INTERVIEW WITH DAVE “SUEDE” LIBHART
INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTOS BY RHINO
Just saying Libhart is from Pennsylvania says it all to most. Suede is a perfect breed of hardcore do it yourself, for the fun of it, in the rain, sleet and snow and never quit kind of attitude. Suede is now living in Jacksonville, Florida building swimming pools and skateable backyard bowls. His skills are a combo of the legendary Northeast and Southeast underground skate scenes. Southern hospitality never wears thin and when you hang out with Suede and the boys, you feel like you’re family. So sit back, put the kids to bed, crack a cold one and check out this interview. It’s an East Coast classic.“I WANTED TO BUILD ONE POOL A MONTH AND WE ENDED UP BUILDING 13 POOLS THAT FIRST YEAR. NOW WE’RE DOING 50-70 POOLS A YEAR.”
Suede, what are you doing? Are you ready to rock n’ roll?
Name, rank and serial number?
Name: Dave Libhart. Serial number: 1456780.
Where did it all start?
Doug Mayor, Booger Brown
Booger Brown and many a dude
What year were you born?
What was going on in Harrisburg in the ’70s?
For the most part, it was pretty boring, but we made it happen. We had everything that a little kid needs.
When did you start skating?
’85 or ’86. My buddy, Tadd Kegris, and I were skateboarding, delivering papers and running around the neighborhood. We were just pushing and going for it. We were hanging out on the railroad tracks when we weren’t skating, drinking Mad Dog 20/20 with crazy Dave Delson, who used to get us brew and make us nunchucks and whatnot.
What was your favorite flavor of Mad Dog?
We were rockin’ the grape. There wasn’t a huge variety at that point. Later on, our flavor changed to kiwi lime.
Yeah, we were really rockin’.
[Laughs] What were you guys doing for ramps? Was there a vert ramp?
The biggest ramp was P.M. That was going on when I first got into it.
You’re talking about Public Menace, right?
Yeah, that’s where the older fellows were skating. That died out shortly after I got my driver’s license. From there, we started constructing a ramp over at this guy Steve Skelly’s house. We called it the “Kong Ramp.” Carlos was the key player behind that one.
Why did you call it the “Kong Ramp?”
It was a conglomerate of ramps. There was a vert ramp, a 7-foot mini-ramp, with a 5-foot mini ramp between that. There was supposed to be a 9-foot half-bowl thing, but I don’t think that ever reached completion. It was a big structure all tied together. That was around ’91 or ’92.
So you were building ramps?
No, I was hanging out and playing in a hardcore band called Last Call. The front man Bob Breckbill passed away a few months ago. R.I.P. Bob. Dave Lambert and I did a lot of work constructing the railroad tie foundation. Carlos and the boys were framing up the ramps. I was helping to do some of the work over at the Kong Ramp.
You knew how to put tranny together?
Oh, yeah. We built mini ramps, quarter pipes… you name it. At that point, I wasn’t a trained carpenter, but we could lay out tranny, cut it, frame it up and get it done.
Were you building any roundwall in PA?
No, the only wooden roundwall in PA that was accessible to us was the Cheap Skates bowl. We made an attempt out at Skelly’s house, but the roundwall end never got completely done.
Were you riding Reading at all?
We were riding Reading and Lansdowne. My mom was taking me to Reading when I was 12 years old.
What did you think about that park?
It was unbelievable. Although it was already outdated, it was just awesome. Tadd, myself, and a couple of our other buddies used to go out there. Our moms used to drop us off for the day. We smoked cigarettes, drank beer and skated. We rode the Kink Sink. Aaron Levinthal was always around. He killed it and still does; just ask him.
[Laughs] Describe what the Kink Sink was like.
They had this makeshift wooden roll in. It was just pieces of plywood draped over each other, 12 foot back. You stood up there and went for it. You hit this completely shitty wall and hoped for the best. I remember seeing you going mach-10 around that place.
[Laughs] I just want people to understand. With all of the perfect shit that’s being built now, I just wanted you to paint a picture of it.
[Laughs] If anyone ever saw a picture of that place, it looked ten times better in the picture than it ever felt under your wheels. Would you say that’s fairly accurate?
[Laughs] I would say that’s fairly accurate. Did you have any other pools to ride?
It was probably like any town in the Northeast. A random pool would pop up. The pool that got skated a lot in Harrisburg was the Riverfront Hotel pool. It was this square face wall with about three feet of vert. There were only a handful of guys doing anything in it other than carving.
Were you hanging with Radiation Ray Young, Doug Mayor and Booger Brown?
I knew all those guys, but we had a whole different crew of dudes. Those guys hung out and had a different scene going on. We were hanging out in the suburbs and the cities, getting wasted, bombing parking garages at night and skating banks and ditches. It was more of a city environment.
Were you listening to hip-hop?
We were running some Run D.M.C. King of Rock was definitely one of our go-to gems. Tadd skated a contest once with Run D.M.C. bumpin’ while James Bradley popped out of the trash can drinkin’ a 40 oz. of malt liquor. James was doing this dance that looked like he was having heart attack or something. Booger and some other dudes were the judges. They said that Ray Young got first. That was bullshit because everyone there knew that Tadd won fair and square. He went faster and bigger. Ray was good; he just wasn’t Tadd. They gave Tadd second place in that contest. He got hooked up with Motobuilt trucks after that. The first set of trucks they sent him got sent right the fuck back because they sucked. That’s how our whole crew was. Nobody gave a shit about the skate industry. Nothing has changed. We were members of Harrisburg’s “40-Dog Demons” skateboard party gang. Those other guys didn’t know what to think about us. We were always drunk – ready to swing skateboards and break bottles. That shit was fun to us. We weren’t the skate jock crew. We were the party crew. We are still having more fun then any of those dudes.
