by Natalie Hope McDonald
It is not unusual to see thrill seekers leaping through the air at the SkyVenture indoor skydiving attraction in New Hampshire, but no one would have expected to see folks hanging ten in Nashua. That was until Rob and Laurie Greer came up with the concept for an indoor Surf Park, aptly called Surf’s Up, at SkyVenture, breaking barriers as the first of its kind.
“We are a husband and wife team that work and play hard,” said Rob Greer. “We have been working on this addition for many years, and Laurie’s drive really pulled it all together.”
Taking a page from SkyVenture’s already very successful and realistic skydiving simulator, Greer said he and his wife wanted Surf’s Up to be as realistic to surfing as SkyVenture is to skydiving.
“Obviously, being an indoor attraction is enormously important because we are not limited by the weather,” he explained. “All of the surfers we have spoken to are excited about indoor surfing. They can schedule the wave they want to ride instead of watching the weather.
“Non-surfers are also excited because now they can experience surfing and learn how to ride a board. Unlike other standing wave machines, the SurfStream produces a thick flow of water that can be surfed with a real surf board.”
Though ocean temperatures and fierce waves have made New England’s coast a haven for hardcore surfers for decades, the region has never seen anything quite like Surf’s Up.
Marie McFarland of American Wave Machines (AWM), the company in Solana Beach, Calif., that has helped create the water attraction, first met the Greers at the 2010 International Associations of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) tradeshow. “Both the clients and American Wave Machines wanted to build the largest standing wave machine in the world,” she said. “But access to financing was very challenging.”
Once the Greers and AWM worked out the investment, cost and timeline for such a massive project, the appeal for something as unique as Surf’s Up became even more apparent. “The broad appeal of SurfStream is what makes it unique and compelling to business owners who want to own and operate a surf park,” said McFarland. “From whitewater waves to six-foot barrels, the system appeals to both novice and high-performance surfers.”
The fact that this is an indoor attraction with a moveable ceiling enclosure makes the venue one of the only all-season surfing facilities in the country – and certainly in New England.
The realistic surf experience may make Surf’s Up great for word of mouth, but it’s really the custom-made ceiling enclosure that allows the attraction to be financially viable since it can operate year round.
“This is something new in that it’s specific to a surf park,” said Dave Bolwer, vice president of sales at OpenAire, the company in Cedarburg, Wis., that created the retractable roof. “We do a lot of waterparks and even bigger parks, but they are the whole waterpark under a roof. This is specific to surfing and that’s what makes this one so unique.”
The company worked closely with architects and designers to ensure that everything would come together seamlessly at Surf’s Up. “You’ve got an owner that has a vision,” he said. “Rob and Laurie had a clear vision of what they wanted this to be. We worked closely with them to bring their vision to reality.”
For OpenAire, the process meant creating an atmosphere that would bring people back time and time again. “We wanted to be able to open the roof when it’s a nice day out, and this construction doesn’t prohibit that,” Bolwer said.
In winter, special precautions were taken to simulate the most natural water experience possible in an enclosed space. This meant using materials and creating an air space that would eliminate excess moisture from the surf stream. He said when the ceiling is open, the mechanics can be turned off, allowing Mother Nature to take over.
“We build and design in accordance with the local conditions,” said Bolwer. “If there’s a lot of snow, we design the building to handle that much snow. If there’s a lot of wind, there’s a separation between outside metal and inside metal – and no transfer of cold.”
Materials were selected specific to the surfing conditions. “The entire frame of the ceiling and side walls is all aluminum,” said Bolwer. “You have moisture evaporating from the SurfStream and chemicals in the water creating an aquatic atmosphere.” But where there are chemicals and moisture, there could be an issue with corrosion. Aluminum prevents that from happening, unlike steel, which would rust, or wood, which would rot. “This is a thermal pane unit that’s very energy efficient,” Bolwer said. Even when the ceiling is closed, surfers can enjoy a glimpse of the outdoors thanks to specially designed windows.
“It basically plays to the human senses,” he said. “People want fresh air and natural light. They gravitate to these types of spaces. That’s the real appeal of an open-air building.”
The Complete Experience
Building an indoor version of the California Coast did not happen overnight. The entire process began three years ago when the venue opened its doors for the first time. Today, hundreds of people are able to surf at any one time – year round.
“Our facility includes the SurfStream surfing standing wave machine, a rock climbing wall, our Fishpipe (a rotating barrel ride), and a food cafe with smoothie bar,” said Greer, who has designed the space with his wife.
“We host numerous birthday parties, corporate functions, bachelor and bachelorette parties in our existing facility,” he said. “With all of the new attractions, we expect to be hosting many more.”
The high-tech attraction is poised to change the way other simulated environments are built – especially as more people ride the waves this year.
“In a nutshell, Surf’s Up is realistic surfing in a very controlled environment,” said Greer. “We have thick water and real surf boards. Our machine is capable of several different waves – each with its own characteristics. There is the training wave that most riders will experience. Then we have a river wave, right-hand or left-hand barrel, and a very large left-hand barrel.”
Waves aside, Greer is proud to say, “We are the first SurfStream in North America, and the largest one in the world.” –