A Day In The Life – Steve Salba

Pool skating is a lot different from ramp skating. Most pools are vert and have coping, but they’re also curved, bowled, and have hips and features that add a dimension flat-walled ramps don’t have. Pools have character, and each one is as unique as the skaters who ride them. That seems to be what keeps him interested – the possibility that the next one is better than all the rest.

He realizes that what he does has become a specialized form – while pools were the dominant terrain in the late 70s, ramps have since replaced them as the primary vert arena. Salba has seen this transformation, and it’s given him a perspective most of us modernists can’t assume. “I really get stoked on street skating because the stuff they ride was never made to skate,” he says. “But they don’t look at it the same way – when we ride pools, they weren’t made to skate either.”

As diverse as skateboarding culture may have become, only a handful of active skateboarders can boast Salba’s experience, and none can match his zeal. Salba loves to skateboard, and he loves being a continuous part of the sport’s history. “It’s like you play guitar, and there’re all these different genres and different styles,” he says. “Just because one guy doesn’t play a particular style that another guy does, it doesn’t mean he’s any better or any worse. It’s just a different way of approaching things. I think that’s the beauty of skating, really, because everybody’s got a different approach.” ••• It’s late June, and in a few days Salba will leave with the Vans Warped Tour, traveling around the country erecting and dismantling the behemoth 40-foot vert ramp at every stop. It’s late morning and the Alba household is ablaze with activity – sons Jesse Wray, 4, and Riley Chase, 1, playing on Dad like a jungle gym. Wife Julie gets ready to take them out for the day as we await the arrival of Salba’s posse. He says that he usually gets a much earlier start, but if there’s anything he loves more than skating pools, it’s skating them with friends.

By noon we’re on the road, packed into Salba’s van with our gear, plus his brooms and other essential equipment. On this day, however, we leave the heavy machinery behind.

The van rolls into a older Inland Empire neighborhood, and Salba mentions that the police station is nearby, so it’s important to be careful. We drive slowly by a house with a realtor’s “For Sale” sign in front. Driving around the block, no one is on the street, and Salba decides it’s worth checking out. Like a pack of burglars, we slide from the van, grab our gear, and trot around the side yard and into the back.

We aren’t alone. A couple of Salba’s friends arrived that morning and by now were almost done. Standing in someone’s backyard as a pump sucks the life out of their concrete pond is an eerie feeling, but it had to be done if we were gonna skate. Today, Salba leaves the work to a couple kids he taught the trade to, and we take off to some of the other pools on his list. At any given time, Salba has ten pools at his disposal. Today we would skate seven.

Our posse is made up of skaters of various generations and from all over the state. Old-school, new-school, NorCal, So Cal – we’re all skateboarders going skateboarding, and it doesn’t get any simpler than that. “I like taking kids who haven’t skated pools and turning them onto it, opening their eyes to something other than street skating,” says Salba, driving on to our first ride of the day.

Another poor neighborhood greets us with empty streets and a vacant house, empty pool in back. Everyone jumps into the little right-handed kidney (from the shallow end, the deep end curves to the right), and one at a time we begin working the tight transitions. There’s no flatbottom, and the coping sticks out pretty far. But the experienced pool riders are soon grinding and launching airs. Meanwhile, Salba takes time to stretch before he skates. When he does drop in, he rolls his thick carcass io a frontside carve grind that rips at the coping like a backhoe. No one skates pools like Salba, but then few have skated them for so long. Watching him, it seems that every run he takes is his last. “When you’re young you don’t think about it,” he says. “But when you’re older you try to make every second count.”

Fresh and energized, everyone is ripping. Ruben Orkin and Rhino manage to embarrass the coping, while Dave Reul flies out of the deep end and over the love seat. Accomplishing all that we could, we cross the street to an empty lot where a house once stood. In the backyard is another kidney pool, this one left-handed, and the coping sticks out even further.

While you might laugh to see such a thing at a skatepark, overcoming bad transitions and huge coping is part of the pool-skating art form. The variations from one to another keeps it interesting and challenging, and since winning the very first pool contest at San Diego’s Spring Valley Skatepark in 1978, Salba’s skated more backyard pools than anyone. “It was a big controversy because some people didn’t think I won,” says Salba. “But I was the only guy who could stay in the pool for two minutes. I always had good endurance for some reason – better than anybody.”