[Laughs] Were you doing any break dancing?
Not at that point, but when I was ten years old, I could rock a head spin. I could probably still get one.
[Laughs] Were you rocking a mullet, too?
No. No mullets. We were straight flat tops and sweat socks.
[Laughs] Rock n’ fuckin’ roll, man. So you’re hanging out in PA. You have a decent scene going, and then skateboarding dies a little in the late ’80s.
It slowed down. Although there were projects going on, there were stipulations. It was bullshit. One of my buddies, Drew Karkos from Maine, called to tell me he was coming through Harrisburg. Drew and I had hung out in Ocean City and he lived in Harrisburg the winter before that. He was like, “I’m on my way to Daytona.” We partied in Harrisburg for a few months and then hopped on a Greyhound bus and brought it to Daytona.
Was that right when Stone Edge got built?
Stone Edge had been open about three years by the time we got there. On New Year’s Eve, we rode the bus down there and arrived 24 hours later at the Greyhound station on Ridgewood. We skated up to Stone Edge and I got my first session in. It was nothing to see 30 or 40 dudes ripping around that park. It was a big change of environment for me.
Did you know about Stone Edge before you went down there?
Hell, yeah. Power Edge had run photos of it. We knew all about it.
Were you thinking that you just had to get out of Harrisburg and hit Daytona because they had a concrete park?
Absolutely. We’d tried to go to Daytona once before and got stuck in Maryland, skating Lansdowne and hanging with Jeff Townsend and Bill Gracen. Then we came back to Harrisburg, regrouped for a month, made some money and then we were gone.
You just decided to go live where there was a skatepark?
If you ever lived in Daytona, you’d know there is no other reason to go there than a skatepark.
[Laughs] Did you have a place to stay?
We didn’t have any kind of organization going on. Drew had been down there two years before in the winter, so he had some buddies established. We didn’t have a place to live. We didn’t have jobs. We each had about $200 in our pocket. There were a couple of tight weeks there, but we crashed at some houses, found some shitty jobs and made it happen.
What were those sessions like when you first got there? Who was on the scene?
All the dudes were there. There were the dudes from Virginia, like Mike Yorkey and Wild Wes. There was Lenny and the Gluggers. There was the Eric Dawkins and The Meagers, and too many to list.
Who was on the Glug crew roster?
Lenny Byrd, Jeff Ragan, Chad, Ricky Burns, Boone, Ricky Matthews, and Gooch were there. Gooch is no longer with us but I’d give anything to see him kick a hippie’s ass in Crested Butte again. There were so many random dudes there for the same reason that we were.
They just came from all over the place?
There weren’t many people involved in the skate scene that were from that area. Even the guys from Florida that were hanging out weren’t necessarily from Daytona. Some were; but most weren’t.
Everyone showed up from all parts of the country, although Luxford came from Australia, right?
Oh yeah, he was there. Every night that you went to that park, there was always someone there that you’d never seen before. You were like, “Who the fuck is that dude?”
You had Groholski, Mertz, Martin and Nolder on occasion. What was it like riding with Nolder?
Monty was here about four years ago skating some pools that we had going on. You can’t say enough about the guy. Monty is straight up gnarly. He’s a fun dude to hang out with, but he’s not a guy you want to be around if he doesn’t like you. His hands are like steel. Just ask Country. I like going to the bar with Monty; he likes to drink shots called ‘surfin’ on acid’.
[Laughs] Country felt the steel?
[Laughs] You have to ask Country about that.
[Laughs] So you get down there to Daytona. Did you establish the “International House” at that point?
No, the International House wasn’t going on at that point. Drew and I were crashed over at the Mosh Brothers’ house. Tom Stafford was also staying there at the time. We hung out there for about a month and then started hanging out with our buddies from Alabama. There was Chris Zaborny, Matty Johnson and a guy from Florida named Mark Good, as well as Eric Dawkins and Ricky Matthews. Those guys were at a house in Daytona Beach Shores, which was right down the road from the Mosh Brothers house. They were partying every night, so we started hanging out with them. We ended up crashing there and getting wiped out. The cops evicted us and we got a house in Daytona Beach called 41 Halifax. That was the address. That was the pre-game warm up to the International House. That was eight dudes barely scraping by, sharing bills and just skating. We were working at a place called Down the Hatch, which was a seafood joint with a bar. We were riding our bikes ten miles each way to work. We were washing dishes, shucking oysters, peeling shrimp, drinking all their beer – whatever it took.
This was in ’93 or ’94?
That was in ’93.
You were living the life. Skateboarding was dead. Media-wise, it was all street skating and you guys had a metal vert ramp and a concrete park.
We had four concrete bowls, vert ramps, mini ramps and every bit of transition you could want. I remember walking in that park the first day and they had killer boards. Boards were starting to go to 7 1/2 inches with 50mm wheels, but when you walked in there, it was Schmitt Stix radials. It was the real shit. You were like, “Hell, yeah!”
That’s when everyone was scratching for the big wheels.
We were just looking for some decent shit to ride that you could haul ass on.
Were you still building ramps to skate in the backyard?
