Employee of the Month: Giovanni Piro of Alaia Bay
Giovanni Piro is a tall affable man with an air of seriousness that is totally out of place at a wave pool. It isn’t until I watch him work, traversing the grounds at Alaia Bay and ping-ponging between employees delivering instructions that I realize it’s the job that requires seriousness. I mean, on one hand, it’s just surfing. Fun, wet, frivolous wave sliding with no opponents and generally a good time guaranteed to all participants. But on the other hand, it’s a task with a lot of moving pieces. Gio’s gig is to make sure all those behind-the-scenes components that keep the waves firing, are taken care of and invisible to customers so that they can enjoy a seamless surfing experience. This task he takes very seriously.
In this installment of WavePoolMag Employee of the Month, we talk to Gio Piro, Alaia Bay’s Surf Operations Coordinator, to find out what it takes to run one of the most successful surf parks on the planet.
How did you transition from The Wave in Bristol to Alaia Bay?
That’s a good question. So I think it came about quite naturally because we closed the facility in Bristol due to COVID. We had to close in February 2020. I went back to Sardinia and stayed there for about four months. And at the time, I saw the offer as a surf operations supervisor here at Alaia Bay. And so I sent my CV because I really wanted to get involved in operations. I didn’t want to just be a customer service supervisor. I wanted to be in the water. I wanted to, you know, feel the power of these waves and be actively involved in the daily surf operations. So I applied. I got refused on my first attempt because I didn’t speak any French. Absolutely zero French. And being in a French-speaking part of Switzerland I was refused. But then I went back to Bristol and I told the guys that I wasn’t happy with my job. I wanted to do something different. They couldn’t give me the opportunity to progress in the surf ops department. And one day I remember I received a call from Switzerland and it was Mark Fessler, my manager, asking if I wanted to do an interview because at that time I would have been the only person in the company who already had some experience in a wave pool. Considering that in the world there are just a handful of people with this kind of knowledge about the technology, my experience was really valuable. So they changed their mind on the condition that I would commit myself to learn French. I signed a contract in three months and after five months I was fluent in French.
Can you run us through your duties here at Alaia Bay?
It’s really changed since the beginning when the pool was not operational. At first, I was in the office preparing for the big opening and setting up safety rules, safety briefings and all the general protocols to operate a wave pool. Then once I switch to onsite with waves, my main duty was surf operation so any kind of operational duty including the surf schools. It’s kind of our responsibility as coordinators to make sure it all works.
What does an average day look like?
So I come to work, and I check the planning that was done by my supervisor. Then I make sure everything at the wave pool is ready for the day. That the containers are open and the boards are waxed and ready to go. And most importantly that the machine is good to go. I test the first wave – either myself or one of my colleagues, and then we start running the first commercial session for the public. Throughout the day I might replace people if there’s a staff shortage or higher demand by clientele. I might jump into the water as a host. I might be a lifeguard. I might help out the surf school. But usually, I’ve got my little office and I’m there ready and available for any kind of request that comes through.
What is your favorite wave setting at the wave pool?
So one of my favorite settings that we have recently tried and tested and released to the public is the M5. We’ve got five different settings for Malibu but actually, you can have many, many, different waves. Wavegarden developed this M5 intermediate wave, which is super easy to take off on. So the drop is super mellow and easy and then the wave, it keeps you up and it moves throughout the entire length of the wave. So it’s not a wave that loses power, then regains power and suddenly throws you an unexpected section or whatever. It’s just a very consistent, predictable wave. Great for twin fins. Great for longboards. That’s why I always do half of my sessions with a longboard, and then I switch to either twin fin or my cruising board. And that’s one of my favorite settings. I also really like Turns 2 and Turns 3 with those being the biggest wave we can generate at the moment here.
What is the best part about your job?
The best part about my job is that I get to surf almost every day, which is great. But also every day is different, which keeps me active and really motivated. It is the reason why I wanted to get into this business in the first place. I remember 2015 and the launch of Kelly’s wave, and I remember buying Surfer magazine with this beautiful wave from Kelly’s on the cover. The title was “Man-Made.” I remember thinking, “Dude, I need to end up doing work with something like this.” I felt I needed to end up working for an artificial wave and discover this fascinating new world. And, honestly, I worked my ass off and I made it. So that’s the best part of my job. I can surf almost whenever I want to. I’m in contact daily with plenty of like-minded people. They love surfing. They have the same attitude, same vibe. And that makes it feel like this is not a job. It’s just, you know, a pleasure to go every time to the office.
How is it being in Switzerland? I’m sure it’s very different from Sardinia or Bristol.
Seasons in Switzerland are very different. Yeah, winter, like during the Alaia Winter Cup, it’s completely white, 30 centimeters of snow. But in Summertime, it could be 30 degrees and you could surf in boardshorts. So this radical change between summer and winter, I’m fascinated with. However, Sardinia still remains my favorite place in the world; and there are great waves too!
Share with us something most people don’t know about you.
I was a basketball player for 20 years. I used to play basketball a lot. I could jump quite high. Surfing was, you know, I was born by the sea in Sardinia, but I never thought about surfing and sliding on a wave. I was really focused on basketball. My focus was on slam dunks, grabbing rebounds and stuff. Also, I’m a mechanical engineer. My first bachelor’s degree was in mechanical engineering.
So when you talk to Josema of Wavegarden, you can relate in that engineer way?
Yeah, exactly. He’s a civil engineer if I’m not wrong. But when I talk to all the maintenance guys from Wavegarden, all the engineers, I can relate. I studied CFD, computational fluid dynamics, so I know what they’re talking about. I know about the bathymetry so we can all speak the same engineering language.