Last month, outside of a predictably slammed Intelligentsia Coffee in Silver Lake, I met up with Tino Razo and his dog, Chunk, to talk about his new book of photographs, Party in the Back. We skipped the line, bought a pack of cigarettes from Big Mac’s Liquor, and broke the ice over our shared experience of settling down in Los Angeles after a life in New York City, as well as our love of punk rock.
Party in the Back, edited by Johan Kugelberg for Anthology Editions, collects over 300 photos Tino took while documenting his exploits finding, cleaning, and skateboarding the abandoned, or simply unfilled, pools of Southern California with his friends Rick and Buddy—all while inevitably waiting for the cops to show and break up the party.
Over coffee in Sunset Triangle Plaza, we talked about Tino’s love for skateboarding and how Party in the Back came together.
Eephus: When did you start skating pools?
Tino Razo: I skated a couple back east before I moved out here [to Los Angeles]. I think the first one was in Asbury, maybe like ’96 or something like that. And then maybe two or three between then and 2011. And then, right when I moved here, I started working next to the same guys that brought me to those pools back then, and like, they were still fucking pool nerds!
Eephus: Right, the pool culture seems so perfectly regional to Southern California, going back to the droughts, the water shortages, perfect weather.
TR: Yeah, it’s the perfect timing to be doing it.
Eephus: I’m from Ohio and the kids I knew that skated, for them it was all just street skating, curbs, parks—
TR: Was there ever one that popped up?
Eephus: Not that I knew. For them it was really just street skating, and you know, tricks in a Lowe’s parking lot.
TR: Same. Like I said, I’m from Vermont, like small town skate kid. You start in a town, but you in end up in industrial parks—where there’s a bank to curb, or some kinda shit like that. Same thing as any small town kid in the ’80s, ’90s, whatever. But yeah, every now and again there’d be one you hear about. Like in upstate New York, we’d go near Albany and go skate some big, square shitty pool, but we’d be so excited because there it is, the trek to get to it.
Eephus: Is there a big difference in the culture between the kind of people who skate pools and skate street?
TR: It’s kind of meshing more now basically because of skatepark culture. They’re everywhere, and skateboarding is accepted now—it’s not like when we were kids. Parents can be like, “Well, maybe he can make money doing this. Yeah, let’s push him.”
So there’s skateparks in almost every town, and now skateboarders are building the skateparks. It’s not city officials building a park, it’s guys that really know what the fuck they’re doing and want the sickest shit. And they’re great at building these cement parks. So yeah, there’s rad skate shit, but there’s always an option with a hectic bowl that’s pretty damn close to a pool.
So, it’s crazy too because now I’m starting to skate them as a 40-year-old, you know what I mean? But, I’m seeing these kids that grew up at skateparks now and they—their first run is like, “What the fuck?!”
Eephus: It feels like Party in the Back is sort of about capturing these pools, and this culture, while they still exist. Is there a fear that the pools might go away someday?
TR: If you get an overhead look at this place, there are so fucking many. So I don’t see them going away. I think that at this point, those type of pools are illegal to build because of head injuries. You know how it goes from the shallow end and transitions into the deep end? We call that the waterfall. So there’s usually a diving board opposite that, so people will dive in, and now a lot of the [new] pools are just those lap pools that are slightly deeper in the middle. But literally, if you look overhead in almost every direction you’re gonna see them. Once you get to the valley, it’s just littered.
Eephus: And if people are draining pools because of drought, it opens that up too.
TR: I mean, a lot of people didn’t do that. “Oh, we’ll just fill it with Fiji.”
Eephus: Is there a certain skateboard setup that you want to have to ride a pool?
TR: Really, whatever you’re comfortable with. A lot of people who are very particular with their shit would say like, yeah a bigger board, or bigger wheels, all that. But, it’s all your own comfort zone. Because I’ll go there with street skaters, and they’re there with their little, tiny boards and tiny wheels and still fucking it up, so whatever.
Eephus: I can barely drop-in off a nice easy ramp.
TR: Yeah that shit’s scary, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. As an adult, dude? Ahh! You’d be surprised, actually. The funnest thing for me about it—[pools] are kinda hard to figure out in general, without even getting to the top. So you can—they call it the scum line, it’s usually where the water’s been sitting forever, and you can [still] see that after you get that water out. A lot of times you can just stay scum line and low, and just kinda figure out how to keep going. Just trying to figure out the movement, and keep it going, so you can really get something out of it. You can not even touch anything, or do a trick, and it’s still the sickest feeling.
Eephus: What was the process of putting the book together? Following guys to the spot?
