A skate pool is way more than a collection of nicely designed ups and downs. It’s a place for the community to socialize, shred, or just hang out. Building the pool in an old greenhouse surely brought some unavoidable hiccups along the way, but Het Poolcafe already had its successful grand opening-weekender a few months ago. We grabbed a few beers with co-owner Hugo and talked about Het Poolcafe’s future plans, his Pony Design Club, and the ever growing local skate culture in Rotterdam. Enjoy the ride!
Hi, can you introduce yourself?
My name is Hugo de Pagter and I’m co-founder of Het Poolcafe. Next to Het Poolcafe I’m co-owner of skate brand Dufarge and I have my own design agency Pony Design Club, which is my daily business. Back in the days I worked for local skate store Sevenply and that’s where I’ve met Tijs Niessen. Tijs and I started Het Poolcafe and added Dana de Rooij to the team shortly after.
How did you guys come up with the idea for Het Poolcafe?
Tijs and I skate and surf a lot together and when we do, we always come up with a million different ideas. One of those ideas was a floating pool that would be used to skate in. We came pretty far to be honest, but unfortunately not all the way. Not too long after though, Tijs heard that Weelde wanted to do something with an empty greenhouse they sometimes used for parties. That’s when we reached out to the girls who run Weelde and pitched our idea: A skate pool with a cultural purpose that also provides skateboard lessons. They immediately thought it was a cool idea and we started to look for funding. Before we knew it, we were the owners of Het Poolcafe.
Can you explain the concept of Het Poolcafe?
Het Poolcafe originated from the wish to build a pool from a skate culture point of view. For the direct neighborhood, the skate lessons and the possibility to skate are most important. We’re currently working on the content of those lessons in collaboration with Utrecht based Skate Days. One of the ideas is to eventually promote the concept at schools in order to get kids spending their afternoons skating.
But next to that, a lot of people I know from skating ended up in the cultural sector working as designers, artists, or musicians. With that in mind, we asked ourselves the question what a club night would look like if we can program it from a skate scene point of view. To be able to promote skate culture that way is just really cool.
How long did it take from coming up with the idea until the official opening?
We developed the concept before we pitched the idea to the girls from Weelde. With a blessing from their side, we eventually applied for funding, which took a few months. Later that year we heard the municipality of Rotterdam awarded us the money we applied for at their CityLab010 program. The people from Urban Sports at the municipality pointed us in the right direction. We started the actual building last February and had the official opening in July 2020
Can you tell us something about that process? How did it go?
Pretty smooth most of the time. That builder obviously had a solid plan but there are always a few hiccups and delays. The biggest setback happened a few months before the official opening. We were out surfing that day and when we got out of the water we looked up to the sky and saw some sort of doomsday cloud above Rotterdam. We didn’t think too much of it but when we were having a few drinks, somebody sent us a video of the situation in the greenhouse. It was madness. Water came pouring down and the Pool was soaking wet. That’s when we thought, fuck, this must be the worst idea ever. To build a skate pool in a poorly maintained greenhouse… But in the end, we fixed that as well.
Did you have any influence on the actual building process?
Yeah, we designed the pool ourselves but the construction was done by a professional builder. Nine Yards from Breda. It’s a complicated process, most of it comes from a computer. 3D stuff. Tijs is an architect and with me being a graphic designer we had a pretty solid base to come up with a design for a skatepark, but we couldn’t have done it ourselves.
It sounds like a huge project and you guys are pretty busy doing all kinds of things. What is the reason you’re doing this?
“Love for the game” (laughs..) Starting this whole thing from scratch, giving it purpose, coming up with activities, creating a cultural program… It’s just an awesome thing to work on. You learn a lot along the way as well.
Did you find time to enjoy any of it?
No. Not at all (laughs even harder..) When you start the whole thing you think, “it’ll be fine, I can do this next to my other activities”. Well, that turned out to be wrong haha. In an early stage Dana de Rooij, Tijs his girlfriend, became part of the project. She works on the production side of films which helped enormously with planning and prioritizing. We really needed help, and I’m very happy we found good people to help us out.
Do you still skate yourself?
"To look at things slightly different. That’s what skateboarders do too."
Is it the goal to stay in that niche? I mean, targeting skate culture?
Not per se, but it’s inspiring that there are so many creative people in the skate scene. We most definitely want to approach it with that in mind. But for example, we asked Thomas Trum to do something with the pool. He doesn’t skate at all so you get a result that you probably wouldn’t expect in a skatepark. And that’s also the kind of collaborations we want to look for in the future when it comes to working with artists. To look at things slightly different. That’s what skateboarders do too, looking at things differently.
Speaking about collaborations, are there any dream collabs?
I think local collaborations are cool. I’d love to do something with Susan Bijl for example, but I have no idea what that would look like though… Oh, I got one! I’ve always wanted to do something with that old hardcore covers by Euromasters. Those drawings, it’s so terrible it’s awesome. I would love to put that on a deck. Also because back then, skaters and people from the gabber scene were the exact opposites from each other. I remember growing up with this friend I used to skate with, who at some point switched from being a skater to being a gabber. That’s when he said, “Hey, we aren’t friends anymore”. That’s just fucking weird.
"You hear a lot of people talking about it, that it’s a sick place."
When is this project a success?
In all fairness, it already is. You hear a lot of people talking about it, that it’s a sick place. It’s finished and it’s open, but we need to work on the vibe a bit I guess, a bit more atmosphere… And I think we need to put some more work into the program. We need people to know it’s more than just skating.
Nice. Thanks for your time and good luck.