Salba’s ability to skate all day without slowing is legendary. Skating in the summer heat, the session at pool number two begins to slow when he starts drawing double carves around the narrow deep end. At that point we’ve seen enough, and Salba’s eager to get to the next one.

By now the rest of us are keeping up with him pretty well, but he asks us to stay in the car as we pull up to pool number three, another right-handed kidney. Ready to slither in through a storm drain, burrow a tunnel under the fence, or parachute in after nightfall, I watch in amazement as Salba walks to the front door and rings the bell. A man greets him with a smile, and I’m not surprised. Salba could charm a mouse out of a boa constrictor’s belly.

This is what he calls a “permission pool,” one of his hook-ups where he’s built a repoire with the residents. After buying their trust for a few T-shirts, stickers, and the like, he and his friends are now welcomed guests. I look at the others, who are equally confused. Just a few blocks over we were trespassing vandals.

Pool number four is in a middle-class neighborhood – not the best place to invade and wreak havoc on someone’s swimming pool. “The run-down parts of town are the best for pools,” he says. “It’s sad, but true.” To be safe, Salba announces that the Fifteen Minute Rule is in effect. That means we have exactly fifteen minutes to get in, skate, and get back to the car. Salba claims it’s kept him out of jail more than once, so we keep as quiet as possible as he pulls disasters in the deep end and forever carves through the pocket. Twelve minutes into the session he motions toward the wall, and we go. Board and tools in hand, the five-foot-eight, 184-pound Salba effortlessly hops the six-foot concrete wall. By the time the rest of us reach the van, he has it started and in gear. The hour is late, and we’ve got many more sights to see.

A neighbor he’s had trouble with in the past is in his yard, directly across the street from the house where pool number five lays. We park down the street and wait. The neighbor leaves, and Salba gives the signal to go. Silently we file into the backyard and climb into the pool. It’s a perfect right-handed kidney – deep, smooth coping, clean surface. We refrain from cheering out loud for each other, but the crew charges anyway. Again, after twelve minutes Salba checks his watch and announces last runs. Two minutes later we scurry away and into the van.

As we buckle in, a police car slowly drives by and stops at the house where the pool is. We’re safe, and with a big smile on his face, Salba pulls away and drives on to pool number six. “That’s the best thing about pool skating right there – beating The Man,” he says.Salba’s much more careful to avoid getting busted nowadays, but he once thrived on the danger inherent in violating strangers’ homes. “I’ve gone into backyards of houses where people live, just barging at will – barging so hard, just shitting the whole time,” he says. “Your heart’s just pumping. Every run someone’s checking the fence. You’re hoping the neighbors don’t see you.”

Trying to keep up with him as he effortlessly scales walls and fences – gear in hand – it becomes clear why Salba has been able to do this for over 20 years – he’s fit and disciplined. Even after his local park, Upland Pipeline, closed in the mid 80s, Salba and his brother Micke swept the enormous Combi Pool everytime they rode it. To this day, Salba checks pools for hidden dangers like rocks and gravel in the deep end before skating. And he wears his pads.

What is most amazing to those of us accompanying him today is his ability to collect backyard pools like some people collect baseball cards. Salba likes to think that his knack for finding them comes from the hunting instinct he got from his Native American grandmother – a different time, a different application – but Salba’s been known to utilize particularly modern methods for locating potential basins of fun. “I haven’t flown in two years, at least,” he says of cruising the skies in low-flying private aircraft. “But before we had it going on pretty regularly – every six months. My buddy was a pilot, and he would fly us all the time.” ••• Hours after leaving Salba’s friends and their pump at the square pool, we slowly drive up, look around, and park. In no time we’re out of the car and in the backyard. The last bits of sludge are being mopped up off the bottom, and Salba grimaces as he eyes the bumpy and banked transitions. When the pool’s ready to ride, it proves to be worse than he thought, but Salba finds a few lines over the deathbox and through the corners anyway. It wasn’t worth the work, he says, and he’s glad we spent our day more productively. As no one else can overcome the sheer crappiness of this pool, we grow tired of it and quickly move on to more promising transitions.