We had the park, and there were mini ramps around. I’m not saying Stone Edge was the greatest thing ever built, but at the time, it was the shit. The other stuff going on in the area wasn’t even comparable. There were backyard mini ramps and some had cool little vert extensions. There was one on Ridgewood, right down the road from the park. I remember partying there one night grilling a baby calf. Some of the boys got hammered and left the house. They were ‘shrooming out in the country towards Smyrna Speedway. They were out there picking mushrooms and bringing them back by the trash bag full. Then there was an unfortunate run-in with a momma cow. She was trying to protect the calf and they were trying not to wake up the landowners, so the calf got killed.
This dude Randy from Texas, who was like 6’4”, beat the shit out of it. Mark Good just hopped on its neck. He yelled, “I’ll show you rednecks from Texas how to kill a cow.” He snapped its neck. They brought it home and drug it through the living room and hung it up in the backyard at the 41 House. It was right in front of the mini ramp that we built in the garage. We cleaned it up and ate that for a few days. We called that the “veal deal.”
That’s pretty fucking redneck, man.
Well yeah, it went down, you know. Killing and eating baby cows was new to me. I was like, “Holy shit. These dudes are for real.” That was some of the best meat I ever ate. Everyone was just scrubbing by, the food was good and the “veal deal” was a success. There were some people that were up in arms about it, though. They thought it was the grossest thing. Some people stopped talking to us. It was like, “Eliminate the weak.”
You could filter out the lightweights.
I don’t know of many party tricks that are as impressive as that. It’s not something that everyone has to be proud of, but it definitely happened. It was full on, Murf. We had calf hide on the fence. We had cow skulls in the front yard. It was punk-ass shit. We were giving people tattoos in the front yard and feeding them dead baby cow in the back yard.
So you’re in Daytona partying. You’re living the life. At some point, Tim Payne started building ramps. Did you ever work with him?
I knew Tim quite a few years before I started working for him. He would come by the International House with Dave Ellis or Little Eddie. We saw those guys, but I didn’t start helping Tim until the St. Augustine Park got built in 2000.
You weren’t building parks or ramps personally?
Well, I lived in Daytona for nine months of ’93 and then I moved back up to Pittsburgh. I went back to PA to go to college. I didn’t move back to Daytona until March of ’96.
What kind of a degree were you looking for?
I wasn’t looking for any particular degree. I was just looking for some education. I knew I wasn’t going to hold it down in Daytona, partying while trying to get some college in me. I went back to Pittsburgh and we just formed a whole new crew of dudes up there and started doing the exact same thing.
You were just partying and raging?
Yeah, it was Joey P, Sean, Jason Wagner, Dave Lambert, Drew Gilmore, Mike Kapp (I miss you bro, R.I.P.) George Draguns, Greg Russo, 37, Sebastian Nichols. Countless dudes were living there. It was fun. It was a whole different deal out there.
You were skating George’s ramp?
In ’94 and ’95, we were skating this guy’s ramp out in Butler, PA. Little Tim, Crazy Casey (Harrisburg transplants) and myself were also skating Jerry Fleig’s ramp a bunch. There was just a whole mess of dudes in Pittsburgh. I was living with Dave Lambert, who is another “40 Dog Demon” from Harrisburg. He kills it. He was doing nasty shit on vert, bombing hills, doing crazy ollies and skating everything good. Sebastian, Wags and Draguns were all killing it, too.
What happened next? You were in Pennsylvania trying to get an education?
I got an associates degree in arts and science. I wanted to get some type of degree so a future employer would know that, at least, I had the guts to hang in there and stick with a program. I just wanted the credential.
Then it was time to go back to Daytona?
I went back to Stone Edge, because there wasn’t anything else to skate in Pittsburgh. We were skating the park from ’96 to late ’98. When I moved back down to Florida, I moved into the International House. That’s the house where dudes were hanging out, skating, working and making it happen. I finished school and saved enough money to buy a new van and hauled ass to Florida. I lived in the front yard of the International House in my van for a little bit, and then I just squeezed in there. We were skating the park four or five days a week. We were partying every night and having a good time. We were all working construction jobs, building houses or hanging drywall. A few of the guys were working in kitchens. We were just living and trying to have fun.
You didn’t start building ramps until you started working for Tim Payne in St. Augustine?
Actually, we had a ramp at the International House. One day after work, we were finishing up a keg from the night before, and I did a frontside ollie and ended up compound fracturing my leg. I was in a cast for 16 weeks and an air cast for four months after that. When I first broke my leg, everyone was coming over and skating and it was a lot for me to handle to not be a part of. So I hopped in my van one morning and rode up to Pittsburgh. Initially, I was just going to hang out, but this guy Jerry Fleig was building a park out near the airport., so I was hobbling around on one leg, holding a saw, and building shit for him. He had a mini ramp in this warehouse and then I built a street course for him. I built him some round pockets, opened up an area for him and made it way more functional. I built that shit for him, just for food and beer every day.
You worked for just enough to get by.
Then I went back to Daytona and got on the old framing crew I was on. We were knocking out houses, framing up at least one a week. In ’98, Tim had a bunch of shit going on and Lance and Drew started working for him. ‘Tip-over Tim’ was out in California skating. Greg and Candy had moved out to where they’re living now. Kruse was down south with some chick. Nate and Matt were both out west in California, living in San Diego. That’s when I moved to Jacksonville. Country and I had a framing business for two years then I started working for this company doing texture finishes on pool decks, patios and driveways. In the fall/winter of 2000, Drew, James, Jeff Ragen, Lenny, Matty and a few other guys were building St Augustine. We were having some harsh weather that winter, so we were getting rained out at my job. Every day I’d haul ass down to St. Augustine to help those guys build the park. Then another park came up.
