Best Practices | A Reality TV Pond-Building Competition

acrylic pond sides

Brett’s pond was built with acrylic sides.

Several months ago, I was contacted by Glass Entertainment, a production company, to help with a project for the TV show “Tanked.” The owners of Acrylic Tank Manufacturers (ATM), Wayde King and Brett Raymer, live in Las Vegas and are the stars of the show. They were building ponds in their own backyards and wanted to create a competition for the season finale. They named the episode “The Pond Off,” and somewhere in my brain I thought it would be fun.

Little did I know, I would fall into a schedule of 16-hour days and lose almost 10 pounds in the 110-degree heat for the duration of the builds. Growing up in the desert, I’m used to the heat, but with this schedule, it was difficult to manage.

An Ambitious Endeavor

I must say that the people from Glass Entertainment were professional and fun to work with. Wayde and Brett were very hospitable, humorous and engaged in the process, but the timeline was brutal. Three months’ worth of work in three and a half weeks is a tight schedule. They had their own contacts and contractors, so that made it more doable. It also helped that they both lived in my neighborhood and less than five minutes from my house. I was there to make sure the projects turned out to be functional ponds and not something else.

 It all started with a review of their original drawings and me informing them couldn’t have everything they had sketched out. For example, Wayde wanted to have fake hippos and other creatures, drawing from his aquarium perspective, and Brett wanted a giant waterfall. Long story short, the hippos were evicted, and the towering waterfall was redesigned. With Wayde, I explained that obstructions in a pond can be hazardous to the fish and take away from the overall aesthetic. With Brett, I explained that a giant waterfall that reached over the fence line would be hard to manage, especially considering the wind and potential evaporation.

Next were the fire features. Each pond was to have a fire feature similar to the fire features in their swimming pools. The design showed the gas being released from slightly under the water with the bubbles igniting as they popped through the surface. It sounded very cool — “ except for the gases inevitably diffused into the water. Once they understood that the gas would impact the water quality, the fire features remained but were moved just above the water level.

Behind the Scenes

Being on camera was fun, but almost all the construction footage was eliminated. The show ended up being more about the fish and less about the ponds, which is understandable since “Tanked” is in its seventh successful season of building amazing custom aquariums stocked with saltwater and tropical fish. Thus, this article about the construction side of “The Pond Off” is a behind-the-scenes look for those who have told me that they wished it had been more about the construction and less about the fish.

Brett’s pond: before, left, and after, right, polyurea.

For those who know me, there was, of course, going to be bottom drains to prefiltration with two forms of biofiltration both static and aerated. I called Eric and Leslie Triplett at The Pond Digger to supply the filtration equipment. Each pond is identical in equipment and function, which made ATM’s plumber happy. I supplied my new aerated bottom drains and the internal parts for the prefilters along with my UV lights and return fittings for polyurea. Pentair supplied the water and air pumps. Each pond is a raised edge pond with polyurea-sealed shotcrete as the construction method.

 

For prefiltration, I had been working on a new smaller version of my radial separator built from two Helix bodies with no media of any sort. We used them here because we couldn’t dig deep enough to install the 6-foot-deep Wave 36 tanks I usually use; moreover, we needed a higher flow rate than one Helix would allow. The main pump pulls water from both the Helix skimmer and prefilter and divides it among two Helix upflow sand and gravel filters placed on each side and one Helix moving bed waterfall filter at the top. This totaled about 8,000 gph. Secondary pumps pull from a midwater inlet and operate the water features on both ponds. The current jets are gravity-flow from the top of the moving bed filters.

Two Distinct Styles

water feature pond with turtles

Wayde’s Pond has a turtle Island. We built two ponds — typically three months of work — in 21 days. It was a miracle that we got it all together in time!

Brett’s pond had acrylic widows on two sides that fit into 5-inch-wide epoxy-coated channels. It was fascinating to watch the guys from ATM install the acrylic. The edges of the acrylic panels were precoated with a special silicone before they were delivered and installed by a wizard named Justin Portney. Justin also did the rock edge work on Wayde’s pond. It was truly an experience to watch him work. The epoxy bonded well to the polyurea applied by Paul Parszik of Artisan Aquatics. The time schedule didn’t allow for a full 28-day minimum cure time for the concrete, so the Bond-Kote layer was applied after just two days to seal the chemical moisture in the shotcrete from the polyurea. Bond-Kote is the concrete surface preparation of choice, but in this case, we used it to speed up the timeline and keep things moving. Bond-Kote was literally being applied to the surface of Wade’s pond while Paul was applying polyurea to Brett’s.

Wayde’s house is seafoam green, and he has coordinated many items around that color scheme, so of course, he wanted the polyurea surface to be some shade of seafoam green. This was the biggest challenge I faced. Not much will stick to polyurea. Even when I reminded Wayde that the surface would eventually be covered by a thin biofilm layer and algae over time, he still wanted to start out with the seafoam green. Because the hippos had been eliminated, I needed to honor his seafoam green request. On previous applications, a fluoropolymer paint at $500 per gallon has been used to protect polyurea from chlorine, but this wasn’t an option because of the time schedule and the small amount we needed for this project. Everyone I contacted about solving this problem told me their product would not work, and it simply could not be done.

Wayde’s pond: before (left) and after (right) polyurea and color application.

With just a few days to go before the surface had to be color-coated, I had an idea. The composite fittings I make as penetrations for polyurea applications bond very well to the polyuea but still need mechanical clamps. I ran a quick test using the plastic I use in my fittings as though it were paint on a sample of polyurea. It stuck! The problem was that the pot life of less than five minutes wasn’t going to work, and I needed more flexibility. I found a food-safe urethane with a 20-minute pot life from Smooth-on and had it overnighted. The day before we needed to apply it, I tested different color combinations and had a seafoam sample ready for Wayde’s approval. The only issue was that it had odd, fish-eye-like spots and it ran on vertical surfaces. In a pond environment, these created a fantastic underwater look, and Wayde loved it.

Helping Hands

With the almost impossible timeline approaching, Paul Parszik and his crew completed the poly spray in record time, applied the color, and then generously stayed for another 10 days. We needed all the help we could gather to meet the deadline, and the extra hands worked through impossible heat and hours. Joe Acevedo of Hanako Koi was visiting from California, and we convinced him to stay and supervise the waterfall construction and rock work. Without Paul and Joe’s help, we never would have completed these projects anywhere near on time. Wayde even core drilled his own island rocks to help speed things up.

On the last day of the deadline, the Glass Entertainment crew was still recording and counting down the minutes until they needed to board a plane and get all the footage back to Pennsylvania for editing. This was hectic on so many levels. Hours before my son’s wedding, which was hosted in our backyard for more than 100 guests, I was in front of the camera with a frantic wife texting me to rush home, get showered, put on my tux and get ready to greet our guests! With a great deal of sweat, spirit of cooperation and creative vision, we did it!

Check out the “Tanked” TV Show Facebook page for some great videos, which include behind-the-scenes videos of Wayde and Brett’s ponds.

 

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