You’ll have to trust me on this one, but I’m writing this with a scowl. While everyone else is giddy with anticipation over the approaching warmth, we rinkbuilders are left with the saddest of sights: our new home-made reflecting pools. It was only weeks ago that these pools were host rinks for family parties, neighborhood get-togethers, and intimate one-on-ones between fathers and sons. Now? They’re the world’s largest bird baths. Scowl.
Not unlike death and taxes, springtime is something we must deal with each year. We don’t necessarily have to enjoy it, but we do have to face it. And I’m here to help.
(A caveat: this is absolutely one of those “do as I say, not as I do” posts. I once left my entire rink in place, only taking the time to slice up the liner, for an entire summer. The mosquitoes loved me, my wife hated me. I would not recommend.)
What we’ll talk about today are the essentials of the rinkbuilder’s springtime to-do list: the drainage, the teardown, and the storage of your backyard rink. Let’s start with the obvious.
The godfather of backyard rinks, Jack Falla, had a saying: “water seeking its own level will find it in your neighbor’s yard.” He learned this while attempting to fill his first rink at his parents’ Massachusetts’ home, but this adapted law of hydrodynamics applies to the end of rink season as well. To put it another way, if you want your kids to be able to cut through the neighbor’s yard when they’re late for the bus without getting vegetables thrown at them from the front porch, you’d better be sure you know where your rink water is going to end up. And ultimately, the dynamics of your yard will determine the approach you take.
For the first two years, our rink was situated in the middle of an old horse riding ring, off to the side of our property, relatively unused for anything else. Thus, it was easier for us to walk around in waterproof boots, slice holes in the liner, then just let the water saturate the unused earth for a week or so before going back out and getting the liner.
Our new house presents a bit more of a challenge. For one, it’s situated on a tennis court, so there’s really no place for the water to go directly beneath the liner. Second, the areas immediately surrounding the court (where the water would likely end up) is usable yard that we’d like to keep from turning into a mud pit. So this year we’ll likely be using a small, inexpensive submersible pump (like this unit from Amazon.com), which connects to a standard garden hose and acts like a sump pump to direct the water elsewhere. We have somewhat of a marsh towards the back of our property, which should be easily reachable by a 50′ hose. The rink’ll be empty, and my neighbors won’t need waders to BBQ. Win win.
You can also skip the pump and use a natural siphon if your yard slopes the right way. Siphons work by using hydrostatic pressure (and other big, intimidating words) to create a natural flow from one place to another. The catch is that the destination must be LOWER than the source. If your rink sits atop a plateau in your yard, and you have a drain or basin that sits down a hill, you might be in business. If your rink is at the lowest point in your yard, you may need a pump.
To start the siphon, place the hose (garden hoses are easier to use than large diameter hoses) into the rink, then place the other end where you want the water to go. You’ll need to start the siphon by drawing the water out of the rink. An easy way to do this is to put the end of the garden hose inside the hose of a wet-dry vac. Taking care to seal off the junction of the different-sized hoses, turn on the wet-dry vac. Once water starts to flow, shut off the vac, move it out of the way, and watch gravity, hydrostatic pressure, and other neat concepts come to life. With any luck, it’ll drain itself.
Once your rink has been drained, it’s time to dispose of the liner.
(First, a tangent timeout: it is almost universally accepted that should use a new liner each year. It is something I subscribe to, and it’s what I highly suggest to anyone who asks. Can you reuse your liner for more than a year? Of course, and some do. But consider the pros and cons. You might save $200 by folding, storing, and reusing a liner, but what happens when you start to fill in mid-December only to find out that it’s riddled with holes? Is that something you can recover from? Is it a risk you’re willing to take? It’s your rink, so by all means. But when you’re dealing with something as unpredictable as having your own ice rink, I like to go for as many sure things as I can.)