What was it like the first time you built concrete?
Well, I’d placed concrete before, just not in a skatepark. I’d been finishing concrete everyday for almost a year before then with my job. I had a good background in construction from building houses. It wasn’t rocket science.
You started tying rebar and forming dirt?
I did whatever they needed me to do. I was just donating my time to help them do whatever. There were a couple of days that the weather was harsh. You could stand there and watch it rain or get in there and help get it done.
Tim and the boys were impressed with your skills, so they kept giving you work after that?
I guess so. I left the company I was working for up in Jacksonville. It was a company that was owned by the daddy, and the two 30-year-old jock-ass sons were trying to take the business over. There was nothing good happening there. One day, I was finishing a deck and they kept calling me. We used to spray this texture on these decks with a hopper gun. I called the one son up, and said, “Hey, I just threw your hopper gun up in a tree. You can come and get your shit. I’m leaving the van here and walking home. Fuck you.” I walked off the job. We were making those guys millions of dollars and they weren’t giving back to the employees or the business. A family of mechanics raised my dad, so I understood how a family business should work. I was like, “Fuck these dudes.” They weren’t in it for the guys making them money. They were in it for money for themselves. I called him and said, “Come and get your shit.”
We had a pool going on at the time, and Jeff Ragen and Lance Spiker were coming up to skate. Those guys picked me up and I told them how I just threw this guy’s shit in the tree. Lance was like, “Don’t even sweat it. I talked to Tim today. You’re coming with us on the next job.”
What was the next job?
We went up to Woodward, Pennsylvania and built the new concrete up there. Then we built a snake run type deal that went down the hill to where the old BMX track used to be.
Were you tripping out to be back in PA building concrete?
It turned out to be a blessing. Woodward is only an hour away from where I grew up. My parents were still living in the house in Harrisburg that I was raised in. We were halfway into the job and my mom called me up, freaking out. My dad had to go in the hospital. He had this lung disease. It was a cancer called sarcoidosis. It makes weak spots on your lungs and eventually you internally drown to death in your own blood. I got that call in April and my dad passed away the first week of June. Being up there for that job turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. I was there already, so I could go and hang out with my dad during his last days. It was a blessing in disguise.
Were your parents stoked on what you were doing?
Fuck, yeah. Three months before that, they were down in Florida for two weeks. I took my dad down to the St Augustine Skatepark and showed him what was going on. He was super-stoked. He said, “I wish I could rewind 35 years and do exactly what I wanted to be doing, too.” He was amped for me.
He wasn’t thinking of it as a career move; he was just stoked.
He raised me right. He knew whatever I pursued, I would pursue it with the right motives and make something of it.
Were your parents always cool with what you were doing, road tripping and skateboarding?
In our bloodlines, once we have our minds made up, it’s going to happen. They knew that. Even if they weren’t totally for it, I had full-on support. After I was an adult and I was still pursing what I wanted to do, they were like, “He has reasons for what he’s doing. We’re going to fully back him.” They were totally into it.
You’re a lucky man. That must have been tough for you when your dad passed away. Were you still on that job?
We were pouring the second to last pour. Shotcrete was blowing. Everything was going down. Then my mom called again; she was in the ICU. She was like, “You’ve got to get down here. Dad’s not looking good.” I blazed down there and he was in ICU. He was in there for three weeks. He was swelling up and bloating out and I had to pull the wedding ring off his finger. I almost ripped his finger off. That was a blessing in disguise too, because my mom ended up giving that ring to my wife Lindsay and that’s what she gave me when we got married. My wedding ring is my dad’s wedding ring. I always have him with me.
He was down and out. It was the weirdest thing. Lindsay and I were leaving for Vegas in three weeks to get married. He started coming out of it and he got out of ICU. And then he was like, “You need to go back and handle your shit. You’ve got a job. You’ve got a wife-to-be. Go handle your shit. I’m going to be fine. I’ll see you soon.” Nate Miller and I were leaving Woodward and we drove 14 hours back to Florida. I got to my house and woke up at 5am, when my brother called to tell me that my dad had died. My mom and brother were with him. A simple cough made him hemorrhage. He bled to death right in front of them. It was gnarly. My brother went through some shit after that. In hindsight, he saw some gnarly shit that you don’t ever want to see. I have a lot of heart and respect for him, that’s for sure. He and my mom are stronger than most. It was a crazy time.
That must have put some perspective on your life.
Totally. I remember coming back to work the day after the initial scare, when my dad was still in ICU. My buddy Frankie Rose was like, “Fuck this job. You need to turn around and go back there and hang out with him. Fuck all this shit.” Part of me wanted to, but I was thinking about my dad. If I walked into that hospital room, he’d probably tell me to haul ass and go and take care of my shit. That’s just how he was. As long as your people are taken care of and you know that everything is good with the people that you’ve had contact with and raised, and you feel confident about that, the rest of it really doesn’t matter.
It’s amazing how skateboarding can get you through hard times.
It was key. From there, that job ended and I went to the funeral. Then we came down here and built this little shitty street park in Deltona. From there, James, Drew, Nate, Jeff Ragen, Matty J., Eddie, myself and all the boys that were working for Tim, went up to Michigan and built some parks.
You were working for Team Pain now?
We were all subcontractors at that point. He was like, “Here’s the layout of this park. I’ve got 15 weeks in the budget for each one of you.” We were knocking those parks out in nine weeks and then sitting on our ass for a month and getting paid. Or we were starting another job and getting paid double. It was killer. That’s how I bought my house.
