Last week the Surf Park Summit made its first outing on European soil for its third annual event, which gathers stakeholders from across the world of man-made waves. Hosted at Surf Snowdonia, in Wales (the world’s first fully operational wave pool open to the public) Surf Park Summit III attracted investors, suppliers, representatives from different manmade wave technologies, academics and more for two days of surfing, presentations and networking. Report & images by Harry Mitchell Thompson.
The Summit got underway with Co-Founder, John Luff summarising the great strides the surf park industry has seen since the second Summit, held at Surf Expo in Florida last year. From the opening of NLand Texas, to the unveiling of the Cove at Wavegarden Spain, Kelly Slater’s WSL test event the ‘Future Classic’, through to Citywave’s openings in Zurich & Munich, American Wave Machine’s Aloha Surf House and touching on Surf Lakes’ full-size demo wave slated for opening in early 2018.
Opening up the presentations was Surf Snowdonia Founder & MD, Andy Ainscough, who at age 28 is an inspirational figure, running the first surf park to open its doors to the public while heralding a working business model thanks to its indoor soft play, glamping accommodation, restaurant and bar, crash and splash lagoon, retail shop and merchandise. Situated 90 minutes from both Manchester and Liverpool, the former aluminium factory site provides a picturesque setting while being close enough to airports and city folk willing to surf in North Wales.
Speaking purely in surfing terms, there’s been huge discussion on the different types of waves out there; from Kelly Slater’s refined barrelling wave with sections to Snowdonia’s peeler to the standing waves such as Citywave, which makes it easy to get caught up in the wavy details but it soon became apparent at the Summit that, as put by Surf Park MGMT’s Skip Taylor, “there’s so much more to wave pools than the wave.” Skip has vast experience in action sports TV production, resort management and re-branding.
Expanding on Skip’s notion, Andy and his Commercial Director, Justin Everly gave the Summit a peek behind the curtain, giving insight into the business model that sees them flat out in summer months, while they place a great emphasis on looking to provide an all-round offering, including events to ensure those quieter months can earn their keep. Music festivals, community events, surf schools and Christmas markets have seen good traction, while Justin let us know just how important the likes of hen and stag dos are to the company.
Like any savvy business in 2017, Surf Snowdonia has done well at collecting data, using it to find out more about their consumer and how to better sell to them. Their customer base is male skewed, with 58% of their web traffic male, while 63% of website purchases is also male. Justin also told us how the majority of customers come from within a 90 minute drive with 11% being from overseas.
Looking to the future, Everly is looking to supplement the current ‘glamping’ pods with more luxurious accommodation in order to cater for corporate guests who’d rather more high-end sleeping arrangements, and Andy has ambitious plans including and indoor trampolining facility, skate pump track, skate bowl and mountain biking lift for the surrounding hills.
Fresh from the UK Pro Surf Tour’s event at Surf Snowdonia, UK Pro Surf CEO Dave Reed said how the tour looks to find “true champions” from “diverse locations” and spoke about the benefits a surf pool provides by eliminating the inconsistencies the ocean can throw at a surfer.
Sustainability In Surf Parks
Dr Jess Ponting, who has his PHD in surf tourism and is the world’s leading academic in surf tourism research gave an interesting talk on how Millenials are increasingly looking for sustainable products/experiences and Jess’ STOKE certificate (Sustainable Tourism Operator’s Kit for Evaluation) can help businesses looking to start a wave pool ensure their operation ticks all the boxes.
And people don’t come much greener than Nev Hyman. Nev is the Founder of Firewire surfboards and now fronts NevHouse, a project that manufactures affordable homes from recycled materials. Initially developed for post-disaster housing, NevHouse now presents a sustainable, Eco-friendly and cheap opportunity for Surf Park builders looking for onsite accommodation options.
NevHouse makes houses that can be built within three days of delivery and has developed a manufacturing process with zero emissions, and by burning plastics that can’t be used – something that is revolutionary far beyond the surf industry and one which received great applause at the Summit.
Sticking with the high profile surfer theme, pro surfer Shane Beschen has put his name to Citywave & Playground Surf, a standing wave with a small footprint that currently operates in Zurich, Munich, St. Gilles Croix de Vie (France) and Vienna. Company Founder Rainer Klimaschewski presented to the Summit and as well as the European operation, Matt Ruzicka is now in charge of the US license with a rollout plan in process, the first of which opens in Spring 18. The Citywave is deceivingly deep, meaning it can be surfed with fins, creating an authentic experience.
Surf Park Summit organisers John Luff & Dr Jess Ponting stopped off at the Wavegarden en route to Wales, and they presented a short video made by Wavegarden’s team. The Cove’s wave output looks phenomenal, with a steeper drop to barrel and a promise of over 1,000 waves per hour
The Summit also saw presentations by suppliers Barry Hopton of ATG UV Technology and Mike Neal, Snr Project Manager at Layfield Group. Barry’s company are the water treatment company for Surf Snowdonia and he explained the practice of running a lagoon the size of Surf Snowdonia when it comes to issues such as fecal and sickness and how to deal with such problems, while Mike’s company makes the Geomembranes for surf park liners and he explained how different chemicals and technologies can affect the liner in different ways and talked attendees through some of the teething problems the company had to overcome when kitting out Surf Snowdonia.
One of the most noticeable things about Surf Snowdonia is the brown water, which may not look quite as glamorous as the tropical blue colours we’ve seen in other pools, but Barry explained how the SS lagoon drains into the local area with a river (popular among fisherman etc) and local gardens to consider, which could potentially be ruined by the chemicals needed to turn the water blue.
Surf Lakes’ Aaron Trevis & Reuben Buchanan spoke to the summit about their project which, backed by legendary surfer Mark Occhilupo will generate concentric waves from a central wave generator that radiate outwards, breaking over different reefs and objects resulting in different sized and style of waves. Surf Lakes will open their first workable demo in 2018 and are claiming to produce 2400 surfable waves per hour.
Ross McCarthy presented AirWave to the Summit, which is based on a river wave where water flows in one direction before hitting a surface creating a standing wave, except no rocky riverbed for AirWave, instead the inflatable surroundings are what’s making AirWave endeavour to be the “safest standing wave on the market.”
Artwave Surf is a Finnish tech innovation that creates surfable waves in existing natural waters, ranging from lakes to seas and city harbours. Artwave Founder Dr. Atso Andersen presented on the technology which is capable of being transported in a container and is powered by electricity so no direct emissions.
Colliers International have now provided market and feasibility advice on 14 surf parks and Associate Director Matt Hyslop spoke on the key factors that influence how busy a surf park can be, allowing for solid business planning.
Drawing a close to the Summit, John Yang is CEO of Waveline Investment Inc and he gave some insight into the current state of the Chinese surf market, which is currently seeing rapid growth. John made potential investors aware of current Chinese government initiatives and also made people aware of the nuances of doing business in China.
The surf park movement has gained huge momentum in recent years, and the progress seen in the last year has been meteoric. With the WSL including man made waves in their future plans, and chatter of surfing at the 2020 Olympics to take place in a pool, there’s no denying it – surf parks are here to stay and as Ecommerce erodes surf apparel margins and currency fluctuations make the hardware business tougher than ever, wave pools are presenting a great opportunity to grow the business of surfing.
Make sure to read part one in our three part series, The State Of Wave Pools: What’s So Cool About Surfing In A Pool? By Dave Mailman. And stay tuned for part two in the series, which focuses on the business model.