Employee of the Month: Shaun Hutchinson at Urbnsurf

Shaun Hutchinson is Group Operations Manager at Urbnsurf. We met when WavePoolMag toured the Melbourne site this year. He’s super busy, as you’d expect, but we love South African accents so we kept calling him on WhatsApp just to hear his voice. Most of the time Shaun was tucked back in the office redlining in the tasks department. Despite this, each of our demands from “Hey mate how do you adjust the heat in these cabana units?” to “Oh-my-god-look-a-seagull! why do you have seagulls here?” made Shaun suddenly appear within two minutes. He’s like a genie or something that shows up when you need him. Perhaps it’s his background in leisure and hospitality. Perhaps he’s just clairvoyant. Whatever it is, we were stoked to name Shaun Hutchinson as WavePoolMag Employee of the Month.

Give us some background. How did you get involved with Urbnsurf?
Well, I’ve spent most of my career in the Middle East, in Dubai, and started off working in several leisure facilities. My career has consisted of managing water parks, theme parks, snow parks, indoor skydiving and everything in between. Then after 14-years, I immigrated to Australia with my partner. Five years ago I was working at Wet n’ Wild Sydney and I saw Urbnsurf on the news and it just absolutely blew my mind. I have been working in the leisure industry for my entire career and know that a new roller coaster or water slide costs companies millions to install. Guests will ride a new rollercoaster or new waterslide maybe two or three times and then they’re like, ‘Well, where’s the new one?’ For that reason, I’m absolutely sold on Urbnsurf and surf parks in general. The experience is in the surfers’ hands and no matter how many times they surf, the improvement is in their hands. Personally, I have also always loved the ocean and the water, so I reached out to the Urbnsurf team and had a chat. We sat down for coffee and it was just me being in the right place at the right time. I couldn’t be luckier and more grateful to join the Urbnsurf family. 

Run us through what you do here.
I am the General Manager of Urbnsurf Melbourne and will be moving across to Urbnsurf Sydney to open that facility.

urbnsurf paddling out
Shaun says the early days decisions, like creating their mascot Roary, were more intuitive and done on a gut-level. But now that Urbnsurf’s been open a while, the decision-making process is more data driven.

What is the day-to-day task list for you?
The Urbnsurf organisational chart is mostly flat with five layers between the CEO and staff. I collaborate with the six main functions of the park which all have their own manager which includes: Sales & Marketing, Customer Experience, Operations, Facilities, People and Finance. I work closely with each of the Department Managers who are experts in their areas. Each department manager works on both a variety of projects and tasks throughout the year. Each department contributes to the overall vision of the park. It is a very interesting and diverse job, working with small teams that focus on commercials, to staff improvements, to preventative maintenance works.

Urbnsurf has been fortunate to attract highly skilled managers that have joined the Urbnsurf family. Our managers have experience from so many varied industries which include hospitality, professional sporting clubs, liquor industry, large commercial developments, merchandise start-ups, and other leisure facilities. With the varied industries, each manager has a unique perspective on how to complete a project, and it is my role to harness their talents. To provide some insights into our team, Urbnsurf grand opened with seven products and now we have more than 40 products from insights learned each season. This includes new products such as a surf session to a birthday party to a full corporate experience, to a VIP experience, to a massive winter jam event. All these things have just slowly been cultivated and grown to target more specific markets where we are more refined as a business. As Urbnsurf pick out the gaps, we slowly expand our reach, and it has been really interesting to be part of the growth.

for the love music festival at urbnsurf
One thing that Shaun is proud of is Urbnsurf’s diverse offerings, in this case the For The Love music festival.

So what’s the best part about this job – When you show up for work, what’s exciting?
I think the fact that I’ve worked in massive corporations where you don’t really get to have a say in things. In those places there’s 10 layers above you, 10 layers below you, and you just you can’t really move much. And so the best thing here is that we are such a small team. There are five layers between the front line and the CEO. Everybody works together, everybody’s input is valuable and you are only limited by your own creativity. So you think it out, you put a model together, debate it, build it and test it. If it works – great, if not, its back to the drawing board. It’s not often that you can think of something and literally three months later you see your idea alive and in front of you. That has been such a huge motivator that you know who you’re working for and you just get that immediate “yes” or “no.” It’s just that instant feedback and common belief that makes the entire team charge together and build a legacy in a new industry.
What kind of a decision maker are you? Do you you crunch data and make a decision or do you go about it intuitively?
I think that’s an interesting question. So in the beginning we went with our guts and relied on our experiences from other industries and similar situations. We would spend weeks deliberating over what now is a simple decision. An example of this the Rory Wavemaker image on the wave generator. That was weeks of discussion before the decision was made. There was significant learning in the early days. But now, with the team we have, we have all this data, so while an idea may be derived from a spark of brilliance, we have a wealth of data to determine if the idea has sustenance. It been such an interesting transition – especially with all the data we have collected since grand opening. In short, it is a mixture that drives our decisions.

On site, Shaun has a tendency to just suddenly appear. He’s everywhere at once. And yes, the water bottle and walkie-talkie are fused to his mitts.

Tell us something odd about your Urbnsurf experiences.
Visits from people that are building a surf park or thinking of building a surf park that come by and snoop around. Yes, we see you. We obviously see you. We see you taking photos. We see you asking frontline staff an excessive amount of questions. We see everything. You’re getting 5% of what surf parks and Urbnsurf really are. Come and talk to us. Urbnsurf went through five years of pain, but we are willing to talk to you. There’s so much more to know than what you think you’re getting just by looking around. This is new industry and we have so much to learn from each other. Every significant decision that a surf park makes will not only affect their surf park, but there is a strong likelihood that it could affect the entire industry. Major decisions made by other surf parks affected Urbnsurf’s opening. So do yourselves a favor and talk to us and leave the cheeky photos. It’s not worth it. You’re getting 5% of what’s really going on.
Share with us something that people don’t know about Urbnsurf. 
Our members created an Urbansurfer’s Facebook page. It’s a private Facebook page, and it is something I’ve never seen at in any other leisure company that I’ve worked for and it’s the best source of truth. It works perfectly for both sides. Surfers can speak their mind openly, and because it’s a private group, we don’t have to damage control, but rather learn from the comments that are made and improve our systems and processes. Urbnsurf management very rarely, if ever comment on the site as we prefer the honest discussions. The broader community know that the Urbnsurf managers monitor the group, and we appreciate the honesty, no matter how blunt it may be.

Editor’s note: Urbnsurf lists their brand in all caps. To adhere with WavePoolMag style guidelines we’ve lowercased the name.