Once I made it through customs, LA was great. Scottie picked me up in his cream Mercedes Benz and we drove straight to Venice, laughing the whole way. We skated to the beach in the fading light and I felt as if I was in a dream composed and informed by the past thirty years. This was the light, these were the curb cuts, this was the warm air I had always imagined. It felt like the closing scene in the movie of my youth, and it was only the first night of my holiday. The next day was even better. I texted Tino Razo – a Vermont-via-NYC transplant who has become synonymous with a lot of the cool shit coming out of LA – and ended up in the back room of Supreme, looking through a PDF of his new book about pool skating. As I scrolled and he excitedly told me the story behind each page, it became clear that this was more than a photo project for Tino; it had been a way for him to process and redefine his life through the lens of skating – a way for him to grow up within the Californian dream. A couple of times, he mentioned something he wrote that gave more context to the relationships and experiences around making the book, and as we neared the end of the book, he excused himself to go outside for a smoke while I read the deeply personal and unexpectedly tragic coda to the sunny adventure of the images preceding it. Afterwards, I walked downstairs and found Tino sitting in the alley on a milk crate, squinting up at me, self-conscious. I asked him if he was okay. ‘I’m getting there, man,’ he said.
Thanks for your time, Tino; you’ve made a beautiful book. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.
MO: So how did you get into skating pools? I can’t imagine there are many in New York. TR: No, but these two older dudes that lived in New York, they would bring me to pools out there. There was one in Asbury Park, New Jersey that we used to hit a bunch; then there was one in Baltimore, and I forget where the other ones were, but there was a bunch. Tony Farmer brought me to one or two right before I moved out here as well. But I never put time into it, and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing; not that I know what the hell I’m doing now – they’re fuckin’ hard as shit.
They’re really humbling, aren’t they? As soon as you’re in there... It’s crazy watching videos from back in the day, like Speed Freaks and stuff, to see Keith Meek and all those kind of dudes, and you used to be like, ‘This part’s fuckin’ boring, dude.’
I used to fast forward those pool guys. Yeah, like, I get it: old man in a pool. But it’s literally like anything you can get out of it, like a back scratch over a light, any little thing is so monumental. I love that shit. It’s really crazy; you don’t know until you get into one of those things how fuckin’ gnarly they are.
Have you ever been to one that’s easier than it looks, like one of those big, mellow ones? Yeah, every now and again, but...
Even those are crazy in their own way? ...totally. There’s always something that’s fucked up.
Did you ever come back to pools that had water in them, like bring a generator? It depends. I’ve done siphons... actually I used a generator once, but it was a permission pool. I met these kids who lived in a house deep in East LA; I think it was their grandfather’s house. He gave us permission to skate his pool, and he had a pump there. A lot of the time you’ll find them and there’s not that much work, it’s already pretty dry. A lot of times you’re looking at satellite views above, and that gives you the shot of like, ‘Oh, that one doesn’t have anything in it,’ you know?
OK, like Salba in Speed Freaks. Yeah, yeah.
Right. Where I’m from, not many pools have transition; they’re all straight edged because of the way the earth is or something. There was that cool one in Melbourne, the blue tile one. That one looked sick.
Oh yeah! Did you skate it? I was there when it was happening, but I opted to go street skating on the day the Nike team went. Hey look, there’s the pump the guy let us use... and look at that pool, on the bottom it says: ‘Miller Time’. The grandfather, he worked for a beer distribution company and they gave him that stencil in the ’80s for the bottom of his pool, then he hosted the yearly summer fuckin’ company party at his house.
Wow! They all have stories, huh? Every single one. That one on the left, that was one of those good ones where it was super mellow but the thing about it was it was so dry-rotted, the surface just fell apart under you, so it was slow. But if you got your good wheels in there and everything, it was perfect. Our buddy got a gun pulled on him there, because people lived at that house and we would just go at midday when you’re hoping they’re at work.
It’s part of it, isn’t it? That it’s risky and exciting to be there. Yeah. Like I said, there’s a story about every single one. The one on the right there, that pool I found when I was looking at a satellite while sitting in a bar in Highland Park. I went back the next day and it seemed like the house was just recently abandoned, but there was still furniture and stuff in there, but you could see that it was all on the way out, or just forgotten about and left there. I had my friend’s mom, who is a real estate lady, look into it, and she found out the person who lived there was one of the original members of the Black Panthers. I was trying to see if she could help me rent it so I could live there. So because of our interest, we got to skate it a couple of times and ask questions. People in the neighbourhood saw we were skating over there, and they put fuckin’ cameras all up in there. I guess she was in Oakland and Black Panthers were taking care of her out there and stuff. So that was a short-lived one, but they’re all short-lived usually. The one on the bottom is from a mission to Salbalands, one that Salba found, and when you skate with him it’s like three or four pools in one day. This guy is strict, like thirty-forty minutes, in-and-out, on to the next one.
He’s amazing. He’s nuts.
How old is he now? I couldn’t even tell you. Fifty-something?
And his knees are okay? The day after this he broke or dislocated his shoulder.
It’s like going to battle every day. Yeah. His wheel popped off mid-line.
Shit. Do you use different equipment when you skate pools? Do you have a pool board? Nah, I just skate whatever I have, but like that one that had dry rot, when I went back finally I had a slightly softer wheel. With hard-ass street wheels, you could do it; but it’s like work, and I’m lazy. So whatever I could do to make it work.
