‘If they stare, fine.’ Adults use kiddie pools as quarantine meets L.A. heat
Sofia Gonzalez was always too shy to sunbathe on the terrace behind her North Hollywood home, a postage-stamp-size patio in a condo ringed by rear windows and overhung with balconies like sun-scalded bougainvillea.
But this spring, her courage bloomed.
“If they stare, fine,” the actress said on a recent sultry weekday. Gonzalez, nine months pregnant, waved to an upstairs neighbor from her bright new inflatable pool. “I’m so uncomfortable, I’m just chasing whatever feels good right now.”
She’s not alone: With temperatures in the 90s this week and much of the coastline shut down, many Angelenos are seeking snatches of paradise in the pavement around their homes.
“We see a lot of parking-lot pools,” said Emily Vaca, founder of Minnidip, whose inflatable “adult kiddie pools” saw a string of record-breaking sales at the end of April, with the vast majority shipping to Southern California. “People are using them everywhere.”
In rapid succession, firefighters in one Long Beach station got COVID-19. The city scrambled to stop the spread and enacted changes.
Gonzalez is among the many local buyers who buoyed L.A. pool-maker Funboy after major retailers canceled their spring orders in March. Seattle-based competitor Mylle saw a “comically noticeable geographic spike” in purchases the last weekend in April.
“We just had a substantial increase in L.A. orders,” Mylle founder Kriss Myllenbeck wrote in an email. “We have been a niche brand for an activity most people were only doing on the weekend, and now all of a sudden everyone is home on a Tuesday trying to deal with 90-degree” weather.
Pools had become so popular that by the time 22-year-old Vanessa Garcia and her roommate set out to find one for their Long Beach apartment complex this week, local big-box stores had all sold out.
“We went to three different Targets and a Big Lots,” said Garcia, who just graduated from Cal State Long Beach. “We went through the whole store — there were absolutely no kiddie pools left.”
Sidewalk splash pools were already a summertime staple in many L.A. neighborhoods, particularly for families with young kids. But the pandemic has quickly inflated their appeal, experts said.
“Anything that’s really temporary and easy and quick you see a lot more of now, because people can put it in their frontyards or their driveway,” said James Rojas, an urban planner and community activist in L.A. “It could be a stairwell — any spot you give people, they’ll use it.”
L.A.’s increasing density has also made the phenomenon more visible: More than half of city residents live in multifamily buildings, census data show, and most families are renters, meaning few have outdoor space to call their own.
“The poster child of urban sprawl is long gone,” said Tridib Banerjee, professor of urban and regional planning at USC. “L.A. is now one of the densest [U.S.] cities.”
Those who are most likely to rent here are now also much more likely to have small children, studies show. Millennials make up about a quarter of the population of metropolitan Los Angeles and the overwhelming majority of its new parents, yet data suggest fewer than 20% of them own their homes. With school out for the year and hopes dwindling for camps this summer, many are desperate for something to break up long, hot afternoons.
“It’s tough trying to keep her occupied because she’s an only kid and there’s no one to play with her,” said Rosario Perez, 31, a Whittier apartment dweller who recently put a pool out front for Victoria, her 4-year-old. “Today she spent almost two hours playing in the pool.”
As temperatures soar and the state’s protracted stay-at-home orders continue, grown-ups, too, are taking the plunge.
“Usually I would feel weird lying out in a bikini in front of my building, but now everyone knows we’re in quarantine; you can’t really go anywhere else,” said L.A. photographer Kiyana Tehrani, who lives in Westchester. “I see a lot of people outside on their lawns, getting kiddie pools.”
Temperatures are expected to peak Thursday, when it could reach nearly 100 degrees in downtown Los Angeles and break decades-old records.
Because the pools are in public, some buyers have splashed out on pricier inflatables. Minnidip, Funboy and Mylle’s adult-sized pools start at $50, more than double the price of their competitors’ pint-sized products. But they’re hard not to envy on social media.
“The design is something you show off — it’s more of a statement or a conversation piece,” said Vaca, the Minnidip founder. “We’re seeing people are very proud that they have a blow-up pool.”
Gonzalez said several friends reached out to say they’d bought kiddie pools after seeing a photo of hers.
“They have really cute styles, very Instagram-friendly,” she said.
But for others, the inflatable pool is less aesthetic statement, or even a way to stay cool, than emotional life raft, a 66-inch island of childlike joy in an ocean of pandemic upheaval.
“Every day we wake up and we have a quest: What are we going to do today to not go crazy?” said Garcia, the new graduate, who is still on the hunt for a pool. “Our kiddie pool was kind of like our little piece of normal.”
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