Case Study: Do wave pool CEOs get to surf solo?
A button built to summon swell is what a surfer’s dreams are made of. Like lab rats lured to a dopamine hit, is this god-like availability of waves a case of gluttonous celebration for wave pool CEOs? Or has it simply turned into an overburdening workplace, becoming somewhere to escape from, instead of to?
Being a CEO is a massive task. Sure, it generally comes with a convenient car park, but the responsibilities and hours involved can weigh heavily on all aspects of life. We spoke with the heads of three wave pool operations to see how they handle the task, and about the constant temptation of that magic button.
Damon Tudor, Urbnsurf
Damon Tudor, CEO of Urbnsurf, has been running it prior to the water being pumped into the Melbourne pool in 2019. He regards the job as a labor of love, with the outcomes as amazing as the paths to get there are challenging.
While in the midst of building a second Wavegarden location in Sydney, Damon heads to his first operation, Urbnsurf, to “escape the challenges of building our second pool, for a day or two.”
Being in the water, while fun, is also part of work.
“I love chatting with customers directly in the water whether they’re having their first experience with us or are a member with whom I might surf regularly,” said Damon. “And just like any surf session, I have good and bad days. I also love to test different boards in our [hire] fleet to see what works well.”
But the jewels in his wave pool crown have been both pre-opening testing phases, and regularly sharing waves with the crew from Surfing Victoria – a state government-funded surf organization. “That’s when there are only a few of us in the water, strictly for scientific purposes” he laughs.
Damon admits that during summer, access to the pool can be tough. He believes instituting staff surfs after hours is the best way to accommodate both his and the team’s stoke.
“My first love for surf is still the ocean”, said Damon. “When I’m home in Sydney I’m very lucky to live on the Northern Beaches so I’ve plenty of breaks to access. I’m often out with my son who loves his surfing as well.”
As with any highly motivated person, gearing down and trying to find a work-life balance can be challenging.
“De-stress time is something I haven’t quite conquered yet,” said Damon. “But I try to give as much as I can to my family, going to the kids’ sport, and I bring my son with me to the park sometimes. He washes wetsuits, cleans, and works, so he pays for his sessions!”
But Damon readily admits that in the past four years he’s burned through a few family credits, “for the surf park game.”
Nick Hounsfield, The Wave Bristol
Even prior to the build of The Wave, in Bristol, England, founder, and Chief Visionary Officer Nick Hounsfield, planned on the locations and facilities to be an oasis of health and happiness. But is it possible to switch from work mode to relaxed fulfillment in the same environment?
“I do try and switch off by not going to The Wave at the weekends, however, my family love it,” said Nick. “There are more families [on the weekends], and also more diversity, which I love to see.”
As for having the pool to himself? “Maybe . .” Nick said. Though there have been two ‘official’ times it’s happened. The first, when the initial wave was pumped out, and he was filmed live surfing it. The second was surfing while holding the Commonwealth Queens Baton (prior to the launch of the most recent Commonwealth Games) where Nick had “400 people watching and one wave to make the shot.” And he readily admits he was “petrified.”
Nick explains how his less-public sessions usually work.
“I book in like any regular customer and if I’m not on the list, I miss out! I’m trying to get better about having a Friday afternoon surf to finish the week off, and if I can fit a few in between, that’s a bonus.”
As to the pleasant conundrum of surfing at The Wave or the ocean? Nick reckons he enjoys both the camaraderie, predictable waves, and positive vibe of the pool, as well as the peaceful surroundings and solitude of the ocean.
“I always paddle off to a peak of my own if I can,” he said. “I also like the sea life, depending where you surf. I must get more fish in our pool! But the day I stop enjoying The Wave will be a sad day. I’m hell-bent on never letting that be the case.”
Toshihiko Adachi, Shizunami Surf Stadium Japan
For Toshihiko Adachi, CEO of Surf Stadium Japan, it’s the joy of others in the pool and seeing big smiles on the faces of guests which brings him happiness. While he readily admits to being a beginner surfer, he has – alas – never had Surf Stadium to himself.
With the vast number of surfers in Japan, particularly at the more popular, and easily accessible breaks, a wave pool can offer a welcome respite from the crowds.
“While there may be unspoken rules among friends who would normally give away waves in the ocean, everyone who participates in a session at the pool is given equal waves,” said Toshihiko. “Each surfs the waves to his or her own satisfaction. The smiles are contagious and spread happiness, and that makes me feel good too.”
Despite not surfing every day, Toshihiko still finds Surf Stadium an exciting place to be, and cycling is his stress release. Though turning your back on a wave pool can’t be the easiest thing to do, a two-wheeled escape, “cycling along the ocean and watching the surf,” provides some post-work sanity for Toshihiko.
While the temptation of taking over the wave controls at any surf tub no doubt looms large – perhaps while simultaneously hitting the fire alarm button to clear the park (nothing proven) – the work/life balance is never simple.
For a place that combines work and potentially play, you could do a lot worse than spending long hours at a wave pool.