Striking photographs of skaters and California’s empty pools

LA skateboarder Tino Razo talks about freedom and what it’s like to skate in Judy Garland’s pool

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Tino Razo’s Party In The Back exclusive
From Party In The BackPhotography Tino Razo

Hardly any subculture has evolved to be as universal as skateboarding. Irrespective of year, altitude or political climate, skaters come together, with their boards, bruises and free spirits in tact. "There are endless ways we can reclaim the streets of the cities we live in," says LA-based skateboarder Tino Razo, “no attempt at reclamation here in California will ever be as enduring or as free-spirited as skateboarding is. It’s this city’s lifeblood. It’s my lifeblood.”

Celebrated skateboarder Razo moved from his native Vermont to New York in 1995 before later moving to Los Angeles. “Skating in LA is so different to skating in New York,” explains Razo (with a prolonged emphasis on the ‘so’). “I tried my hand at pool skating for the first time in LA, the whole thing was new to me, the crew, the scene – and that’s good because I like doing things for the first time. It brings back feelings of when I boarded in an industrial car park for the first time 30 years ago.”

Now the skateboarder is preparing for the release of his first upcoming photo book, Party In The Back, which will be published next month by Anthology Editions. The documentary traces Razo and his friends, in their search for abandoned (or semi-abandoned) swimming pools across California. But, as Johan Kugelberg underlines in the book’s introduction, the narrative is multi-layered: “The images would be pretty damn amazing without the skateboarding – but with the skateboarding, they whisper something about how we feel as we navigate a landscape. These guys are the Lewis & Clark of suburban decay, and the fact that their odyssey is a search for the ideal pool skateboarding session does not make their psychogeography any less poignant.”

However, for Razo, the book takes on a very different meaning altogether – it is a tribute to the life and death of his late ex-wife. Desiree Marie Zondag passed away tragically whilst surfing, or as Razo pens in the book’s final pages, “doing the one thing she loved most.”

Ahead of the book’s launch, we talk to Razo about his first book, his fascination with pool skating – and how together, the two have helped him through rediscovery, pain, scars, fun and failures.

This is your first photo book, how did you start working on it all?

Tino Razo: I have always just wanted to be a skateboarder, that’s all I want to be. This project was very natural – like becoming a skateboarder was. Hanging out with my friends and skateboarding are so important, both are things I try to do every day and Party In The Back is basically a documentary of the two.

How does skating make you feel?

Tino Razo: Okay, so it’s like that feeling you get when you are a little kid (a bad, little kid!) and you break into an abandoned house or into that derelict factory on your road – basically when you are doing all the stuff you shouldn’t be. Having that feeling of renewal, of coming back – that’s how skateboarding makes me feel.

Every time you skate you feel that?

Tino Razo: Yeah, I feel like that 100 per cent of the time.

How does pool skating differ to street skating?

Tino Razo: I’d like to say it was the architecture or the missions or the views or trying to learn each new pool and how to skate it. But in reality it’s all of it. From scouring Google Earth; to finding spots by driving around looking for yellow grass, boarded up windows, big dumpsters out front, fences around houses or whatever signs of abandonment I can find; to cleaning the pools; right down to skating them and cracking beers with the crew. This was my shrink, my therapy, my escape from myself.

Can you pick one pool from the book, and tell us what happened during that session?

Tino Razo: So this pool wasn’t great, but me, Buddy and Ricky later found out that it belonged to Judy Garland and Vincent Minnelli. It was this epic house, on Beverly Hills right off Sunset Boulevard and we ran through this alley and there was so much fucking land, the house was fucking nuts! We went inside the house – and if you do that then you have to skate the pool, but it was the house that had a real impact on me this time. There’s a picture in the book from inside the house, the one of the three TVs stacked up on top of each other. I shot it and gave it to my brother for Christmas because it reminded me of what my parents' house looked like. See, you get this feeling of nostalgia from skating too. You think about the families who once taught their kids how to swim in those pools – and of your own family too.

At the end of the book, you talk about how the project was your form of therapy. Can you tell us a little bit more on that?

Tino Razo: It was. Rick and Buddy brought me to new backyards and new places. The sessions they brought me on were the start of my mind being temporarily free from thoughts of heartbreak and regret, and that’s really the underlying deal of all of this.

The whole project is dedicated to Desiree. It was a healing process at such a weird, crazy time – pool skating gave me my sanity back. You know, I had already been missing this person (after our marriage ended), and now I have to miss this person forever, that’s pretty epic.

Party In The Back – published by Anthology Editions – is available now

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