With two more pools on our agenda, we arrive at number seven – another permission pool – after stopping at Salba’s to pick up son Jesse Wray. He rides his bike around the yard as Dad and the guys get used to the deep left-handed kidney. Dad’s skated it countless times, but it’s been repainted and he takes a few cautious runs to re-establish his markers. Reul and some of the others have been here before, too, and without the worry of being chased out, the session quickly erupts into a revue of the day’s best tricks.

After a half hour, Salba rewards Jesse Wray for being good by letting him take a couple runs with Dad. After strapping pads and a helmet to the boy, Jesse stands between Dad’s legs and holds his hands as Salba carves the deep end a couple times. Jesse’s excited and leaves his pads on as Dad takes his last runs.

Skating with Dad has become a routine of theirs, just as playing music in the garage has (Jesse’s quite a drummer). Parenting being the only thing that comes between him and his skating, Salba is happiest at times like this when he can do both. “I’ve been really fortunate that my wife’s a teacher,” he says. “I’ve actually been able to stay home with my kids, and people tease me, ‘Oh, Mr. Mama.’ But you know what? The way I look at it, I’m trying to raise my kids the best way I know how. And I know I’m not letting someone else raise them.”

The quality time with Jesse would be his last for several weeks as he gets his last pool sessions in before the Warped Tour. The anticipation of that, coupled with the realization that he won’t see his family for a month and a half, may have distracted him, but as he landed a lipslide on a familiar block of coping, his board got ahead of him, and Salba came crashing to the bottom of the pool. As the rest of us flinched, looked away, or took cover fromcareful to avoid getting busted nowadays, but he once thrived on the danger inherent in violating strangers’ homes. “I’ve gone into backyards of houses where people live, just barging at will – barging so hard, just shitting the whole time,” he says. “Your heart’s just pumping. Every run someone’s checking the fence. You’re hoping the neighbors don’t see you.”

Trying to keep up with him as he effortlessly scales walls and fences – gear in hand – it becomes clear why Salba has been able to do this for over 20 years – he’s fit and disciplined. Even after his local park, Upland Pipeline, closed in the mid 80s, Salba and his brother Micke swept the enormous Combi Pool everytime they rode it. To this day, Salba checks pools for hidden dangers like rocks and gravel in the deep end before skating. And he wears his pads.

What is most amazing to those of us accompanying him today is his ability to collect backyard pools like some people collect baseball cards. Salba likes to think that his knack for finding them comes from the hunting instinct he got from his Native American grandmother – a different time, a different application – but Salba’s been known to utilize particularly modern methods for locating potential basins of fun. “I haven’t flown in two years, at least,” he says of cruising the skies in low-flying private aircraft. “But before we had it going on pretty regularly – every six months. My buddy was a pilot, and he would fly us all the time.” ••• Hours after leaving Salba’s friends and their pump at the square pool, we slowly drive up, look around, and park. In no time we’re out of the car and in the backyard. The last bits of sludge are being mopped up off the bottom, and Salba grimaces as he eyes the bumpy and banked transitions. When the pool’s ready to ride, it proves to be worse than he thought, but Salba finds a few lines over the deathbox and through the corners anyway. It wasn’t worth the work, he says, and he’s glad we spent our day more productively. As no one else can overcome the sheer crappiness of this pool, we grow tired of it and quickly move on to more promising transitions.

With two more pools on our agenda, we arrive at number seven – another permission pool – after stopping at Salba’s to pick up son Jesse Wray. He rides his bike around the yard as Dad and the guys get used to the deep left-handed kidney. Dad’s skated it countless times, but it’s been repainted and he takes a few cautious runs to re-establish his markers. Reul and some of the others have been here before, too, and without the worry of being chased out, the session quickly erupts into a revue of the day’s best tricks.

After a half hour, Salba rewards Jesse Wray for being good by letting him take a couple runs with Dad. After strapping pads and a helmet to the boy, Jesse stands between Dad’s legs and holds his hands as Salba carves the deep end a couple times. Jesse’s excited and leaves his pads on as Dad takes his last runs.

Skating with Dad has become a routine of theirs, just as playing music in the garage has (Jesse’s quite a drummer). Parenting being the only thing that comes between him and his skating, Salba is happiest at times like this when he can do both. “I’ve been really fortunate that my wife’s a teacher,” he says. “I’ve actually been able to stay home with my kids, and people tease me, ‘Oh, Mr. Mama.’ But you know what? The way I look at it, I’m trying to raise my kids the best way I know how. And I know I’m not letting someone else raise them.”

