Employee of the Month: Rob Kelly, Operations Coordinator for PerfectSwell

What are the differences between the waves at American Dream and BSR Surf Resort? PerfectSwell Employee of the month Rob Kelly shares details about each spot…

Rob Kelly is a well-rounded social media powerhouse stacking clips in gnarly, cold surf the world over while still keeping his hair wet with novelty sessions in the Great Lakes and the occasional adventure with fellow New Jersey pal Ben Gravy. Rob’s sponsors include the usual surf brands, but he is also Operations Coordinator for American Wave Machines and their PerfectSwell tech.

At best, the title Operations Coordinator sounded a bit grandiose to us, especially for a low-key bro from New Jersey.

So we sat down with Rob to get the lowdown on how the two AWM surf pools (with a 3rd on the way in Japan) both differ and resemble each other. Plus we get some pointers on planning your next trip to either surf spot at American Dream or Waco.

First off, give us some background about your relationship with PerfectSwell.

I’ve been working with American Wave Machines, the creators of Perfect Swell surf technology, off and on for the past eight years. Back in 2013, I was invited along with some other East Coast pros to test ride one of their Surf Stream venues in New Hampshire. On that trip I learned about American Wave Machine’s plans to build full-scale surf pools and immediately I fell in love with the vision they had. I kept in contact and helped with different marketing activations they had over the years. Then in 2018 after the wave pool at BSR was complete and ready to be showcased to the world, I took on a bigger role with AWM and have continued to work with the team since. Lately, I’ve spent some time traveling and assisting with many of the exciting new projects they are working on now. It’s been really cool to see the impact that American Wave Machines has made in the sport of surfing since first talking to them back in 2013. I know a lot of work has gone into developing the technology and effort made to ensure their wave has an authentic ocean-like feel. Seeing surfers from all over the world traveling to Waco, Texas to surf the waves AWM created validates everything the team worked hard to create. I feel fortunate to be in a position to work for with them as Operations Coordinator. 

What’s the official name of the wave pool at American Dream? 

The wave pool inside the American Dream mall is just a smaller footprint PerfectSwell pool with a more traditional walled design instead of the patented InfiniteOcean pool design found at other locations. During normal business hours, the wave pool is operated by Dream Works Waterpark as an attraction for patrons to use as a traditional water park wave pool (no surfing). Then before the waterpark opens and after it closes, the wave pool is operated by Skudin Surf where the public can book private hour-long sessions to surf the pool, take surf lessons, and host private events. 

How easy is access there? Like, say I want to grab a session after work. What do I do?

It’s super easy to book a session to surf the pool at American Dream. All you have to do is go online toSkudinSurfAmericanDream.com and book an hour session. Right now, due to covid restrictions, only private sessions are available so you’d probably want to organize a group of friends if you wanted to grab a session after work. Private sessions give you control of what waves on their menu you want to surf, a private cabana with snacks and drinks that overlook the pool, as well as access to a full range of boards to ride. You could literally show up to the mall with just a pair of trunks and have a pretty epic experience. 

You’ve lit up the internet with clips at both BSR and American Dream. Can you share some inside information about how each wave differs from the other?

A lot of people ask that question and the best way I can describe the difference is this; if BSR is a perfect chest to head high day at your favorite beachbreak then the wave at American Dream is a fun waist to stomach high day at the same spot. The waves are actually pretty similar but just scaled down in the same way the pool was scaled down to fit inside the smaller footprint of the mall. Keeping that in mind, just adjust your equipment the same way you would for a smaller day at the same surf spot in the ocean and you’ll have a blast. 

What is the wave at American Dream best for and why?

Being indoors and in a heated pool is a nice feature of the wave at American Dream. Especially the fact its located in the Northeast. I’ve driven through a snowstorm up to the mall then threw on trunks and surfed the pool for 3 hours. In addition to that, I think some more intermediate surfers might even argue that the smaller waves at that pool are more fun to surf for them. The air section is a great training tool for surfers of all levels as well. We’ve had pros and first-time surfers in the pool and the response has been great by all levels so far. Lastly, the crystal clear water gives it a tropical feel and I’m excited to see the newest pool in Japan that will have a proper-sized barrel with that same clear water breaking pretty soon. 

What is the wave at BSR Surf Resort best for and why?

The wave at BSR can do all the wave at American Dream can do, in addition to everything else the bigger pool allows for. The cool thing about PerfectSwell technology is the waves can be adjusted almost infinitely. Engineers have total control of wave size, shape, power, and length. For public sessions at BSR the wave was engineered specifically for the majority of the clients that will be riding the wave. Consistent 3 wave sets, with the size, shape, and power that caters to surfers of most abilities. That has become the staple wave and the inspiration for the PerfectSwell logo. But the wave possibilities are endless really. Right now there are some amazing waves at the pool designed for barrels, air sections, beginners learning to surf, and some novelty waves like the ‘’freak peak”. As more pools open up and the engineers spend more time testing and creating waves there will just be more and more quality waves on tap. That’s exciting to know that the wave will always be improving without having to change anything structure-wise or mechanically in the pool. A great example of how the engineers can work with surfers to design new waves on the spot is the video Stab produced with Mason Ho and Blair Conklin called “A Wedge Affair”. 

How different are the vibes at each surf spot?

The vibes are definitely pretty different at each surf spot. For one, the locations couldn’t be any different. Waco, Tx vs. American Dream 15 mins outside of NYC. What I think is pretty rad about both spots is that when you’re driving to each venue you would never expect to find waves to surf anywhere near either of them. In Waco, you’re driving through farmland and then all of a sudden you see guys getting fully barreled. Then at American Dream you’re walking through a mall past Auntie Anne’s, PacSun, and Gucci and walk up to see surfers splitting peaks. I think that element adds to the whole experience. The fact that its possible to produce high-quality waves literally anywhere still trips me out sometimes. 

Finally, can you share some tips to help surfers get the most out of their session at either venue.

For first-time surfers at either venue I would recommend doing a little research online and watch some videos. Similar to how you would prepare when going on a surf trip to determine what equipment to pack on your trip. There are so many good videos on YouTube from both venues that you can get a good idea of what to expect and what boards to bring with you to maximize your session. Another thing I would recommend doing is showing up before your scheduled surf time, watch some waves and communicate with the wave operators at your venue. At American Dream as soon as you show up to your session the Skudin Surf crew hands you a menu that outlines all the waves you can choose to surf. Read over those and pick a few that look the most fun to you and come up with a game plan of what waves you want to surf in your hour session. That way the operators can cater the session to your group and you won’t waste any time in the water deciding which waves to switch back and forth from. Last thing I would suggest is not to overthink it. A lot of people ask about the freshwater vs saltwater and the different feeling of the artificial wave. From my experience, once you’re on the wave it feels very similar to a wave in the ocean that size and shape. I think most people are pleasantly surprised at how similar it feels to surfing in the ocean so just go into a session the same wave you’ve done your whole life. Don’t overthink it, just catch waves with your buddies and have fun!

All images by PerfectSwell. Illustration by Tiger Hayes.