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Employee of the Month: James Miles of Urbnsurf

James Miles is excitable. It might even be his superpower. He’s one of those individuals who bring enthusiasm wherever they go. And it’s not the cheerleading type of froth so pervasive across Tik Tok and Youtube makeup tutorials. James isn’t phoning it in. I don’t think he ever does. Which could explain why he’s had such an illustrious career in sales, first through news media and later on in the product end of things.

But it’s his spark for surfing that landed him at Urbnsurf where he is now the Head of Sales & Partnerships.

James is hyper-tuned to surfing, hosting the Lipped podcast and following WSL events with an obsession that qualifies for the OCD spectrum. James draws on this each and every day to do his job, from integrating brands with the Urbnsurf experience, running events, customizing wave settings as well as a multitude of tasks that happen in a new work sphere such as wave pools. He’s the perfect fit for the job as Urbnsurf aims at Sydney and ramps up projects across Australia. We’ve chosen James Miles of Urbnsurf as the wave pool world’s Employee of the Month.

And yes, the barrel setting is one of the perks to the job. Photo by Surfchimp.

What’s a typical day like at Urbnsurf?

I don’t think there’s a typical day at Urbnsurf. I’m lucky enough to lead a team of talented individuals whose focus is finding new and unique revenue and community-building opportunities outside of, or supporting, our traditional consumer channel. A ‘typical’ day can be everything from talking with schools or corporates to talking to promoters wanting to bring events to the venue. There’s also working with our partners, whether they’re supply partners, charity partners or distribution partners and everything in between.

What about fitting the surf for the consumer?

When we initially started Urbnsurf we had an idea of who our customers may be and what types of waves they may want to surf. As we’ve captured more data about our customers, we’ve been able to work with Wavegarden to develop new settings and session types that are shaped around what the customer is actually looking for. We developed a process to shape waves for identified beacon customers and Wavegarden has been really supportive of this. It’s been a fun project of late nights working with the team in Spain remotely. I must admit I had plenty of “pinch me” moments late at night working with friends at Surfing Victoria in the water shaping new waves.

Has COVID changed the way Urbnsurf does business?

Yes and no. Coming from a rapidly scaling start-up in my previous role I use the analogy where you jump off a cliff and you try and build a parachute as you’re falling down from a 12-story building. Building the first surf park in Australia, one of the first large-scale public surf parks in the world is very much like that. We had a range of assumptions, we opened the doors and then hoped we were right about a bunch of things. Of course, no one wanted the lockdowns to happen for a variety of reasons, but from a start-up perspective, it gave us 12 to 13 weeks of data about who was actually coming into our park. It allowed us to look at how people interacted with the waves that we had at that stage, the sessions that we had at that stage. ‘What time of the day people were visiting?’ ‘How were they interacting with the park?’ And in that time that we were closed, we were able to really look at that data and come up with better ways of scheduling waves and experiences for guests.

James Miles of Urbnsurf
Another perk is nightsurfs. Photo by Hayden O’Neill/Globebrand

What about your most famous wave setting, Beast Mode?

Our barrel settings are a really important part of Urbnsurf. It’s a huge part of our authenticity. It’s a very unique wave that takes some getting used to but the consistency and accessibility is unbelievable. Every day I see people come out of barrels that they would rarely if ever, get access to in the ocean. The look on their face is a great reminder of why we do what we do.

The Advanced waves come with some scheduling challenges, as you are limited to what you can safely do in The Bays when they are running, but again having real data about when our customers are surfing has allowed us to shape our schedule to suit the varying customer segments.

Personally, I love the settings. Coming from a region of predominantly right-hand points from the first day in the lagoon (literally the first day we surfed) I really wanted to try and improve my backhand tube riding. I’m hoping the lessons learned in the pool will translate once we can start to travel up to Indonesia and Fiji again.

This year you’re looking at hosting guests on an International level…

Fingers crossed, 2022 is the first time we can tap into the international market. We expect plenty of American or European surfers to want to come and try Urbnsurf. We’re just a few minutes from an international airport, it’s the ideal kick-off point to an amazing, surf-rich country like Australia. Beyond the traditional surf market, one of the biggest growth markets in the tourism sector is independent travelers from China. This is a visitor who wants to put two things onto their social media, and that’s a picture of them surfing and a picture of them holding a koala. We deliver the surf image in a safe, convenient, controlled environment where they don’t have to get out of a chest-deep water. That’s really compelling for inbound tour operators, incentive organizations and wholesalers. We are also excited to see the backpacker market return. Urbnsurf Melbourne and Sydney would be a great kick-off point for the traditional East Coast backpacker surf and work holiday.

You’ve also got Sydney coming up and… where else?

Sydney is the project that we’re really focused on currently, but obviously, we’re looking at other opportunities as well. Sydney is very exciting though. It has so many unique advantages, it’s where Duke Kahanamoku introduced surfing to Australia, and it’s where Midget won the World Title at Manly. There is so much existing surf culture and there’s such a strong cultural cache for surfing in Sydney.

But as anyone that’s lived in Sydney will tell you there are long periods of time when there is just not very good surf, and it’s not an easy city to access the coast from unless you can afford to live in those beachfront suburbs. If you’re trying to come from the west of Sydney, it’s not easy to get down to the beach. It’s expensive for parking and once you get in the water it’s one of the most competitive line-ups in the world. We’ve got an incredible opportunity to provide accessible, inclusive and consistent waves in a market where demand is enormous.

The other thing that Sydney has is an incredibly diverse culture, and that’s one thing that really excites me is how we can make surfing accessible for people that would never have really had the opportunity or even the inclination to head to the beach in Australia for a range of different reasons. Surfing is part of the heartbeat of Sydney and now we can make that accessible to more people.

How is Urbnsurf catering to the urban surfer?

If you’re a metro Melbourne surfer and you’re trying to line upwind, tide, weather, your mate’s timetable, your kids, family, all those things, that’s a really hard thing to do. We’ve been able to solve that problem for so many metropolitan Melbourne surfers. And it’s amazing to see the community that we’re developing here around that. Whether that’s our members, our regulars or our new Urbnsurf Boardriders Club.

We are also creating experiences that attract new tribes to surfing and the surfing lifestyle. From the award-winning For The Love music festivals, to our Outdoor Cinema Series, and over the last few weeks our own Acoustic Music Series, we’ve been blending experiences and tribes to attract a more diverse customer base. Sydney and Melbourne are very unique in that they have a strong population density, and a large population of existing surfers and we’ve been able to solve the accessibility issues in these markets while also growing awareness and interest in the surf. I’m excited to see how that plays out in different markets around Australia and the world.

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