How Surftown Munich will transform the German surf space

I have been following wave pool projects in Germany since Wavegarden came out with their first-ever video, which was filmed at their testing facility in the Basque Country roughly 10 years ago. The hype was real and considering that Germany only has a small stretch of coastline and waves are rare, for me, Germany was destined to get a pool in no time. Then I accompanied a few projects as a consultant and realized: this is going to be a lot more difficult than I thought. 10 years later, after various projects came and disappeared, the first-ever wave pool project in Germany finally received the green light. Surftown MUC will be built in a town called Hallbergmoos, roughly 40 minutes from the center of Munich, right next to Munich’s international airport. I sat down with Micheal Mohr, one of the partners in the project to get the lowdown.

Michi, how many new friends have you gained since the news about Surftown MUC came out?

Haha, there has been an endless amount of feedback for all of us involved. Of course, we’re really happy about the positive messages and all the support. But yeah, there have been many old and new friends recently asking how we are.

Endless Surf wave system for Surftown in Munich

We have known each other for a while now. We met at Eisbach quite some time ago when you were working for Quiksilver, then you moved to Planet Sports, at the same time you developed a liking for big waves, then you moved to Galicia where you still live because you fell in love with a girl from Spain. How come you are part of Surftown MUC? Who had at the idea?

The idea came from our common long-time Eisbach buddy Chris, who always has been very innovative and loves to think outside the box – whether it’s personal when he built a huge aluminum ramp to improve the Eisbach wave almost 20 years ago, or with his business Planworx, one of the leading live-marketing agencies in Germany. He saw an opportunity in 2018 with the very forward-thinking municipality of Hallbergmoos and so he gave me a call. Since that day we’ve put all our heart and effort into Surftown MUC to make peeling waves 700 kilometers from the nearest beach a reality.

As for myself: Yes, growing up surfing the river and seeing you basically inventing performance surfing on static waves from the scratch has influenced me a lot. Like a lot of river surfers, I always traveled as much as I could to get the “real” thing at the ocean and just like that got into bigger waves over the years – these days I have more guns than anything else in my quiver. I have been working in the boardsports industry since I was 16, so there was always this parallel between job and my passion that connected them both. Six years ago, I moved down to Galicia for the love of my partner and some sensational lonely big wave setups here and fortunately managed to work on some interesting projects remotely from there.

Since we created Surftown MUC I have been back to Munich a bit more of course, though still a fair bit of the work can be done from anywhere these days. With my background in surfing and the industry plus the longtime friendship with Chris, it was a very good match from the first day and happy to have been able to create my “dream job” as Chief Surf Officer. Within the last few years Surftown MUC mastermind Chris gathered an amazing team of great business people, and more importantly great humans, to get Surftown MUC to where we are at now.

Michi mid varial at the Eisbach River wave. Photo by Dieter Verstl

Who are the other people on board?

It takes a lot of people to do this. The core team is Chris Boehm-Tettelbach, Conrad Albert and Jonas Boehm-Tettelbach. There are other shareholders too, Dr. Thomas Heinrich, Erik Dahl, Gerfried Schuller and Dr. Jan Ehrhardt. The cool thing is that nearly all of the team are passionate surfers, a few of them surfing even longer than I have. So apart from an unreal setup regarding the business side, everyone really understands what it’s about.

You guys didn’t communicate before you actually knew that all the permits were there and that the project was financed. Most other wave pool projects seem to go down a different route of communicating heavily even though nothing is actually home and dry yet. How hard is it to keep quiet for so long and do you understand other projects which make heaps of noise?

It was very hard and very easy at the same time. Of course, if you pass plenty of those important steps and assessments, you wanna put it out there and let people know. Also, in terms of strategic partnerships, it obviously is great if the world outside your bubble knows you exist.

On the other hand, we saw after a first small press release two years ago that the phone doesn’t stand still when you’re in the focus of the public and media. We knew like this we wouldn’t get any work done, so it felt good in a way to push it all along and do it under the radar.

Inside the team have the same mentality when it comes to going public: communicate when it’s “in dry towels” as we say in Germany. As we all know there are a thousand things that can get into the way of a big project like this, one that is unique and has not been built in Germany before. We understand other projects that go out early and make some noise to generate public interest, partnerships and financial backing – but in a lot of cases, it has not helped staying on schedule for the projects.