Were you heading up a crew or did you have a specific job?
No one was really heading up the crew. Everyone was doing it. At that point, myself, Eddie, James and Drew were trying to put forth effort. There were always complications and design issues. There should be more pool coping and this and that, but I wasn’t trying to step on anyone’s toes. A lot of those guys had worked there for years. I was just there to do what was asked of me. Of course I had my opinions, but we all have our opinions. That doesn’t mean that you blow the whole fucking deal.
At that point, there was a huge wave of concrete parks being built. Did you think you’d be a park builder to make a living?
It was totally an option. There are guys out there doing it for a living. I was already married, and my wife and I wanted to start a family, so we did that. That was a huge factor with me getting off the road. I never looked at it like I’m making this huge career of skatepark building. I was already looking to the future. I was just realizing what I could do with the skills I had. There is a huge difference between placing concrete on something flat and something vertical. At that point in time, I was always stoked when we shot a wall and it didn’t fall. There’s a lot of vertical concrete work out there. Even if they stop building skateparks tomorrow, there’s still a lot of potential in the skill of building vertical concrete. Anyone can pour a slab. You’ve got gravity working with you. But when you start shooting that shit up in the air on walls, it’s a whole different thing.
It’s a high-end architectural thing at that point.
Yeah, it is. Now, in the business that I’m in, we shoot pools and retention walls on my projects that are 4-6-foot of vert. Those guys have their rigs and mix ratio so dialed, they don’t even think about it. They’re throwing that shit up in the air and it’s just hanging there. Sands Shotcrete here in Jacksonville are the best that I’ve ever seen.
What other jobs did you work on with Tim?
I started working for Tim after we finished St Augustine. I worked on Woodward, PA, Deltona, FL, Lansing, MI, Grand Rapids, MI, Mason, MI, Woodward West, Tehachapi, CA, Tallahassee, FL and Canon City, CO. We were getting out there.
That was a solid three years of concrete park building. Was the money good?
I was making pretty good money. I was living off $200 a week and having the rest of it direct-deposited. When I bought my house here in Atlantic Beach, I put a quarter of it down in cash. Monetarily, that was the best decision I ever made. What pulled me away from park building was while in Grand Rapids, MI, Lindsay called and told me that she thought she was pregnant. I was stoked. Six months into her pregnancy, the Tehachapi job was finished and I moved back here. My daughter Emily was born on June 9, 2003. It was incredible.
Congratulations, man. Did you get to be home for that or were you on the road?
I was in the delivery room when Emily was born. I was back in Jacksonville for good. I was pouring some slabs for some contractor buddies. Then this guy on the North Side called me up and Skwirl, Drew, Nate, Vogel, and I built a ditch bowl for him. I was at home base. I wanted to see my kid grow up. I was working with Country, before I started building pools. He had a framing business going on and I was running a crew for him and he was paying me good. I was keeping everything rolling. Then I decided I wanted to start building pools, so I decided to start with one here in my backyard.
You were looking at your property and decided you wanted a pool in your yard?
I had the skills to do all the structural work. The missing link was figuring out how these things were plumbed and hydraulically engineered. Buck and our friend, Jerry Nicholson, hooked me up with this dude, Jon Temple. He plasters 50 to 60 pools a week. He’s completely hooked-up and knows the business inside and out. His older brother, Jerry, was living down the road from me at the time and he set me up. Joey Vogel and I worked with the excavator to shape the shell and tie the rebar. We started on a Saturday and all the boys helped out, (they know who they are: words can’t thank you enough). We had the shell shot in the ground by the following Saturday. If it weren’t for Skwirl, I wouldn’t have a pool. That dude was here every day after work for two months laying it down. He was pouring his heart and soul into it. He puts 100% in to everything he does. Brian “Skwirl” Moore is a soldier; I love that guy like a brother.
Explain the difference between a plastered shell versus a skatepark where it’s a one shot concrete process.
In a skatepark, you’re applying a hard-trowel finish to the concrete.
Explain the advantages of building a shell and then plastering it?
It comes down to whether or not the structure is going to hold water. My pool is completely skate-able and built to skate. The difference is that my pool is plastered is because when you’re sweating your balls off in the middle of summer, it’s full of water. The concrete is porous, so it doesn’t retain water. Whereas marcite is structurally designed to maintain, hold and retain water.
When you say marcite, is that a type of plaster?
That’s exactly what it is. You’ve got ranges of plasters. I’ve got buddies that work out in Vegas that plaster the sides of casinos. I’ve got buddies that plaster pools here in town. The plaster that the pool contractors are using is marcite. Jon Temples’ company Tempool Inc. is internationally known as marcite specialists.
These guys are schooling you on how to get this backyard pool going?
Yeah, it was awesome. As soon as I pulled the trigger on the project and pulled out the credit card, I got a lefthand kidney. It’s a completely functional skating pool.
What are the dimensions?
It’s 21′ x 31′. Have you ever skated Shakey’s out by LAX? That area has a lot of good pools to skate. Rhino and Preston turned me onto several pools. I skated Shakey’s for the first time in ’99. It’s a classic California left-hand kidney. The deep end and the way the hip lined up were good. I wanted to build something like that, but tighten up the shallow end. Shakey’s gave us the inspiration on the design. Some skate structures being built are completely over-thought. Sometimes, simplicity and geometry is the key to a killer pool.
Did you have the geometry figured out before you built your pool?
