Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Rink and the Not-So-Great Flood

The PVC pipe rolled away, the tarp flattened, and a few hundred gallons of water began flowing toward the boy and I, our hands drenched, freezing, desperately trying to hold back the flood.

“Fuck!” I cursed out loud.

Failure. The big, dumb project had failed.

Have you ever had an idea that got stuck in your craw and you just had to get it out? That’s exactly how I found myself trying to build a backyard ice rink.

I’d thought about it for years, and would often Google cost for kits that are sold to do such a thing, like E-Z Ice. But those kits are expensive with mixed reviews. And we do not have extra cash for such a folly.

But this fall, with the second surge of the pandemic bearing down and a few cold months being trapped in our house on the horizon, I decided to make it happen.

After a bit of research, I found there were basically two approaches for the DIY rink: Wood boards and braces, or PVC pipe. The key being that if you go for the PVC pipe, you better make sure you have a flat, level area, because you only have a few inches to play with to get the thickness of ice needed for safe skating.

The first step, before deciding materials was finding the right area. With the biggest tape measure I own, I went into the yard and found a 20-foot by 30-foot rectangle that seemed fairly flat and level. PVC it was.

I swung by Lowes and Home Depot to price out PVC parts, figuring I’d need 10 sections of 10 foot 4-inch PVC pipe, along with 4 corners and 6 other connectors. I’d also need a tarp. The pipe and connectors priced out to be about $160. But neither store had the right tarp.

Thank goodness for the internet. A 24x36 tarp would set me back $125.

So, I spoke to the wife, who kind of shrugged, and said go for it. The next day, I dragged the boy (10) to the big-box stores and purchased the pipe. (I got the PVC at Lowes and the corners at the Depot to save a few bucks). The boy went happily, as this was for him after all -- (and his 12-yr-old sister -- as a replacement for the hockey they’d played in recent non-covid years. I also figure we’d all need a reason to get outside this winter.

The tarp was ordered that afternoon, opting for white – which was the right call – and 2-day delivery.

When it arrived, we began the construction, and it was the easiest darn thing I ever built. Of course, it still needed water. Which is important.

The temps we’re predicted to drop below freezing in the coming days, so we got the hose and started filling. This would be the moment of truth. Would the pipes hold? Would the tarp leak? Would the area be level enough?  I’m a worrier by nature, so of course, the hours filling were spent pacing and tinkering.

After a few hours of the hose running, we had four inches on one end, and nary a drop in the other. Not knowing a darn thin about what the future would hold, I was concerned that, if I decided to just let the shallow end be thin and be avoided for the winter, we’d certainly see a skate go though it and rip the tarp, spoiling the entire rink.

So, I decided to raise the pipe on the deep end, forcing the water to cover the entire area.

The boy and I jammed a few pieces of chopped wood under the corners – their shape creating a ramp that, with outward pressure on the pipes, would push them higher. I figured that seemed smart. Then I got some extra paving stones and went to put them under the long parts of the pipe, so the entire side was even.

I lifted the pipe and tucked in the paver.

That’s when the great breach happened.

The pressure from the building water had found a weak point when I was adjusting the pipe height, and boom, leaving the boy and I befuddled as the water rush past us, chilling our fingers instantly.   

I sat back on my knees and collected my thoughts.

“Stay calm.” I instructed.

And I grabbed the edge of the tarp and stood up straight. It wasn’t as heavy as I expected. “Hold this,” I said. The boy dutifully took the tarp’s edge. While I gathered the PVC pipe that had rolled away, and secured it again with a rubber mallet, this time as an inch of water sopped my shoes and the ground around us.

Pipe reattached, and securely placed on the pavers and wood, he let the tarp go, and the water again rushed toward the high end.

This time, the PVC wall held. About half of the water had spilled out into the yard. But, within minutes, it had absorbed into the thirsty ground.

Knowing what failure looked like, I began cautiously filling the rink again, while the boy worked to remove the leaves. 

By that evening, we had at least 3 inches of water throughout the rink. The pipes held. That tarp didn’t leak. And, after a few cold nights, we had skateable ice.

Now, we spend time most days skating and playing small hockey games.

The boy loves it. Though not nearly as much as my wife.

I also discovered a whole world of people who build rinks in their yard each winter. The Backyard Ice Rinks group on Facebook has 23,000 members. Apparently, mine was not such a novel idea. And some of these rinks are impressive – like full size hockey rinks.

Ours is a little small. But we enjoy it.

Though, next year, we’ll likely build a bigger one.

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