TR: Like I said, I met up with those guys that brought me to the first ones when I was living in New York, and that was in ’96 in Asbury Park. I moved here and started working at Supreme, and they have a video editing studio just a couple doors down from me. And they made a pool documentary video back in the day called Fruit of the Vine and they’re still at it. These guys are—one’s 45, I think the other one’s 47—and they really rip pools and they’re really in that world.
And so just being in love with skateboarding, and wanting to skate all the time, I’m going to attach myself to whoever, and those guys were the closest ones to me and they’re skating pools. I started with them, and they brought me to a handful of [pools] and I got really into the vibe and the feel. I keep saying it’s the one thing, like, it’s like when you’re a kid living in Ohio, or Vermont, or something like that, and breaking into the warehouses with your friends and just fucking around, being bad, but always knowing you shouldn’t be there and could get caught. It’s that feeling, but you’re an old fart doing it, it’s sick.
Eephus: What kind of camera did you use?
TR: It’s all point and shoot cameras. I started with just a Yashica T4, my ex got that for me a while ago—
Eephus: Because the colors are really amazing in the photos.
TR: That’s just cause it’s California. I didn’t do anything about that. I’m not manipulating anything, it’s just literally what it is. They’re actually radder in person.
So yeah, a Yashica T4, that’s a 35mm. But as I got going—a lot of the pools, the space is valuable and the back yards are so jammed up in between other backyards that are pretty small, so I figured out that I wanted point and shoots that were wider open. So I started getting into 28mm cameras. The classic Fujifilm camera, I really fell in love with. And then my friend Jerry Hsu gave me a Nikon 20 AI that’s really awesome, and I’ve used a couple others through it—a Contax T3 and a Ricoh GR-1, and those were all 28mm.
Eephus: How many photos did you pare this down from?
TR: It was close to 7,000. We got it down to 300.
Eephus: The book looks awesome. I love the hardcover slipcase.
TR: I wanted to do something like that on the outer case because I started looking at those old, old bibles with the gold leafing and the really ornate patterns, just from seeing the ornate patterns in all the pools we’d skate. We kept it pretty clean and put that on the outer case. For the cover itself, I was trying to mimic a shitty color, pool surface. I really wanted a teal at first but it looked too Tiffany’s and clean. I wanted to make it look dirty.
Eephus: And in the deluxe edition you’ve got the t-shirt and the ashtray.
TR: Yeah, I’m hyped on that. The shirt is Blue Haven Pools. When you’re finding pools and you’re looking around at the pool, when you see the badge, or the tile on the top step—there’s always an indication of what brand made it—if you see a Blue Haven you know you’re pretty much at a skatepark.
Eephus: That’s all coincidental right?
TR: These were just some blue collar dudes [making the pools]—construction guys. But whatever their formula was then is accidentally awesome for us.
Eephus: I feel like we should get some Blue Haven pools on the National Register of Historic Places then, to preserve those houses.
TR: There’s a couple [of good brands]. There’s also Anthony Pools. [Tony] Alva, he’s the pool guy. He was a back-then guy, a pool guy in the ’70s. He found one out in the valley. It was an Anthony Pools. He found out it was for sale and had one of his homies buy the house. Now it’s a pool out in the valley that people have. It’s a go-to pool, they call it “Ridiculous” because it’s perfectly built.
Eephus: Is there a perfect shape to a pool?
TR: The kidneys are awesome. Amoebas. Anything round, with a lot of round. There’s a snowman. As long as it’s fucking round, it’s really rad. The square ones I suck at, cause that’s just hectic, so much vert. But people can rip those things.
Eephus: ’Cause you just drop-in?
TR: You can, because if it’s rectangular and it’s long, you can kinda take it long and keep it moving. But for somebody like me, round is easier cause you just start it, and it kinda throws you in places, and you gotta do the math and figure it out as quick as you possibly can.
Eephus: We talked a little bit about skatepark culture. My buddy, Nick Courage, and I have had this ongoing conversation about the X-Games and the Street League, versus stuff like this—just backyard skateboarding for the sake of doing it. And we’re sort of turned off by the exactness of those guys nailing the perfect line in ninety seconds or whatever.
TR: It’s just tough for us cause we came from what it was. For me, in a small town, it was like you’re one of five dudes in your shitty little town that skates. And you’re the “skate fag.” And you’ve got dudes that are yelling that outta windows as you’re trying to skate. We’re listening to all the music that Thrasher magazine was telling us that we should listen to. But, you know, as much as I can hate on it, it’s also rad. Cause like I said, even through pool skating, seeing these young kids that can fucking rip them like that? [You couldn’t have that] without all these skateparks. It’s really wack, and it’s also kinda rad.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.