The quality time with Jesse would be his last for several weeks as he gets his last pool sessions in before the Warped Tour. The anticipation of that, coupled with the realization that he won’t see his family for a month and a half, may have distracted him, but as he landed a lipslide on a familiar block of coping, his board got ahead of him, and Salba came crashing to the bottom of the pool. As the rest of us flinched, looked away, or took cover from the shrapnel, Salba lifted himself and walked up to the shallow end seemingly unscathed.

It wasn’t until he removed his elbow pad that the damage was revealed. A bone in his elbow had punched a half-inch hole through the skin, and the blood flowed incessantly and excessively. Ozzie, a skater among us who works in a hospital (not a bad chap to have along on such missions), put his medical reputation on the line when he insisted that Salba needed stitches. In any case, it was too gross to continue skating. Kelly Belmar’s famous pool (a.k.a. number eight), was cut from the agenda, and we returned to Salba’s house in the early evening to show off his wound to Julie.

With his trip just a couple days away, maybe it was better that they spent a little more time together, even if it was in the emergency room. Belmar’s would have to wait.

There’s nothing easy about working on the Warped Tour – especially for Salba. Setting up and taking down that huge ramp would get really tedious if he wasn’t also skating it every day. And there are other perks to being on the tour that only Salba could appreciate – the Vans Warped Tour is something totally unique to this era of skateboarding. In fact, this year he hopes to take his skating to the next level: “For me, the ultimate session would be to wake up at 6:00 in the morning and skydive. So you’ve just got this adrenaline rush, and you’re going, ‘Ahh! I made it. I can do anything.’ Then you go skate. That’s what I want to do. Every year in Massachusetts we have the opportunity at the Warped Tour. Because of the time frame, I’ve never been able to skate afterward. But this year I’m gonna get up super early, go make the ramp, then go skydive, and try to get back to skate, and try some shit I’ve never tried.”

This is the attitude that’s made Steve Alba a legend.

Salba Pull Quotes

“He skates more pools in a day than most people do in their entire lives.”

“At any given time, Salba has ten pools at his disposal. Today we would skate seven.”

“Salba’s much more careful to avoid getting busted nowadays, but he once thrived on the danger inherent in violating strangers’ homes.”

from the shrapnel, Salba lifted himself and walked up to the shallow end seemingly unscathed.

It wasn’t until he removed his elbow pad that the damage was revealed. A bone in his elbow had punched a half-inch hole through the skin, and the blood flowed incessantly and excessively. Ozzie, a skater among us who works in a hospital (not a bad chap to have along on such missions), put his medical reputation on the line when he insisted that Salba needed stitches. In any case, it was too gross to continue skating. Kelly Belmar’s famous pool (a.k.a. number eight), was cut from the agenda, and we returned to Salba’s house in the early evening to show off his wound to Julie.

With his trip just a couple days away, maybe it was better that they spent a little more time together, even if it was in the emergency room. Belmar’s would have to wait.

There’s nothing easy about working on the Warped Tour – especially for Salba. Setting up and taking down that huge ramp would get really tedious if he wasn’t also skating it every day. And there are other perks to being on the tour that only Salba could appreciate – the Vans Warped Tour is something totally unique to this era of skateboarding. In fact, this year he hopes to take his skating to the next level: “For me, the ultimate session would be to wake up at 6:00 in the morning and skydive. So you’ve just got this adrenaline rush, and you’re going, ‘Ahh! I made it. I can do anything.’ Then you go skate. That’s what I want to do. Every year in Massachusetts we have the opportunity at the Warped Tour. Because of the time frame, I’ve never been able to skate afterward. But this year I’m gonna get up super early, go make the ramp, then go skydive, and try to get back to skate, and try some shit I’ve never tried.”

This is the attitude that’s made Steve Alba a legend.

Salba Pull Quotes

“He skates more pools in a daay than most people do in their entire lives.”

“At any given time, Salba has ten pools at his disposal. Today we would skate seven.”

“Salba’s much more careful to avoid getting busted nowadays, but he once thrived on the danger inherent in violating strangers’ homes.”

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