Firsthand encounter with ADG’s surf-specific rapid wave EpicSurf
Cohoes, New York – just north of Albany, the state capital – seems like an unlikely place to find a new wave pool technology. A former mill town on what was originally Iroquois land, it’s known for its massive waterfall and colonial days as a hub of textile manufacturing. A quick drive through town reveals a mix of one-family homes that have seen better days and the brushstrokes of fresh investment, like a brick-and-steel complex of industrial-chic lofts, set beside the river.
But turning left from the water, up a hill and through a leafy neighborhood, the green lawns and rose bushes give way to an industrial corridor. Turning right, down another tree-lined corridor, then left into the parking lot, I heard the squeals of delight before I saw the machine. Stepping out into the steamy, summer air, I saw the EpicSurf prototype: a compact, two-story structure that produces a stationary (or rapid) wave with a deep-water landing behind it. Already, the five-hour drive, including a bumper-to-bumper hour on I-90, was worth it already.
The birth of EpicSurf is a new creation from an old company, Aquatic Development Group (ADG). The company has been in business for decades and specializes in wave and water park design. They were actually one of the first companies to produce hydraulic and pneumatic surfing waves back in the 1970s and became the go-to for Hollywood productions like the 1987 classic, North Shore, plus more recent films like The Life of Pi. In the mid-2000s, they had a hand in the now-ubiquitous Flowrider machines, a sheet wave where participants use a skimboard-sized board on a thin sheet of water.
It wasn’t until the pandemic, however, that they got to work on EpicSurf, a decidedly more fun experience than its predecessor. They had been thinking about designing a new wave for years, but the effective global pause gave them the time to build it.
“By last September, we were building it,” said Jessica Mahoney, director of marketing for ADG. “In December we did our first test, Ben Gravy came. There was snow on the ground and he surfed this thing while I’m out there in a coat, hat, mittens, and gloves.”
By July of this year, after more refinements, feedback and testing, ADG was ready to unveil their baby. The day I tried it, I was among a small group of people, ranging in ages from eight to 50-plus, all ready to test their mettle against the rush of water flowing down, across, and up over a berm into the crash section. There was a world champion wakeboarder who was one with the wave: sliding back and forth from each side of the surf zone, he threw huge bands of spray with every turn, soaking his audience, which looked on with laughter and a touch of envy.
The wave, for an ocean surfer, is a different beast. For beginners, EpicSurf offers helpful handrails that extend across part of the surf zone and can help get one’s sea legs, so to speak. The trick, I was told, is in keeping pressure on the back foot. And, possibly, in trusting the wave. It’s a mental game as much as anything to believe that the right stance on a Pyzel foamie is any match for the incoming rush of water, like a mini-Cohoes Falls.
EpicSurf vs. Everyone Else
The most satisfying part of trying the EpicSurf experience, however, wasn’t just staying on a board for more than half a second. Or in seeing an eight-year-old named Lila surf the rapids better than a hulking, bald tester from Texas. It was in resurfacing from the watery crash zone, Pyzel flying in my face and ego thoroughly quashed, to the resounding cheers of everyone on the sidelines. At one point, even the champion wakeboarder, who has the sense to trade winters in Boston for training on St. Croix, jumped in with a hand to help me steady myself before my next flight over the falls.
For the more adept (and, perhaps trusting), EpicSurf has also proven to be a good training ground. A few weeks before my arrival, a group of up-and-coming youth competitive surfers tried the wave. They squeezed hundreds of waves into a day in Cohoes, perfecting cutbacks and other techniques. Another group, all beginners, got their feet wet with surfing without having to brave the ocean and all the nuances that go with it, from currents to timing to wave selection.
At EpicSurf, it’s that adaptability, camaraderie, and approachability is exactly the point.
“When you sit around the edges of the [wave] you’re really part of what’s going on,” said Jim Dunn, president of ADG. “The positioning of our initial run at it is, it’s an intimate surfing experience. If you’re out in a wave lagoon and you’ve got this big pool and this wave is coming, it’
Importantly, Epic is also not trying to be something it’s not. Its designers are engineers first, and becoming surfers, maybe, at some point.
“We’re being very careful to say that there’s an ocean experience, there is an artificial, moving wave experience, and then there’s Epic,” said Dunn. “You’re going to get different things from this that you might not get from those other two things, but they all do fit together.”
The EpicSurf Experience
In keeping with that philosophy, ADG’s vision for EpicSurf goes far beyond the wave itself. Having worked on more than 500 wave systems worldwide, they’re focusing not only on Epic’s technology, but on the total experience before, after, and around the wave.
“If you look at folks that are entering the [wave pool] marketplace, they’re approaching it almost from just the experienced surfer’s perspective. So, we didn’t start there. In fact, our history is in wave pools, water parks, that is the masses right there: bring everybody. You’ve got to build for a fun day, for mom and dad who aren’t going in the water. I think this is what defines Aquatic Development, we come at it with the total experience picture.”
For visitors to future parks with the EpicSurf experience, that could mean everything from an app that logs the details of your visit: what boards you rode and how many waves you surfed. It might mean live-streamed sports matches at the surf-side snack bar or yoga classes in an on-site studio. The idea, for ADG, isn’t to replicate traditional surfing, so much as to be an inclusive experience with something for everyone.
In that sense, EpicSurf is building not only a new wave technology but a kind of surf-adjacent culture that’s diametrically opposed to traditional surfing. Instead of exuding cool, EpicSurf exudes warmth. Instead of cheering for the most skillful of performers, EpicSurf inspires cheering for everyone. If their technology catches on, that cheering could go a lot further for fun in surfing than just one parking lot in Cohoes, New York.