Totally. I ordered every block to the specifications that we’d designed. I remember the day that my coping got dropped off. We were all pounding brews and laying the coping out in the yard. I had to slightly change my dimensions according to the coping that I was able to buy.
Did you contact Pemrose?
I’ve got an account with Pemrose, so I called John over there and faxed him the design of my pool with dimensions. He was like, “I’ll hook you up.” I had the radius established, but the long wall was a 21′ radius, but Pemrose only makes a 22 and 20-foot radius. He told me I’d have to stagger the blocks.
They don’t do a custom job for you?
They’ll build you anything you want. You just have to give them lead-time. Coping blocks are no different from any other piece of poured concrete. They have to cure. Pemrose blocks are properly cured for at least 30 days in the proper conditions. In my opinion, it’s perfect pool block.
Why did you choose Pemrose?
They were the ones I preferred, because of the longevity of it. We’ve all skated pools out West. I don’t think there’s any argument about coping. Block is the shit. There are some pools that were built in the ’50s and ’60s that still have solid coping on them. It just depends on what you like. If I were contracting a skatepark, I would say, “Here are your coping options. Which one do you want?” This happened to be in my backyard and I already knew what I wanted. I think it’s a matter of opinion. I’m not going to be the coping dude and tell you that one is better than another. I’m sure if you’re doing tricks on any of the three good copings, it doesn’t matter. So, we were building that shit. Buckley and Jerry Nicholson hooked me up with Jon and Jerry Temple. As far as the trannys and top radius, we had all that figured out. Making it a swimming pool, hydraulically, was a whole different game. Those dudes were cool enough to come in and help me. Jerry stopped by the house everyday to make sure we weren’t going to mess up his plumbing configurations. R.I.P. Jerry Temple. I never really got to fully thank him for the help and knowledge. I miss the crazy stories he’d tell me about various shit that went down.
Did you decide you wanted to start your own pool building company?
I already had it going on. In Florida, you have to be a state certified contractor to hold a license with any kind of validity to it. I had started classes to move in that direction.
Do you have to pass a test to get that license?
You have to go through weekend seminars or training. I spent $5,000 on my training. You have to be incorporated and have so much money invested in the company. You have to show a certain level of monetary value with vehicles and tools. Then you have to validate your experience within the scope of the work that you’re trying to do.
Is this hands-on training or classroom training?
It’s classroom training. You have to show that you know what you’re doing and can run a business and learn about the code compliance and finances of the business pertaining to the scope of work that you’re doing. Only thirty percent of the contractors that sit for that test pass it. Your first day is nine hours of testing on business and finance and then you have a five-hour trade knowledge test about the scope of work you’re doing and the applicable codes.
You have to be schooled in the codes of building?
You pass their test, but then you have to go through the state building construction review board. They do full background checks on you. They want to make sure if they put you on that State of Florida website saying you’re a certified swimming pool contractor, that you are an ethical person.
Did you pass?
Oh, yeah. The first day of testing, they don’t give you your scores. You’re sitting there in a hotel room after day one of testing wondering how you did. If you fail any part of that test, you fail. It doesn’t matter if you get a 95 percent on the other two sections. If you have any failing part of that test, you’re fucked. The first day, you’re sitting through the business and finance test for nine hours and you’re saying to yourself, “If I failed any part of that test, tomorrow is a waste of my time.” When I was taking the test, Matty Johnson from Alabama was in Orlando working at the airport. He said, “We’re getting drunk on whisky tonight.” I had to say, “I have to hold it down. I only want to take this test one time.” You go in there and you’re sitting next to pool sub-contractors that have been sub-contracting work out for over 20 years. It’s their third time in there because they can’t pass the test. It sketches you out, but I passed all that shit the first time through. I called Lindsay and said, “Tell Emily that her daddy is a loser.” She was like, “What? You failed?” I was like “Fuck, no. When have you ever known me to fail?”
You pulled it off.
I pulled it off. They gave me my license. In my first year of business, my goal was to build one pool a month. At that point, it was Lance, Skwirl, and I doing all the work with a couple of subcontractors here and there. We were doing 85 percent of our finished product in-house.
Did you start calling people to get jobs?
All of my initial hook ups were from friends. If they were on a job, and someone would say they wanted a pool built, they would hook me up. That’s how I started. All of my buddies would refer me out to people that were looking to have a pool built. I wanted to build one pool a month and we ended up building 13 pools that first year. Now we’re doing 50-70 pools a year with five employees: Lindsay, Steve, Drew, Skwirl and myself.
What’s the clientele like? Are you getting to build anything that’s skate-able? Or is it just flat walls?
That’s a question I get asked a lot by skaters. It’s like two separate entities. I don’t have to prove to anybody that I can build a skate-able pool. You were at my pool. If I took that pool and cut the walls square, that pool turns into a 40,000-gallon pool. With the transitions, it’s a 23,000-gallon pool. Believe me; I get a water bill every time I fill it. The thing about the market that I’m selling my product in, the more bang you can get for your dollar to a non-skateboarder, the better. I try to sell transitions because they’re much better for keeping your pool clean with automatic pool cleaners. Ninety percent of the people say, “I’ll hire someone to come and clean my pool. I want a 40,000-gallon pool, not a 23,000-gallon pool.” Even though, it’s the same size pool.
Why do they want that?
