A grom in Des Moines walks into a surf shop in January. No, really—and he says to the guy behind the counter, "Gimme a bar of tropical surf wax.
Okay, so this sounds like the beginnings of a bad joke, but if a new wave-pool project called Surfparks succeeds, the punch line could play out in a very real way.
Surfparks is the brainchild of Jamie Meiselman, a former managing editor of TransWorld SNOWboarding. After conceiving the idea almost five years ago, he hired Dr. Kerry Black, the world's foremost expert on surfing wave dynamics and top architect of artificial reefs, to design an adjustable reef in a saltwater pool. But not just any pool. This pool—in theory at least—will be able to produce powerful, tubing, overhead waves (as well as soft rolling waves) with the ability to morph its bottom contour to mimic some of the world's most famous breaks.
Meiselman says his company is getting close to breaking ground on the first Surfparks wave pool, which will be located in waveless Orlando, Florida. Ron Jon Surf Shop has signed on as the title sponsor, with the park next to its Festival Bay retail store on International Drive.
Back to the ten-million-dollar question, though: How do you raise that much capital from a bunch of strapped and slacking surfers? Consider the soft economic climate over the past couple of years, and you'd imagine correctly that raising the money has been an uphill road. But Meiselman says the possibility of bringing consistent, quality waves in warm water to anywhere and everywhere has perked up the ears of enough Wall Street surfers—and non-surfers—to get the ball rolling.
"We're working with a core group of 30 to 40 potential investors, says Meiselman. "Some are surfers, some aren't, but the guys who are surfers are asking the harder questions. They want to do it, but they want to know that they're making a sound, nonemotional decision.
After seeing the Surfpark one-eighth scale model reel off perfect barrel after perfect barrel, you'd think that any investor who surfs would be cashing in his 401K to fund the project. But to non-surfing investors, the problem is that the mushburgers at Typhoon Lagoon look the same as firing Lowers.
"Talking to non-surfing financial people, they don't even ask about the wave quality. They're like, 'What are the numbers, what are the demographics?' says Meiselman. "Those are usually the surfer's second questions. But the surfers immediately get excited, like, 'Hey, if this is a good wave, this is going to be huge, assuming all the numbers add up.' They believe in the concept.
Wave pools were first ridden by surfers nearly 40 years ago, but none of the 500 plus that have been built have even approached creating a decent wave. This is where Meiselman says the Surfparks project is fundamentally different from any other wavepool—his primary goal is to make a good wave. "Other wavepools have never been in the surfing business—they've been in the recreation business, he says. "Our whole business model is attracting waveriders, so it's different.
And Surfparks has attracted waveriders. Soon after accepting reservations for the Orlando location, they filled the allotted 1,200 reserved slots, which run for between a dollar to $1.75 a wave (625 to 2,000 dollars annually, depending on how many waves you reserve). More than the general public is joining, too. The Lopez brothers are officially on the Surfparks team, and more recently Damien Hobgood also came on board.
If it does work, how long will it be before Surfparks pools dot the country? Meislelman explains that once the first one is built and the technology is proven, it becomes an easier sell to investors, and so more likely to proliferate: "The initial pitch is that it's a venture capital type of deal. But if it's successful, then it will evolve into a real-estate type of deal, because the technology question will have been answered, so it will be more like a commercial real-estate project.
But daydream just a moment on how Surfparks could affect surfboard R&D, instruction, contests, and brand marketing, and it's hard to imagine that every industry player's mouth isn't frothing. How will it all work out? No one can say for sure, but we'll keep you posted, even if our headquarters move to Des Moines.