There are so many possibilities: there could be a German championship at Surftown MUC, international contests, airshows, surf-offs of the best rapid surfers and teams from the ocean, contests between Munich and Sylt or Hossegor locals, comps between different wave pool clubs (Bristol vs. Munich) etc. It’s all endless, like the number of perfect waves that we’ll be able to shoot out!

Munich and its surroundings is not exactly a structurally weak area, real estate prices are extremely high. How hard was it to actually find a piece of land to build a wave pool on and how important was it to be part of a bigger real estate project that will see the office and retail space being developed?

To get a project like that lined up is hard work and a major part of it is a local municipality that is open and thinking innovatively. Without that, and of course a fitting plot of land, there is no chance. On the concept side we are connected to our neighbors Rock Capital, who are building a so-called work-life quarter next door with office-, lab- and retail spaces. However, Surftown MUC is our completely autonomous company and we are financing, building and running Surftown MUC, which includes the Endless Surf wave pool, outside areas with various sporting facilities, retail space, restaurant/café, spa, childcare area and of course the Surfpool as the main attraction with its beach and hangout space. As we can see in most pool projects around the world, a wave pool won’t work as a business case on its own, it always needs a world created around it. And that is of course to create more revenue, but mostly to make this facility a place where families are happy to spend a day, companies set up their meetings, you can have dealer training and much more – a place where there’s always some rad things happening.

Michi Mohr testing the wave pool in Texas
Michi Mohr testing the wave pool in Texas. Image by Rob Henson

Testing wave systems surely was easy, choosing the wave system probably wasn’t. What systems did you test and what made you chose Endless Surf in the end?

We have been looking into every major technology on the market and I went to Waco, Bristol, Melbourne, Tenerife and the Basque Country to see facilities and surf the waves. We knew very well what we wanted: 1.) making waves for everyone from beginner to pro 2.) ensuring that the pool will provide a great surf experience for many people at the same time with no energy loss due to inefficient usage of power or pool space 3.) to be able to create all kinds of waves imaginable at the press of a button and lastly 4.) that the facility is still state of the art in many years time.

All things considered, we are now confident that Endless Surf is the perfect tech for us to achieve all those things. I know every system has its advantages and possibly in another region of the world with a much bigger footprint, a Surf Lakes facility can make a lot of sense for example. For our location in Munich, it is the perfect match, and we believe in the benefits of pneumatic systems in order to create every type of wave you could think of.

Adding to that Whitewater West just opened their Europe/Russia/Africa office right here in Munich last year with some very competent people under the lead of Rainer Maelzer, so we have all the support we could wish for and it is undeniable a great showcase for them, opening the first Endless Surf pool here in Munich.

Michi Mohr
Michi Mohr on a big one in Spain. Image by Nicolai Notter

Being from Munich, did you start at Eisbach or Floßlände and do you think Surftown MUC will benefit from a very powerful rapid surfing scene over here?

First of all, it is mind-blowing what happened in terms of rapid surfing in the last few years, which I guess you have a big part in that development as the godfather of performance rapid surfing. The way landlocked surfing here has evolved, new surfs pots being created at a quick pace, competitions, the whole lot. All this wasn’t there 25 years ago when I went to Eisbach the first time, after spending two seasons on Munich’s Flosslände. In a way, sometimes I do miss the old times when you could go to the river on a Saturday afternoon and just surf with four of your friends, but we’ve had those times and I’m grateful for them as well. But it’s the development of the sport and how many people really can enjoy this unique sport these days, that makes me really happy as I know it enriches your life. Then, I’d say that 90% of the rapid surfers are keen to surf in the ocean, many of them doing three or more trips a year to get their saltwater fix. I remember the desperate Italy trips for two short days, hours and hours in the car, to surf very average 3ft waves in a hailstorm. But it has always been a blast – except for the carbon footprint that we leave with those escape missions. So I’d say that it will go hand in hand, rapid surfers who will also surf here in Hallbergmoos frequently to improve their ocean skills, learn new moves and maybe travel a bit less. The surfing level for sure will go through the roof.

Endless Surf design for Munich
The Endless Surf design for Surftown MUC

So let’s talk Endless Surf. What existing system will the wave be comparable to?

