Sorcery: Florida wave pool curse fact or fiction?

Sometimes America’s can-do spirit and moxie just don’t work out. Trending FloridaMan feats like tossing alligators through drive-thru windows or trying to shoot down hurricanes captivate us because FloridaMan tries and fails brilliantly. “A” for effort means a lot in The States even if it is a stupid idea in the first place.

When the World Surf League sunk $6million into the purchase of what turned out to be swampland for the next Kelly Slater pool we chalked it off to bad luck. But then after some digging we soon learned many other tales of wave pool failure in the Sunshine State. There’s the one about Disney’s 1972 machine that destroyed expensive beachfront, the building height war with Harry Potter that tanked the Sky Surfpark and the infamous 2008 Ron Jons wave pool that ate itself.

So, suppose it didn’t matter how much effort FloridaMan (and the rest of us) put into our respective escapades, the result would always be the same? Failure. Florida is part of the Bermuda Triangle after all. But today, without WWll fighter squadrons to feast on, maybe that mysterious vortex now makes people smoke bath salts and eat other people’s faces. Harsh? Yes. But how else would you explain so much strange in such a small geographical area?

These wave pools aimed high, and we salute them for that. They tried in true red, white and blue fashion but some mysterious power out there foiled their fruition. Yes. The Florida Curse.

kelly slater surf ranch florida

Swamp Not a Great Place for Kelly Slater Wave Co

The company announced plans for the Florida sister wave to the Surf Ranch in 2017. The West Palm Beach project would have facilitated a massive 16-acre surf lagoon surrounded by several buildings including a learning center, surf club and training hub.

The application stated the project would have created more than 300 jobs and pumped $33 million into the economy. However, citing the high water table and a series of “unforeseen challenges” the WSL decided to tank the project.

“The nature of this site, including the extremely high water table, exposed unforeseen challenges that made the decision around this unique project clear,” the company said in a statement. “The WSL is disappointed to confirm our decision to cancel the development of the wave basin planned for West Palm Beach, Florida.”

What those unforeseen challenges are can be any one of several things. As wave pool makers will tell you that building a wave pool is fraught with pitfalls (although they might not say this in front of investors). Of those, permitting seems to be the biggest.

A Florida news station reported that homeowners in the area of Kelly’s proposed wave pool, as well as the Sierra Club, raised concerns about water pollution, traffic and crowds when the plans were announced two years ago.

Polynesian disneyland wave machine

Old School Disneyland Pool Destroys Shoreline

In the early 1970s, Disney pumped huge resources into transforming the state of Florida into a theme park Mecca. In the process, Mickey and company created the Seven Seas Lagoon complete with a wave machine in the hopes of astounding visitors with live surfing demonstrations. The “surf generator” was anchored to one of the islands and sent surf across the lake to break along the far shore bathymetry.

Consisting of eight hydraulic paddles, the machine worked great pumping out surf across the customized lagoon and onto a beach. But Disney didn’t plan for the wave action eroding the expensive man-made beaches and clouding the clear water with brown muck. They did more testing, tried a few solutions but finally had to pull the plug on the wave pool. The lake remains surf-less to this day.

But that can-do spirit and drive to create something to compete with Florida’s famous beaches did lead to the creation of Typhoon Lagoon the surf spot that set the standard for wave pools in its day.

Ron Jon wave pool models

Ron Jon Surf Park Excites, Disappoints then Implodes

Ron Jon Surf Shop would invest millions into a wave pool that basically self-destructed. The Ron Jon Surf Park was all set to become the world’s first surf-specific wave pool at the close of 2008. The project included customizable bathymetry, so wave shape could change with the contour of the pool bottom at the push of a button. But it didn’t go as planned.

“Engineers failed to account for the tremendous pressure exerted downward when waves break,” said wave pool developers Honokea. “Their prototype destroyed itself during testing. After the $9 million technology budget was exhausted, the project was halted indefinitely.”

Jimmy Wilson was much less diplomatic about the Ron Jons wave pool in an article he wrote for Stab saying that while the project had a solid financial foundation and unprecedented hype, the wave was ultimately disappointing.

Ron Jons wave pool prototype Photo by Stab/Jimmy Wilson

“The moment we pulled up to the contraption disappointment set in,” wrote Wilson. “I just knew it wasn’t going to work, but I decided to retain a little hope until I watched the first waves pump out. Here’s the play-by-play of what I witnessed… Fifty-kilo super-grom Evan Geiselman struggles to work the knee-high dribbler into the inside section and almost manages to get radical with a pathetic whitewater climb at the end, before dry-docking himself on a shitty metal grill.”

The Orlando Sentinel was kinder about the project than Stab.

“Festival Bay Mall has given up on the original deal for the Ron Jon Surf park, a partially built International Drive attraction slowed by repeated delays in the four years since it was announced,” the Sentinel reported. “Also, Cocoa-based Ron Jon Surf Shop has pulled its name from the project, and the attraction’s developers say they need more cash before they can continue.”

Sky Surf Park Orlando
The artist renderings of the Sky SurfPark which hoped to have two American Wave Machines devices.

Harry Potter Uses Dirty Magic to Chop Sky SurfPark

Imagine surfing a wave-like Waco’s atop a 10-story building. Sky Surf Park was an add-on to the monstrous Skyplex development in Orlando before Universal Studios speared approval. The project began in 2012 and secured funding for a 10-story high entertainment/retail complex complete with a 350-room hotel and the world’s tallest roller coaster. There were two American Wave Machines surf devices planned, a SurfStream standing wave device and a PerfectSwell design.

Skyplex seemed a good fit given Orlando’s theme-park draw to tourists both domestic and international. But one report claimed the top suits at Universal took issue with the development’s height. Once completed, the wave pool at Skyyplex would (allegedly) ruin the view from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter just down the road. Universal battled the project in typical deep-pockets methodology by funding a concerned citizens group called Save Our Orange County.

“This project will result in noise and light pollution, as well as more traffic at the heavily congested intersection of Sand Lake Road and International Drive,” the group stated. “Standing at 700 feet, nearly 50% taller than any structure in the county, this enormous proposed ‘Skyplex’ tower will be seen for 30 miles.”

Skyplex responded to the group by calling Universal a bully and taking the unusual step of requesting that all parties “play nice.”

But Harry Potter’s tactic worked. Three years ago construction was put on hold pending the proper permits. Then, in January of 2019, it was decided the whole project would be shrunk down to reduce costs and land footprint. There have been no further updates from developers and there is no website for the project. Their last Facebook (5K followers) post was December 2017 with their Twitter (2.1K followers) feed dying two years earlier.

Will we see a wave at Skyplex in Orlando? We hope the Florida Curse lifts soon and we call all enjoy some new surf spots beyond Typhoon Lagoon. In the meantime, Wavegarden has two Florida projects on their Wavegardens-Around-the-World-map. With the proper permits, enough elevation and some alligator fencing, the company could be the first to break the Florida curse.