Tino Razo's new photo book Party in the Back, out later this month from Anthology Editions, is a love letter to pool skating. One of the last bastions of DIY culture in skateboarding, the trend began in the 60s but really blew up in the 70s, with enterprising kids equipped with buckets, pumps, and little regard for private property. While much of skateboarding has evolved at a breakneck pace (hi, Tokyo), the simple pleasure of finding and skating a pool has remained relatively unchanged over the decades.
While flipping through Razo's anthology, shot over two years from 2013 to 2015 in the hazy golden Southern California region, a lot of things come to mind: making art from the deteriorating American dream, fighting for uncurated anti-corporate experiences, climate change, and a type of worry-free existence it feels like we might never again know, to name a few.
I spoke with Razo about the changing face of skateboarding, pools, and the Olympics ahead of the book's February 21 release.
VICE: Pool skating has a real DIY spirit, doesn't it?
Tino Razo: There is a lot of legwork to just find pools to skate. Google Earth can get you right to it, but a lot of times Google Earth is out of date, so by the time you get to the pool, somebody lives in the house. Often, we'll drive around looking for a house with a dumpster in front of it, yellow grass on the lawn, boarded-up windows, anything that says there's nobody in there.
Sometimes, we find a pool that's empty, and somebody does live there. You'll get into a conversation with them, trying to be a sweetheart about the whole thing, just feeling people out. "You drink beer? How about if I bring you a 30-pack." Or, "You're smoking cigarettes? I'll buy you a carton of smokes."
When you do find a pool, and there's water in it, how much? Is it soaked to the brim? Do we have a pump? Do we rent a pump at Home Depot? Is there electricity in the house, or do we have to get a gas-power pump? Is it just enough to fill buckets, or do we find a trashcan?
A lot of times heads will come over fences and walls, start yelling, and it might be that one hit. Maybe the neighbors are cool enough, and you can keep going back. There's not a lot of longevity.
It seems like pool skating is one of those things that remains pretty untouched by corporate reach—you can't buy it, you can't sell it. It's genuine.
Absolutely, because with all that work and all that time, it's got to be love. My favorite part of skating was always exploring. Skateboarding really opens up where you live, your environment, more than you would ever think.
Your imagination can run a little wild.
As as a skater, you're always kind of looking for a ledge, a curve, a bank, a building to building, stairs out front. But, for me, pools have opened up a whole new thing.
What sort of influence did the history and past documentation of pool skating have on this book?
Really, there was no thought. When I moved out to LA from New York in 2011, I just met up with friends from New York who were pool skaters, Buddy Nichols and Rick Charnoski, and from the first session, I was hooked.
Have you noticed that it's gotten easier to find empty pools with water shortages in California?
I would like to say yes, but people are pretty lame in that sense. If they have a pool and it's hot outside, they're going to keep filling that shit.
What are your thoughts on pool skating's place in a world with skate "coaches" and the Olympics?
At the end of the day, all that is still just skateboarding. My favorite thing about skateboarding is the feeling of being a bad kid.
Yeah, your brother Andre told me you got your first tattoo when you were 13?
It's a pretty sweet tattoo. It's a sun on my ankle. Basically a chick tattoo. Might as well get a dolphin swimming around my belly button.
You moved from Vermont to New York City in the 90s when you were 18. What was that like?
My first job was making these giant foam sculptures for the Macy's Christmas windows. Then I was working at the bar Max Fish. For a while, I was the only security guard. I was the one to protect you if something went wrong. I'm not a big dude now, but in my young 20s, I looked like I was 16. So I was always trying to talk to people, so I didn't have to get physical.
I would say that the heaviest fight I ever had to break up was a girl fight. I caught some good ones to the face, and that was definitely the hardest hit I've ever taken. Some girl took a photo of another girl; the other girl saw it and grabbed her camera and smashed it and started swinging.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I don't know how to word this, but I wanted it all to be a gift to my ex-wife, Desiree Zondag. It's about pool skating and stuff, but she was really the force behind this.
We married in 2006, moved to California together in 2011 but broke up just a year after that. When we were breaking up, I got into finding pools and skating. After we had been separated, I realized that I was actually just madly in love with her. I tried to get back with her, but she was already well on her way, into surfing and really finding herself in multiple ways. I was mega heartbroken. Just the fact that I had this project to hold onto, to move forward with, it was such a healing process for me.
At the end of the day, the project came out, but I don't get to share it with her. [She passed away in the fall of 2016 in a surfing accident]. So I've put it out into the world as a present to her. She pushed me to do all this, without her ever knowing it or being here.
Pre-order Party in the Back here.
All photos by Tino Razo. Courtesy of Anthology Editions.