Will Surfing Theme Parks Strip the Soul Out of the Sport or Give It New Life?

Posted by Rachel S on Monday, September 30th, 2013

Inaugural Surf Park Summit 2013

Earlier this month – in case you missed it – the first ever Surf Park Summit was held to discuss “accelerating sustainable and authentic surfing outside the ocean.” The conclave was co-sponsored by Surf Park Central, a recently formed group dedicated to advancing the park-based iteration of the sport and San Diego State University’s Center for Surf Research (side note: how cool is that and how do I get a job there?)

The intent of the get-together is to encourage the development and construction of surf parks, both indoor and outdoor, and to grow the sport while keeping it real. Critics have said the construction of man-made surf experiences will strip the soul out of a sport that’s all about man communing with nature and fighting to conquer it one wave at a time.

Surf parks can make wave riding accessible to all

That’s one way to look at it, but consider this. For all those who don’t have the luxury of living near waters that produce ride-worthy waves, this could be a huge boon and could greatly expand the sport. Think of the majority of the US (and even the world) that is landlocked. How many would-be surfers live in America’s dustbowl and would love the chance to ride a wave – even one that’s man made?

Surf park design proposed by legend Kelly Slater

And even if you live near the ocean, waves can be inconsistent, too intense or too lackluster to offer a decent ride. We’ve written before about indoor ski parks and questioned whether the controlled environment detracts and lessens it as a sport. Certainly it’s an experience that’s different from participating in the sport “in the wild” but for those that would otherwise never get to give it a go, it can be life changing.

Indoor sports arenas provide access to all

Indoor rock climbing gyms are likewise no substitute for climbing on real cliff faces, but for those that live in the flat lands or are new to the sport, this can be an excellent introduction and training opportunity in a safe environment. Faux facilities are great for many reasons. If you’ve never tried a sport, a space like this can give you an introduction without making an extensive investment. Likewise if you’re nowhere near the water and traveling to the surf is financially infeasible, this can allow you to get your feet wet (literally) and see if it’s for you.

Outdoor surfing isn't possible for most regions

Dan Harmon of Select Contracts, the firm that manages Wadi Adventure wave park in the United Arab Emirates, says of surf parks, “They’re places to train, they’re safe, controlled environments that allow people that initial introduction and that is absolutely key. If we can get them in, then we can get them hooked.”

Surfing at the Olympics may be possible

Another concern of the Surf Park Summit is trying to get surfing added to the summer Olympics roster. But without standardization and man-made waves, this will never be possible. To judge effectively, events must be consistent – that’s not possible in nature. Just as kayaking and canoeing must be accomplished on consistent (man-made) runs, so too it would be with surfing at the Olympic games.

UK Olympic kayaking man-made venue

Currently the largest US “surf park” is Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon, but it greatly limits surfers’ access to the facility. It’s primarily a wave pool suited to a crowd of waders. Surfers can only ride the waves in the early morning and late in the evening after the swarm of park-goers head home. But this is not a “surf park” as the minds behind the Surf Summit envision.

Disney's Typhoon Lagoon offers limited access to surfers

These visionaries are confident that surf parks are the future of the sport and have long been a goal of the industry though they had to wait for technology to catch up. Surf parks will allow millions of people to try out surfing who would otherwise have never had access. Anyone who wants to keep surfing at the shore is being too exclusionary. If they want to be a “purist” they never have to try a surf park for themselves. For the rest of us, though, this is amazing.


image sources: SurfLine.com, Safiyahesack.wordpress.com, TransWorld.net, ISucceedBook.com, SurfingMagazine.com, SurfParkCentral.com, DawsonsEurope.blogspot.com, Surf-Station.com

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