So let’s assume you’re disposing of your liner. If your rink is large, then your liner can be beastly. Don’t try to fold or roll it up like when it was new. Instead, level the playing field with a pair of heavy-duty scissors or a utility knife. The goal is to slice your liner up in to manageable strips, which you can then roll up, tie into bundles, and dispose of.
Alternatively, if you’re down with green movement, I’ve heard stories of folks reusing old rink liners to cover boats or donating them to folks in need of large tarps. There are probably hundreds of uses for an old liner if you’d rather not throw it away. I’d be curious to hear what everyone else does — post your approach in the comments.
Now that your liner is gone and your grass (or tennis court) can breathe, it’s time to think about the boards. Removal of your frame is optional, and is ultimately determined by (a) the summer plans for that area of your yard and (b) your wife’s willingness to stare at what amounts to, regardless of the material you use, a warm-weather eyesore. ESPN broadcaster and backyard rinkmaster John Buccigross has been known to keep his Nicerink boards up around his paved slab throughout the summer, giving his kids boards for roller hockey games. I wonder how many times a year he says “But honey, it’s for the kids!” Over-under is 23.
If you’re going to dismantle, as I will, there is really only one rule: do it carefully and methodically. That might be two rules. Because there are a million and one ways to build a backyard rink, there are a million and one ways to dismantle a backyard rink. But before you grab the Dewalt cordless and go all NASCAR pit crew on the thing, take a moment to plan. Will you be setting up your rink in the same exact place next year? Did your boards fit together a certain way? If yes, take a half hour and number them. Once that’s done, then it’s just a bunch of reverse engineering. If you used screws in any capacity, be sure to have a container handy when removing them. Screws embedded in the grass are incredibly dangerous, both for the feet of your children and for next year’s liner.
Another aspect of the backyard rink culture that often draws the wife’s ire is the storage of your frame pieces. If you’re lucky, you have a spot in the garage, under the deck, or in the shed to hide store them. Like dismantling your rink, storing it is unique to your situation. But there are a few things to consider:
- If you’re going to leave your rig outside for the summer, as I have, know that the sun and elements will take its toll. Even if you don’t have a structure in which to store your boards and stakes, covering them with a tarp (your liner, perhaps?) will at least keep them out of the rain. And unless your wooden boards are stained and sealed, you really don’t want them soaking up water all summer. Know that indoor storage is preferable to outdoor, but if you must leave ‘em out, at least cover them.
- Resist the urge to just stack everything on top of each other, particularly if they’ll be stored outside (under the deck, for instance). Moisture from rain and the humidity can get trapped in between the layers, which will leave you a nice little penicillin surprise at the start of next season. I speak from experience. I used inexpensive OSB board for my first rink (outlined here), and after stacking the pieces up one on top of the other, they were so moist and moldy that you could fold some of them in half. Your best bet is to either stand the boards up away from each other, or if you must stack, put a thin piece of 1″x2″ or 2″x4″ in between each piece to allow for air flow.
- Free pallets are pretty easy to come by (newspaper, craigslist, big box home improvement stores), and can work well as the base of your outdoor storage location. The pallet keeps the boards from the moist ground, and serves as a stable base for the life-size game of Jenga you’ll build on top of it. Remember to keep the air flowing between the sheets and to cover the top of your stack with a tarp or liner.
So there you have it. I’ve found that while I don’t particularly enjoy the teardown of my rinks, it does help me turn the corner from cynical cold-weather-loving outdoor hockey loon to normal warm-weather-tolerating human being. Other humans seem to appreciate the transition.
Hopefully we helped you through the crummiest part of the season. If you’re depressed, I understand. But I leave you with the wise words of friend and rinkmaster Scott Millin:
“Now I am slowly realizing that is the beauty of the seasons – it has to end so that it can begin again, and as a result, each year is new and each year is different, but the satisfaction remains the same. I still hate that it ends but I love that it begins again too.”
A poet, that Millin. Here’s to warm weather.