Surf parks’ Up

Chloe Eckersley at Middle Park beach. Photo Jay Turko.
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Melbourne will become the first Australian city to ride the next generation of wave park surfing. Jay Turko reports.

It’s 5am when the alarm sounds.  Chloe Eckersley leaps out of bed and checks the surf report to see if Huey has delivered.  If the report is good she is still over an hour away from the surf coast and knows all too well that the waves could be gone by the time she gets there.

The only way for her to find out is to grab her board and go.  But the time spent negotiating the morning traffic on the long drive down to the carpark to suit up, can be the difference between the conditions being favourable, or the wind suddenly turning and chopping the surf into an unrideable mess.

Next year, Chloe and other Melbourne surfers will have another option.  One that is not beholden to wind, swell, tides and banks.  Huey, the god of surf, will have no say in it as the waves will be mechanically produced and only 25 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD.

Utilising Spanish Wavegarden ‘Cove’ technology, URBNSURF is currently building three urban surf parks in Australia, with the first being in Melbourne.  “The perfect waves produced by our next-generation surfing lagoons are created by a highly advanced, modular wave generator,” said Rupert Partridge, URBNSURF’s Brand and Marketing Manager.

“The reef waves in the advanced to expert zone will break at up to two meters in height, run for around 16 seconds, and we expect them to offer a four to six second barrel on the take-off, followed by a series of sections for turns and airs,” said Mr Partridge, describing the waves that will be available to surfers at Tullamarine by Easter next year.

In Middle Park, Chloe stands in the sand with the sun on her back and looks out to the sea.  Living on the beach she is tempted by the ocean and the desire to surf most mornings.  But her proximity to the surf coast, and the small windows of opportunity when the wind, swell and tide align, make it hard.  “Melbourne has a big surfing community, but waves are at least an hour and a half away,” she says.

The only influence nature will play on the new wave park however, will be the water temperature.  “Given the amount of power required, it’d be environmentally irresponsible for us to heat our two-hectare lagoon,” said Mr Partridge, “which will produce four distinct surfing zones offering left and right breaking waves.”

Natural conditions are not the only limitations to Chloe’s surfing experience.  “When my friend Rach and I go surfing, the number of waves we get depends on a lot of things.  But one of them is definitely how many surfers are out there, how angry they are, and how good they are.”  Local attitudes in the water can be a challenge for intermediate surfers who can get pushed so deep in the lineup that when it is their turn, they don’t make the take-off and miss the wave.

“The modular nature of our generator means the waves we’ll produce are highly customisable with the push of a button,” said Mr Partridge.  “We can adjust the height, speed power and type of waves that are pumped out.  This means we can create a perfect wave to suit, challenge and excite surfers of all abilities, from first timers, right up to expert surfers and elite athletes.”

The facility will offer surfers of all skill levels a controlled environment to surf.  “The waves produced in each zone don’t interact, which will ensure guests can ride their wave all the way, have a blast, and stay safe at all times,” said Mr Partridge.

Despite the challenges, not all surfers are convinced.  “I’ll try it once, but a wave park is not really surfing,” said Stewart Spencer.  A keen surfer and resident of Kensington, Stewart usually travels along the western coastline to Torquay and Lorne and enjoys the journey as much as the surf itself.

Stewart Spencer heading to the surf at Torquay. Photo Jay Turko.

“The wave is only one part of it,” said Stewart, who takes more out of surfing than just the ride.  “It’s the people you meet and the way of life,” that Stewart values.  “You earn a wave when you know the conditions and can read the surf,” said Stewart.  He feels a man-made facility will not offer the organic experience that surfing provides. But adds cheekily, “it might mean less people in the water.”

Fellow Melbourne surfer Andy Brody is also sceptical, unsure that the lagoon will be able to produce a ridable wave.  “I’ve seen wave pools overseas and they don’t tend to work,” said Andy.  But often being on the road with his job he says, “If the wave works, and there is enough of them, I will definitely pull in for an hour if I’m going past.”

URBNSURF is conscious of the fact that surfing is as much about the journey, and the experience around riding waves, as catching them. “We’re a team of lifelong, passionate surfers,” said Mr Partridge.  “So ensuring the experiences we deliver at URBNSURF are authentic, and are true to what surfing’s all about, is a top priority.”

The park’s technology has been advanced to be able to produce up to 1000 rideable waves per hour, when dialled up to 11.  “It’s pretty intense at that setting, we’ll typically create waves less frequent than that, but when we are completely booked out, each surfer will score around 14 to 15 perfect waves per hour,” said Mr Partridge.

“We’ll never compete with Huey, and there’s nothing that can replace the feeling of sand between your toes, salt caked on your eyelids after a monster session, or hooting your mates into the next set on the day of the year at your local. It’s what surfing’s all about. We only hope that we can encourage and strengthen that.”

“Most importantly, we see URBNSURF as providing an awesome, convenient supplement to surfing in the ocean – when conditions are sub-optimal, or if it’s just too difficult to head down to the Coast due to other life commitments.”

Chloe reflects, and sees wave parks as being the next evolutionary step in surfing. “Surfing has survived commercialisation, its already happened,” she said.  “It happened in the 80s when surfing became a profession, an industry, and people profited from it.  All the misfits from the 60s hated it.”

“People should not feel threatened by it,” said Chloe.  “Wave parks make surfing more convenient, but free surfers don’t surf because it’s convenient.  They surf because it’s inconvenient, so it won’t change anything for them.”

“What I get out of surfing I’ll still get out of it, but if anything, I will be able to train a little, or prepare for a surf trip at a wave park, which will make my enjoyment of that surf trip all the better.”

On this particular Sunday, Chloe sits at West Beach Bathers Pavilion and nurses her soy piccolo.  The sun is out and there is a slight northerly breeze.  All the makings for a perfect day surfing.  However, there is no swell.  A crucial element to the surfing triangle.  Huey has not delivered today.  She thinks to herself, “how good would a surf park be right about now?”