Making a splash: the rapid rise and fall of a BMX biker's nirvana
A disused swimming pool in which Nike built a top circuit has briefly passed into legend
From outside it is hard to conceive that the tatty redbrick structure surrounded by building works and ugly tower blocks on the outskirts of London could be considered nirvana. But inside this old communal pool countless BMX enthusiasts are in seventh heaven, spinning through the air, performing dramatic Tail Whips, Bar Spins and Icepick Grinds.
In four short weeks "The Pool" in Dagenham, Essex, has become legendary in the sport, attracting devotees from far and wide. But its meteoric rise is matched only by its sudden demise. On Sunday, it is to be torn down. "Someone yesterday said he had a friend in America who phoned to say he was trying to get a flight over for Thursday so he could get here before it closes," explained Matt Paine, a 22-year-old rider.
The BMX park was the brainchild of the sports giant Nike, which approached Barking and Dagenham Council for space to build a sports park. The authority, about to demolish its 1970s swimming pool to create a car park for a new leisure centre next door, offered up the site for a month.
Pouring hundreds of thousands into the project, Nike went to town. A top designer, Dave Sowerby, was called in, and in 16 days the water was drained and a BMX circuit of ramps and jumps constructed. To launch the project, Nike flew in the world's top international freestyle competitors for an "opening jam".
"When the pros walked in, it was like seeing kids walking into a candy shop," explained Glenn Woods, who manages it for Urb Orbis. "Instantly they were talking of what lines they could take, how they could ride it."
Within days, the indoor park was attracting enthusiasts from across the UK. "Ask anybody in BMX, The Pool was instantly legendary. I have ridden pretty much the best parks in the world and it is definitely up there," said Jon Taylor, of Seventies, a BMX distributor. Zac Williams, an old hand at the sport at 19, had driven down from Liverpool that morning. "The Pool is a piece of history," he said. "I would love to live closer. It is just a waste to rip it down to make a car park."
But, more crucially, the centre has become a focus for local youngsters, offering a free facility, including BMX bikes and tuition, to schools and community centres. Fans say it is safer than outdoor parks because it is strictly regulated. More than 4,000 people have passed through its doors since it opened on 16 May, peaking at 300 a day at half-term. "For the parents, it is something their kids can do to keep them off the streets," added Mr Woods.
Mr Paine, who remembers swimming there as a child, has spent the past few weeks as an instructor, passing on his experience to local children, watching them come in full of bravado and slowly learning to jump the ramps. "It is so mad," he said. "I came for the competition the first day and to see it transformed, from what it used to be when I would jump off the diving board to this, was amazing. Most of the kids are really, really happy to get the chance to do it.
"At least half of each group leaves, wanting to get their own bikes. Some friends of mine set up a Save The Nike Pool Facebook group and had 2,000 friends in 24 hours. There are more than 3,000 now. Everybody is going to feel like they have lost something."
A spokesman for the council said it could not afford to run the centre permanently, and the new leisure centre needed a car park, but the authority was committed with Nike to providing "a lasting BMX legacy for young people in the local area long after The Pool project has ended".
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