They want it because they’re like typical American people that are outside of our way of thinking as skateboarders. They think, “I can pay $40,000 for a 40,000-gallon pool, or I can pay $40,000 for a 23,000-gallon pool.” They’re thinking that more volume is better. All that means is that it costs more to fill up and maintain. You’re playing a neighbor race with these people. “We have to keep up with the Jones.” You get into these neighborhoods and build a pool and then the neighbor wants a bigger pool. It’s a completely separate market from skateboarding. There’s not even a comparison.
Is there a consciousness that skaters might skate the pool and they don’t want that happening?
No. The conversation is basically, “Here is the layout of the pool, and here are your options.” We’re talking about people that are paying $800,000 for a lot and $3.5 million for the house. It’s really hard to talk to them about skateboarding. It’s not like I can say, “You’ve got $150,000 in your pool. Let’s go ahead and make it skate-able.” If I wanted to build only skate-able shit, I’d just be building skateparks. I’m not living any differently building swimming pools than I am building skateparks. The only difference is that, instead of getting my weekly paycheck, I’m getting a weekly paycheck and making money through my business. I could build a skate-able pool and any customer that I can talk into a skate-able pool is getting one.
We talked about Blue Haven and the franchising. Some of those pools in California are skate-able with perfect tranny. Why were those pools built with transition?
That was how the industry was at the time those pools were built. The thing that fucked up the pools for skaters was in 1978, when politics and lawsuits became involved with everything. All of these skate-able pools that we grew up swimming in and skating in became grounds for lawsuits because kids started diving into them and people started cracking their heads open. Litigation hit these people. The people that were building skate-able pools thirty years ago, like some companies we have here in Jacksonville, are still in business. They’re not building skate-able pools anymore because they’re trying to be compliant with the current industry standards. To be honest, when they were building skate-able pools, they didn’t know they were skate-able. The owners of those companies don’t skate. If every pool that I build could be skate-able, you and I both know that it would be, but it’s like any other fucking business. I don’t care if you’re working at the grocery store, the customer is always right. At the same time, I can build a skate-able pool in my yard. I can come up to your house and build a skate-able pool.
Building swimming pools is my livelihood. Building shit to skate is my recreation. I could have 12 pools going in the ground and if somebody like Little Eddie is in town building a park, I’m going to walk up to his job site and say, “What can I do to help?”
You’re the man.
[Laughs] I wouldn’t go that far.
[Laughs] You’re building over 50 pools a year. That has to be gratifying.
I try to sell a pool a week. That’s our company goal. That keeps the cash rolling for my livelihood and my employees. Some of my competitors are building 200-250 pools a year. Go step on those job sites and look at the quality difference.
They’re probably cutting corners left and right.
Well, eighty percent of my work is done in-house. My employees give a shit about riding around in a truck with their buddy’s name on it. These other guys are driving around in franchise trucks with the name of some company and/or franchise owner’s name that they may never meet.
Like Blue Haven?
No, no. I would not think of talking shit on those companies because it’s unethical.
I’m not trying to talk shit. I just think that pool skaters need to realize Blue Haven is a franchise now. You can actually buy a Blue Haven franchise, like McDonald’s, and start a Blue Haven pool company, right?
You could. At the same time, I have skated some Blue Haven pools, that were built by franchise owners 30 years ago, that are some of the best pools I’ve ever skated. From a business sense, I would never talk shit on any pool builder. From a personal sense, there’s a huge difference between their companies and our company. I started my company from nothing; they haven’t.
You’ve got me sold.
I’m getting ready to build one in the next few years at my boy Nate’s house. We’re going to build his pool and skate the shit out of it. We can build anything at anytime to skate. I look at myself as a swimming pool builder. I’m no different from a house framer or a drywall hanger. I’m just in a trade that supports my family, my employees and myself.
Let’s talk about this project you did with your bro in Jacksonville. How did the project came about?
It was for Jon Temple, a buddy of mine. I think we’d be friends whether or not we had business ties. Probably because we’re both certified assholes; at the same time we both enjoy helping people out. He marcited my pool, so after he donated his time and material to the project at my house, I knew that some day I’d be doing the same for him. He’s got three boys – 9, 11 and 14. He called me up and said, “Let’s start drawing something to build.” So I drew it up. It’s got 152 linear feet of Pemrose pool coping in the bowl, with 60 feet of Brick Safety Grip coping on the pool bowl.
Does Jon skate?
No, but he heckles really well.
He’s just doing it for his kids.
Yeah, he’s just like that. He’s just super stoked on keeping his kids busy.
What do you have to do as far as permits when you’re building in a backyard?
The only thing we had to pull permits for is the lights so they could do a grounding inspection. As far as the structure itself, we’re not going to swim in it, so we don’t have to permit it as a pool. They were like, “Go for it.”
What did he want built?
He didn’t really have a plan. He just said, “Build something you guys are going to be stoked on and make something that my kids can learn on and stay stoked on. We came up with the 9-foot deep bowl on one end, with a foot of vert, that goes up into a 6-foot mini ramp section with 7-foot trannies. That goes up in elevation two feet and then down three foot like a pump bump, into 7-foot with six inches of vert that has brick coping. The rest of it has block coping all around it. It’s fun as hell.
Does that waterfall together, but the platforms are all level?
The deck is all on one elevation. Everything is waterfalled together.
All pool block and some brick coping?
You’re the man!
It was just killer to build it. We’ve got 200 yards of concrete in that project. There were more than 30 people that helped in one way or another.
What kind of backyard are we talking?
We’re talking ten acres in a killer part of town. It’s halfway between the beach and downtown. It’s an older street that has these killer properties on it.
What’s the scene? Can you call and go skate it?
