraction of the cost of getting a company in to do it, and the fact that I had so much unconditional help from so many different people, friends both old and new, was very touching. Looking back on it now, although at times it was stressful for me, as I'm sure you can appreciate, it was quite a heart-warming experience. Knowing that Soup had flown from Hawaii just to get dirty in my garden for 10 hours a day, or that Felix had taken a week off work and flown back from Norway as he promised he would, or that Div had driven down from Scotland at a moment’s notice when we really needed him, or that Dick had made multiple trips up from London even when he had the flu, or how Terry dropped everything to come and help build the wall, it reminds me how lucky I am to know so many rad people that would come and graft for free in the name of skateboarding.
You’re a man not known for your love of spending money Dan; I think that’s something we can agree on – was the pain worth it?
Are you kidding? I have a pool in my garden!!!
So aside from savings, you sold a fair few bits of your own personal collection to help pay for this, right? What did you let go that you’d rather have kept?
An original World Industries Randy Colvin, "Censorship is weak as fuck" deck.
What about outside help? It wasn’t entirely self-funded was it?
No, I had some financial help from Monster Energy who basically covered the cost of materials and then flew Sam and Rune out to skate it when I'd got everything finished. Say what you will about energy drinks, but when I went to Monster for help they listened and they gave it to me, and without their support I would not have had the opportunity to make my dream come true. (I am very grateful to Charlie Schofield and Mikee Chen for believing in this project, thanks guys.)
Ok, so the pool is finished and it’s untouched – how did you christen it? Who had the first run, what did you do etc…
The day we finished the pool happened to coincide with Cat's birthday. Div and Soup were the last guys left on site, so after breakfast we just shredded the bowl while Cat kept the Bucks Fizz topped up. The sun was out and we were all over the moon that everything had gone to plan and we were finally riding the finished article. I'm pretty sure that I did take the first run yes, but the thing I remember the most was Div just ripping so hard straight off the bat. He switch carved the stairs second go and also ollied across them and did a disaster on the hip in a line.
Yourself and your girlfriend own the house that the pool’s been built in so, from a strictly mid-life perspective – what does it mean in terms of house value if you decide to move etc? It would probably be seen as an asset, right?
I really can't see how having a swimming pool that doesn't have any plumbing, heating, or filter in the back garden could do anything other than reduce the value of a property for any normal buyer, but I've been wrong before.
What’s Cat’s take on it? She doesn’t skate and it’s unlikely to ever actually be used as a swimming pool so what’s in it for her? Getting you out of the house maybe?
Well I have to say that firstly, I'm really lucky to have her because she is just amazingly easy going and level headed. She's from Harrow, so she's been around skateboarding for a long time and understands what comes with it. Secondly, when we decided that we were going to try and buy a house together, I made it clear from the very start that I wanted to build a bowl and she has never once disagreed with that, quite the opposite in fact. Thirdly, our garden was an eye sore when we moved in, and we really didn't have anything to lose by putting a bowl in because it couldn't have made things look any worse. Cat was incredibly supportive of the whole project and seemed to never once doubt me, and now it's done I can do my thing and she can do hers, and we don't even have to leave the house.
The weekend that we were over was a pretty heavy session – it can’t be everyday that you get a guy who was in Sorry and an X-Games gold medalist in your back garden – or is that kind of thing standard in Shoreditch-on-Sea these days?
Yeah that was pretty special and having Rune and Sam here was just the icing on the cake. Not quite your average Margate weekend. Strangely, talking of it being like Shoreditch-on-sea, Radio 1 DJ Gemma Kearney who also lives round here came round the other day and I just heard that Mark Brewster has bought a house here too, so I'm looking forward to skating with him a lot.
Above - Rune Glifberg - frontside noseblunt - photo Griffiths
Is that the heaviest session you’ve had there so far?
Without a doubt.
What’s your favourite line in the pool? You must know it like the back of your hand now…
Any line that starts with a frontside double axle carve in the deep end and has a hand-down carve grind over the stairs in it is a good one for me.
What about some of the best things you’ve seen people do in it so far?
Div's ollie over the stairs, Chester Pegg's rock'n'roll slide around the entire deep end first try, Tim Prescott's backflip attempts, the Craig Questions show, some of the lines that Beckett put together were incredible, Rune's frontside nose blunt, Murgatroyd’s backside blunt slide over the stairs, the list goes on.
Rob Smith has his own plaque ready for the Rob Smith noseblunt pull-in, has he been there yet?
We are still waiting for 'The Smith' to show up, but when he does I'm sure it won't be an experience that anyone will be likely to forget in a hurry. Anything can happen when 'The Smith' is around.
Ok, let’s end it on an obvious one: what are the 5 most crucial realities/lessons that this whole process has taught you that you would pass on as advice to anybody reading this who’s thinking about embarking on a similar project?
There are only two:
1. Spend more than you can afford on coping that is made-to-skate.
2. As Richie Jackson once said: "Don't take advice from old people".
I would like to personally thank the following people for helping to make my dream a reality:
Dick Weetch, William 'Soup' Campbell, Div, Mikee Chen, Charlie Schofield, Tom Creasey, Tom Mangham, John Flood and Canvas Spaces, Felix Parker, Catharine Proudfoot, Terry Stevens, Ted Cunningham, Aaron, Max Roton, Martin Ellis, Tim Prescott, John Horner, Richard West, Mikey Patrick, Nick Powley, William Burgess, Nick Zorlac, 'The Doctor', Rob Essex, Ben Powell, Andy Horsley, Rune Glifberg, Sam Beckett, James Griffiths and Marc Churchill.