The closest I could maybe compare it to is a very improved version of the facility in Waco, Texas. It works with a similar system (pneumatic chambers) to create many different types of waves. But the pool and the waves will be a fair bit bigger, plus you would get about 70% longer rides, fewer currents and water movement, plus increased wave variety. A major difference to most systems will be an “a-frame-mode”, where you send waves in both directions from the middle of the pool and the fact that advanced surfers and beginners can use the pool at the same time. So, to sum it up, we can create lefts, rights, a-frames, longboard waves to slabby barrels, as well as air-sections, which will offer crazy ramps. There are some good explanations about it in that WavePoolMag article. (Editor’s note, see full article here.)

What might be interesting to mention, the facility’s entire system is designed to be CO2-neutral. At the same time, all electricity will be generated from renewable sources – 80 percent even from our own photovoltaic systems.

Personally, I’d like to catch an easy roll-in and then backdoor a slabby section, which is definitely possible to program.

Sounds amazing! So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and talk pricing, especially looking at what Alaia is charging in Sion, which is 130 Swiss Francs and which seems to scare a lot of people away. I know this is a tough question, but can you give us an estimate per hour?

Yes, we know that everything is more expensive in Switzerland and people earn good money, but still over 100 EUR for an hour of surf is a lot of money. However, in every wave pool and system I tried, after 2-3 sessions a day you’re absolutely fried – you’re catching a lot of waves, there is constant movement, you paddle a lot and with every wave, you improve your turns, timing and setup. It’s pretty amazing. So even for 100 EUR an hour, most surfers would consider it great value for money after they had their session. However, we will be a lot below that, we’ll let you know once we’re ready to communicate the fixed pricing structure depending on each setting. We prefer to have more people having fun in our waves and possibly creating a bit less revenue per person, but having them come back frequently to enjoy Surftown MUC with their family to spend an awesome day here.

Chris Boehm, Michi Mohr, Conrad Albert of Surftown MUC
Surftown MUC partners Chris Boehm, Michi Mohr and Conrad Albert

You are a tall guy, any chance Endless Surf can provide a barrel that fits you? That would at least get my hopes up?

All barrels that I have seen (or gotten) so far in a pool look great when surfed by a 13-year-old pro, but not so great when attempted by a 95kg average surfer – that’s the reality of it. But those waves in the pool can have a lot of punch in the right setting and I’ve seen some crazy slabby wave patterns programmed. We know we’ll be able to make waves with a face of roughly 2,2m, so if we get our wave programming right, we should be able to make a wave that’ll even let guys like us travel through without being squeezed like a ball on your board. Jonas, our biggest guy in the team, measures 2,01m, our goal is to get him barreled. Personally, I’d like to catch an easy roll-in and backdoor a slabby section then, which is definitely possible to program.

What do you think could a wave pool do for the talent in Germany and especially in the Munich area? The kids can start rapid surfing at an early age and then venturing across to your pool with really good board skills already.

Oh man, there are endless possibilities. The great thing about rapid surfing is that you spend an unparalleled amount of time on your board. For that, the curve of progress/tricks here in Munich has always been world level. I have never seen someone in person do a big spin, a kickflip or a sushi roll in the ocean – in Munich you see those things every day which is pretty amazing. There have been top-level ice skaters from warm destinations, who just had constant access to a training facility, they don’t have to be from Norway or Canada. Talent is everywhere and who knows, with the combination of rapid surfing and constant perfect waves on the press of a button, this could be an amazing mix for our Bavarian talent pool to blow up.

Will you be working with the German Surfing Federation (DWV)?

Yes, we will be working with DWV, and looking at what just happened (Leon Glatzer qualifying for the Olympics, Germany the #6 surf nation in the world), we see endless possibilities in terms of training and coaching. For us it’s really important, that Surftown MUC is a facility for everyone, that we give pros a professional training facility, that we work with adaptive programs, we’ll try to include surfing into the school syllabus, etc. There are so many possibilities: there could be a German championship at Surftown MUC, international contests, airshows, surf-offs of the best rapid surfers and teams from the ocean, contests between Munich and Sylt or Hossegor locals, comps between different wave pool-clubs (Bristol vs. Munich) etc. It’s all endless, like the number of perfect waves that we’ll be able to shoot out!

Thanks so much, Michi!

Thank you guys!! It’s awesome there is a media outlet for this exciting new world in surfing, covering what’s going on in the market. Can’t wait to have you here, surfing some waves together!

About the Author: Quirin Rohleder is a pilar in the Munich surf scene, having cut his teeth at the local river waves before transitioning into salted surf. The lively goofy foot is everywhere in the German surfing, holding the mic at several events and launching the Rapid Surf League and Mighty Otter Surfboards.