Code Red: Surf Lakes in Yeppoon is about to be torn down

The iconic Yeppoon facility will be razed and a new commercial model will be built in its place. CEO Aaron Travis reveals to Neil Armstrong more about the new build, grand-opening plans and which animals are a problem on the site.

Slick clips featuring filthy pits, family-friendly peelers, silhouetted kangaroos, and steampunk-esc machinery – frankly, it’s a marketing department’s dream.

While the worldwide inter-web has been peppered with visions from Surf Lakes in Oz’s tropical Queensland for a while now, there has yet to be one of their pools in commercial operation. Anywhere.

What was originally built in the country town of Yeppoon, as a test pool, is about to be torn down and replaced with a new-and-improved version, open to the public. The current pool and machinery were designed as a proof-of-concept – which, truth be told, it’s amply done – not to be run as a commercial venture. But CEO Aaron Travis has sights set on late 2024 for a public opening, with construction to start this year.

“The current system was designed “for 150,000 cycles,” says Aaron, “and it wasn’t even painted because it was deemed not worth it because of its short shelf life. The commercial one will be far stronger, far more robust. It’s also going to be shorter. So even though it still looks like a big tub of the same scale, almost everything else has been redesigned. So same concept. But it’s a totally new model, designed to have 50 million cycles at full stroke.”

surf lakes wave making hub
The original wave making hub was designed for 150,000 cycles. The new one will be made for 50 million cycles.

And what about elsewhere? Says Aaron, “So there’s [going to be] a number across Australia. There’s a group that wants one in Adelaide and they want three in southeast Queensland.” 

As for the rest of the world? Projects are set for somewhere east of L.A, Florida, plus South Carolina. “And then there’s a bunch of others just lining up, going through the discussion and negotiation process now. So we’ve got . . 21 signed on,” states Aaron.

While only the Yeppoon project has planning approval, he confirms that several sites already have zoning approval and that they just need engineering designs to be rubber-stamped. The project in California, which is a joint venture with Surf Lakes and private investors, is expected to start construction this year.

But trying to sell a technology that’s yet to be proven commercially viable, is a tricky road to take.

“The hold up for us has been getting the first one commercialized, which then de-risks it for everybody else because everybody wants to be a fast follower. They don’t want to go first,” says Aaron. “So if there’s been any delay, it’s just getting the first one under construction and then proven and open to the public. And that will accelerate everything.”

Surf Lakes wave pool
Glass and steam – familiar sites at the Surf Lakes facility in Yepoon

I asked Aaron about why Surf Lakes, an Australian-based company, is finding its market in the U.S. growing faster than Down Under, and what have been the greatest difficulties?

“The U.S. is probably more accepting of risk than Australia, they [Americans] are very keen”, reckons Aaron. “For many of them [investors and operators], it’s just having land that’s approved and then their investment network being ready to move.”
Aaron mentions a situation where one project in America was set to go when the investors ended up getting courted by two major developers and turned the project into a 300-plus million dollar mega-development. The bigger the project, the longer it takes – which Aaron said is a good problem to have.

Surf Lakes will go from having a delay to, potentially, having too many projects. “To the point that our production and delivery manager now is putting his hands up a little bit because there are so many projects coming at us that he wants to make sure we take a measured approach to it”, Aaron notes.

Aaron added that there is also a lot of interest from Europe and Asia.

“We had a couple of guys over actually just a week ago. They flew out with one week’s notice to come and surf the pool in Yeppoon. So they’re working through the contracts now and so that one’s looking good to be the first in Europe. And for Asia, we’re not sure whether it’ll be China or Singapore as the first one, but there are also guys talking about Indonesia as well.”

Aaron mentions the sheer physical size of the projects in being a big consideration for investors. Because Surf Lakes provides up to 800 meters of beachfront around the wave pool it means more area for development. He said this factor contributes to many projects upsizing, a process that makes all the involved layers move more slowly.

But back to OZ. The facility in Yeppoon has the potential to turn into a true destination pool. This part of Queensland is warm year-round, and, if the associated accommodations and facilities are of a high standard, it could well become a Mecca for those seeking a warmer climate, and waves, in winter. And seeing as the majority of Australia’s population live in cities that have cool to cold winters, Yeppoon could see a boom. It also helps that the town is easily accessible via one, or at most, two flights from almost anywhere in the country.

And as for the iconic shots of Kangaroos watching the Surf Lake lineup? “Yeah, they’re not a problem”, reckons Aaron, “there’s no shortage of ‘roos up here. But we do have to fence the cows out.”

surf lakes wave hub at dusk
The day sets on the wave-making hub that captured the world’s attention.