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Old West, New West
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Old West, New West

The most beautiful bodies of man-made water aren’t worth much without the people who maintain them. The profound importance, and enduring nature, of the traditional independent pool service industry was on Eric Herman’s mind as he attended this year’s, forty fifth edition of the Western Pool & Spa Show.

By Eric Herman               

I first attended the Western Pool & Spa Show way back in 1990. I was new to the pool and spa industry, working as a freshly minted associate editor for the juggernaut trade magazine, Pool & Spa News.

WPSS, or the Western Show, as it’s commonly known, was a grassroots event organized by and meant for “single polers,” i.e., independent pool service technicians, a sweat-equity profession synonymous with Southern California, wide-brim hats, pick-up trucks, and lots of sunscreen.

Until that event, which was held in Pasadena, CA, I had only attended more high-brow shows and conferences for the electronics, book publishing and music industries. This was a whole new world and from the start I was impressed by the independent entrepreneurial spirit and working-class machismo of the trade caught my attention – not mention somewhat amused by the earthy antics and prickly personalities of certain practitioners of the service trade.

This past March, the show celebrated its 45th edition in Long Beach, CA, where it greeted an enthusiastic crowd of service professionals, and aspiring watershape builders, both young and old.

I was warmly greeted by a number of old friends who more than enthusiastically reminded me of how long we’ve known each other. It’s amazing to think it’s been well over three decades, and the years do have their effect. Yet, in many ways, it wasn’t all so different from years gone by, even as the faces may be more wrinkled and hairlines far receded, but the spirits remained largely the same.

The industry has never been short on vivid personalities, and that factor has not changed at all. In fact, if anything, it’s become even more entertaining. The ongoing conversations at the booth were filled with strong opinions and everything from how to calculate chlorine levels based on cyanuric acid and the price of gasoline, to ribald humor and armchair philosophy.

This year’s WPSS was also attended by a notable number of aspiring professionals, people new to the business and in many cases, the same age I was when I first made the scene. Being there with Watershape University, the conversations were often centered on the value of education and the opportunities and challenges in the watershaping trades. The interest in mastering the arts and crafts of watershaping service was running high and I was gratified to see so many young people enthused by the industry’s long-term potential.  

It’s true, the trappings of the industry have changed with the times. Seemingly every exhibitor booth was festooned with QR codes and just about everyone has an app, or a podcast or an online marketing scheme. Still, the essence of the industry remains the same.

Ultimately, it’s about water and how to harness it for human enjoyment. In that sense, the wild and wooly western pool service industry is very much the same as it’s been for decades. It’s a business that requires physical endurance, technical savvy, adaptability and an ability to deal with customers of all types, and the occasional hostile dog.

In a very real sense, the modern U.S. pool industry was germinated in the suburbs of Southern California and the service technicians working those endless neighborhood streets are the enduring custodians of the industry’s ongoing legacy.

It’s hard work that serves a noble purpose, and I for one and proud to know the men and women, young and not so young, who push the pole and keep the waters safe and clean.

Opening image by Creatista | Shutterstock

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