Atlanta eyes “access to all” wave pool project for locals and neo-locals

The “City in a Forest” is well-known as the filming location for The Walking Dead, music stars like Ludacris and Usher, horrendous traffic and a major launch point for the Civil Rights movement. And now, it might become known as the home to Georgia’s first wave pool.

Running through the center of the city, the Chattahoochee River keeps Atlanta just aquatic enough to be of interest to a relocated surf community. Three major lakes within an hour-and-a-half drive of downtown also mean wakesurfing is a popular go-to for locals.

“A surf pool/park is the next natural step for our ocean surfers, wake surfers, river surfers, and a way to expose the joy of riding waves to a population who may never have experienced it otherwise, “ says co-founder Spencer Broome. “The bottom line/dollars and cents will matter of course, and we want to build an amazing surf experience with great amenities but connecting, growing, and fostering that joy is what will drive us.”

Part of what we do at WavePoolMag is document the emerging culture of wave pools. As surf parks open up globally each has its own unique vibe and clientele. And while 90% of those clients are ocean surfers sniffing out stoke, the other 10% are land-locked newbies evolving their skills rapidly in the mechanized perfection of a surf park. But this 10% is growing rapidly with each new project, and at some point, the scales will tip in favor of the oceanless.

Broome adds that they want to stress their vision of joy and community first when talking about Surf Atlanta. He says the promotion of their wave technology is a secondary, supporting mechanism.

The startup now has advisory experts steering them on land/development points as well as providing insights on location, market, finances and, yes, wave-making technology. They have also secured a small group of investors and hope to break ground in 2022/2023.

Many surfing transplants (and some locals) have taken to wakesurfing on the lakes near Atlanta. A wave pool would become a focal-point of stoke for the surf set and community. Photos by Pull Watersports and the Merlo Family

Will you model your park after any of the wave pools in operation today? They all seem very different for example, BSR doesn’t have fine dining like Urbnsurf does with Three Blue Ducks) 
We’ve evaluated existing surf parks & technologies for years and continue to be blown away by the variety of wave formats, venues, and business models and we would be foolish not to take all of what the market has accomplished into consideration. We also take notes from other surf experiences outside of surf parks, like Surf Simply down in Costa Rica which provides a unique experience in comparison to other surf school approaches.
However, our direction is formed from our team’s individual experiences and our community in Atlanta so we won’t model it specifically after another wave pool in operation. That wouldn’t be an authentic experience for those who live here or those who visit.
Our vision is to connect, grow, and foster the joy of riding waves in Atlanta. Within that, we have three core values – community-driven, wave-focused, and access for all. There is a lot to unpack within those values but ultimately these will drive our location within the Atlanta metro area, our aesthetic and waves, the type of amenities we offer, and the events we hold.
For our Atlanta community, we want it to feel like home. Just like your local spot. And for visitors, we want it to feel like a taste of our community – as surfers, we travel for the waves, obviously, but also for that feeling of a different place. Atlanta is a direct flight from just about anywhere in the world.

Robert Hanson (left) and Spencer Broome will bring a different kind of wave pool to Atlanta.

Currently, we are taking time to evaluate and finalize technologies, review conceptual models, foster local outreach, and strengthen investor relationships. We also plan to embrace adaptive sports and sustainability initiatives, consider environmental impact, and provide a greater picture of the surfonomic impact. 
We will bring a world-class surfing venue to Atlanta that offers thrills for all skill levels of surfing across our diverse population along with inclusive activities, opportunities, and stoke that is unique to our community.  

A lot of projects use “community” and “inclusive” in their pitches – how will you actually do this in real life?

On the inclusive activities and opportunities, this ties into our diverse population and our value of access to all — how can we engage underrepresented and underserved populations in Atlanta and expose them to surfing and how do we make sure we are being inclusive across race, age, skill, physical, and socioeconomic factors. At first, it may just be an event or even swim lessons for those who are uncomfortable in the water and then building off that. Or it could be a beginner’s day where the cost to surf is low so we lower the barrier to entry. Or even working with schools or after-school programs to bring kids in for exposure and experience. For us, it is being intentional to think about how we can grant access across our population.

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What’s the surf connection in Atlanta? 
The Atlanta metro area is a top 10 metropolitan area in the United States, it is the leading business hub in the Southeast, and it has the busiest airport in the world. This means there are people of all walks of life and backgrounds who live and travel here. Surfing, wave riding, and watersports are on the minds of a lot of people in Atlanta even if we may be known for our traffic and inability to handle winter weather.
We have a Surfrider chapter here in Georgia which has been led by Steve Combs, who lives in Atlanta. And we have an active Atlanta surfer meetup group, also led by Steve, that plans trips, volunteer events, viewing parties, and so on. The activity has been less over the last year due to COVID but it is a great glimpse into the ocean surfing population here in Atlanta.
Three major lakes – Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, and Lake Oconee – are all within a 1.5-hour drive of the city and offer amazing outlets for wake surfing, fishing, and hot weather relaxation. Wake surfing has truly blown up in our lakes, and across the country, over the last 5-7 years and something we experience and enjoy firsthand. The Chattahoochee River also runs through Atlanta which provides access to paddleboarding in the city and even river surfing down in Columbus, GA.
Every surfer we speak with has a different story and background and for our ocean surfers, it often involves long drives, storm chasing to the Atlantic or Gulf, or taking trips a few times per year to spots with guaranteed surf. And even our wake surfers need consistent access to a boat which is not always guaranteed.
The surf community is here – from ocean surfers and wake surfers to rivers surfers and paddle boarders – and we are working to bring all these communities together and provide an outlet of wave-riding joy for them and those who may have never even experienced a wave.

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What is the best thing about Atlanta? 
For us, it’s the culture and diversity of Atlanta that is situated on top of our beautiful natural resources and choice weather. We have an amazing and diverse population that brings their own flavor to the city – food, music, art, and experiences.
We have classic southern food to our “United Nations of restaurants” along Buford Highway. We are the home to activists and icons like Martin Luther King and John Lewis to former presidents like Jimmy Carter. We have hip-hop stars and country music stars. We have classic artists and graffiti artists.
Southern tropes are plentiful but Atlanta has a deep and diverse cultural identity and we aim to connect and carry this with us as well. Despite the strong community of surfers already here, there are people who have never seen the ocean in person much less a wave and it is beautiful to think about these populations experiencing the joy of riding waves