So when did you decide it was a project? When did it turn from you just documenting what you were doing anyway to a book? I was posting pool photos on Instagram, because I started getting super into it, and I was shooting film photos at the same time. Then an old friend – a friend of a friend – saw the stuff and reached out to me. He saw I was shooting film and asked if I wanted to do a project with him. It’s crazy though; that guy ended up hooking up with my friend’s wife right when I finished the book with him, so I just deaded it. So then I figured I’d just do a show with the stuff at the bar I used to work at or something. Then randomly another friend of a friend recommended me to a guy named Johann Kugelberg, he does Boo-Hurray in New York. He just started working for their Anthology Editions and I think they have him curating the publications that they’re working on. He’s done a great job so far; they just released their first book; I know it comes from the University of Chicago, it’s a pretty massive archive of UFO photography books, conspiracy theories, all that kind of stuff. So that was their first book, and Johan is also an archivist – he did the Sex Pistols archive book, that’s the second, and I’m third. They have all these other projects coming out, like Born in the Bronx about hip-hop starting in the Bronx; a 13th Floor Elevators archive book.
What a sick thing to be connected with. Yeah, he just gave me this pamphlet of all of the stuff, and I was like, ok this shit, like UFOs and the Sex Pistols, then my fucking book? What the hell? It’s so crazy.
Well it’s rad. You’re humble and that’s cool, but you’ve been skateboarding for how long? 30-something years. And you’re actually a part of a group of people and a way of skating that all the world wants to know about. Your book is an archive of sorts; it’s an interesting thing and it should be presented that way. It’s funny because this is a random side thing, but moving out here and everything being new; I didn’t skate much prior to living here, I worked at a fuckin’ bar for 12 years, I ran a silkscreen shop – I just worked non-stop. Coming here, and all of the stuff I saw as a kid, and the people and the pros, I just got excited on skating in general because of that shit. Then I met up with my friends Rick [Charnoski] and Buddy [Nichols], they have a studio just up the street where they do video stuff. Those were the older guys who back in the day brought me to my first pools on the east coast, so I reconnected with them and they’re just fuckin’ pool guys, and they started bringing me along. And that just got me even more hyped. You get to see California as such a different thing, you know? I guess that’s part of skating: you get to see everywhere from such a different perspective. I’m from Vermont, and you’re not just hanging out in the downtown area, you’re going into the industrial areas to skate a loading dock or the banks, or you’re looking behind a building, or down by the river, you know? You really get to see and understand the full city or town. But this shit’s gnarly, because you go so far to find these things; from the nicest neighbourhoods in Beverly Hills to wherever. You get the craziest views and architecture, because a lot of these things are from the Brady Bunch era. You see all the details and a lot of times the door is unlocked to the house so you can go in and see all the little things, like kitchen stuff that reminds you of your parents.
It blows the dust up on your memories. Totally.
And it’s not like museums; it’s not presented to you. Oh yeah, you’re breaking and entering into every single one.
You can almost feel how they would be to skate by looking at them, more than in a skate magazine photograph. It’s all on the fly, it’s all point-and-shoot. I probably used seven or eight cameras. It was really in-and-out, on the fly: clean, skate, get out.
Is there a big brother thing going on with you and those guys (Rick and Buddy)? Oh yeah. You’ll see in the thing in the back of the book, I wrote more about my relationship with them.
Would you do talks about this? I’ve thought about it, maybe at shows or something, because it is interesting and I do love all the stories. I can only imagine people looking at it and being curious about the experiences, and it’s fun for me to be able to tell them about it.
You obviously enjoy talking about it. Like I said, I spent three or four years avidly doing this and experiencing it.
It would make sense, because the other books from your publisher are quite academic texts. You could almost become a lecturer in pool skating. The first show is going to be at Gavin Brown in New York, then we’re going to do the Book fair here (LA), and then Milk just reached out to me in New York, in Chelsea. There’s a photo fair around there in March and they want to show this at the gallery. We have some other ones that the dates aren’t set, like England, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney... I’d like to keep going as much as I can.
Do you find all pools from different ages are made from similar cement? It depends. Some get dry rot and some get a holed surface and stuff like that. It’s tough to call; it’s either because the water has stayed in for so long that the surface held, or maybe it was different chemicals that became illegal to use after a while, or people trying to cut corners.
Is that the Nude Bowl? That’s the Nude Bowl. It had been buried for 12-15 years before this, and it’s so sick because that’s one of the ones we’d fast forward past as kids seeing Salba skate it in Speed Wheels videos. And it’s cool; these dudes are the same age as us, but happen to work in construction, and a bunch of them went up there – and it’s a 45 minute trek to get there – with full trucks and machines. I guess on the last session cops shot it full of shotgun holes and blasted the coping off, so they dug it all out, and brought all this stuff to use to dump in what they took out, so they could bring it away. Then they re-cemented it, re-copinged it.
That’s dedication! Fuck yeah.
It’s cool that so many skaters work in trades and construction now. Yeah, as kids it was like, ‘Dad can you build this quarter-pipe?’ and it was shit. But now it’s us with the same things as what our dad or our friend’s dad had, and the knowhow of skating and what we like and don’t like.
It’s cool that pool skating hasn’t disappeared, and it’s made a real resurgence. It’s crazy, especially out here because there’s so many gnarly skateparks. You see these kids who are locals at these hectic parks, or Portland, and they skate these fuckin’ things like mini ramps. It’s fucked.
So now that you’ve finished the book, have you slowed down on your pool missions? One hundred per cent. I’m just back to regular skating. I was really driven, like I was collecting baseball cards or something. I got super into it and wanted more. I liked how the images were coming out but I just wanted to get more.
So were your friends like, ‘Oh Tino and his pools.’ Yeah, because at the same time my buddy Jeff [Kutter] was making this video Boys of Summer, and I never went skating with them because on my days off, I always wanted to go do this. They called me Pool Nazi and shit. I was just working on this project and I was really into it.
Is it a relief to have it finished? Yeah, totally.