Basically, anyone that helped build it has a code to his gate. We just pull up, push the code, drive back there, park our cars and skate. It’s rad. We’ve got go-karts out there. There’s a pond and a swimming pool. It’s a sick set-up. It’s on time.
Do you think you’ll be throwing any major Skatopia-type parties down there or do you have to keep it on the down low?
Nah, man. We’re not going to go crazy like that. We won’t be blowing up any cars there. We’re going to keep it a little tighter than that.
[Laughs] Keep it mellow and respectful.
You can go over there and have fun. I load the van up every time I go out there. Whoever is with us can skate. Jon just doesn’t want to have to worry about total strangers coming in there and getting hurt. Plus, his kids being at the age that they are, they don’t even bring their friends over. If that shit gets around the school, they’ll have kids jumping the fence.
What was their reaction to what you built?
They were blown away. The kids were super stoked on it. They skate with us every time we’re over here. Someone is there three or four times a week. They’re getting better and better, by leaps and bounds. The middle boy, Johan, is the most into it. He’s grinding, doing airs and getting lines going. He’s ripping. He’d never dropped into anything deeper than a 4-foot mini ramp until he had that bowl. Now he’s all over the place. The youngest boy, Kane, is all over it. Jon-Jon, the oldest boy, is ripping too. It’s killer. We had a party out there for Memorial Day. “Otis” was down from Charleston. Lenny Byrd was out there. He helped us build it. Drew and all those guys were there.
Did Buckley show up?
Buckley was there. We had a bunch of crawfish and shrimp. We were eating, skating and racing go-karts. It was killer.
Do you see any other parents building stuff in their backyards for kids to skate, or was this just a unique situation because you knew the dude?
This was definitely a unique situation. Every time I step up on that deck, I feel it. We built the thing six feet out of the ground. It’s a 5,000 square foot project. When you get up on the deck and look over, it’s like, “I can’t believe we have this thing in our buddy’s yard.” It’s not even a bowl, dude; it’s a full skatepark. We’ve got one deck that we poured 25 foot and we’re going to put a tiki bar up there. Jon’s rule is that all the dudes that live around here and want to come skate, but didn’t do anything to help us, have to come over and do an eight hour shift behind the tiki bar before they can skate.
And they’ve got to bring the beer, right?
Yeah, do something. Bring something. Sissy’s.
What’s your next project?
We’ve got “Otis” set up. We’re going to build a pool in his backyard. I’ve got him hooked up with all the materials. Jon is taking a crew up there to marcite it. I’m taking Skwirl and Drew up there on company time. Those dudes were out there every day when we were building Jon’s bowl. A lot of people helped us. James and the guys from his crew came over for a couple days.
Yeah, James, Chris, Tony, Troy and all those boys came over. It was killer. Pretty much everyone that skates at my house donated time. Jon funded the whole thing so there wasn’t a question of money. It was just cool to build the whole thing in somebody’s backyard and be able to help out. It just kept getting bigger and bigger. He was like, “Fuck it. Let’s go.”
You were working on weekends and after work?
We started the day after Christmas. Richard, Mikey, Skwirl, Clint, Drew, Nick, Buck, myself and many others worked our whole Christmas vacation. We had the interior of it done exactly four weeks after we started. Then we came back after the bowl was there and shot the retention wall and backfilled that thing. Then we poured the decks. I guess we poured the decks maybe two months after we started. And no one really cared for a few weeks, because the bowl was done and we skated it with no decks for a while.
It’s sick. You’ve got to get down here and ride it.
Just to let you know, Buck Smith killed that combi pool. You’d be proud.
He needed the boys out there backing him up, scaring all the dudes who were fixing the contest away. I’m always proud of Buck. Our crew would have heckled everyone in that place right out the fuckin’ door.
You couldn’t deny Buck. He was skating better than I’ve ever seen him skate. It was rad. Jacksonville is the shit.
It’s a good place to call home. I’m stoked here.
Do you have anyone that you want to thank while you’re sipping on that blue gill?
The blue gills are running strong at 351 Main St. James Hedrick I owe him one or two, “Stranger” Chris, Tony Walsh, Troy Nichols, Sarasota Brett, Graver, Josh, SandS Shotcrete, Skwirl, Drew Karkos, Clint and Mikey McQuarry, Richard Joiner, Buck Smith, Kettle, Jeff Toma, Lenny Byrd, Jacksonville Dirtworks, Aaron “Country” Cox, Nick Tague, The Temple Family (especially Laura for dealing with our constant mess and general daily shit), Norman, Cool Breeze, Vogel and all others that helped out. You guys kick ass. We couldn’t have pulled off the Temple bowl without the help. Man, I love the shit out of my family: my wife Lindsay, my daughters, Emily and Lizzy. My mom is holding it down. My brother is holding it down. Without my family and friends, I ain’t shit. All those people are badass. I love them to death.
We’re proud of you, man. Okay, last words. What’s your duty now for the future?
Be a good husband and father. Try to build as much shit as I can to skate. That’s what I enjoy doing. We’re looking for shit to skate. Some people around here are trying to charge people money to skate and we just want as much free shit to skate as we can build. We are grown men that are going to enjoy the last part of our skate “careers” doing shit by our rules! Help people: you will always leave with more than you came in with. It’s a fun bowl. You’ll be stoked. There have been some pretty good sessions. Some shit goes down.
I bet it does. Tell the boys I said, “What’s up”. I’ll drop into Jacksonville soon and ride your pool.
Let’s do it up, man. I’m going to be waiting on you.