Industry: Jessica Mahoney on the Future of Surf Park Central

When Jessica Mahoney sat down to discuss the 2022 Surf Park Summit, she was tucked into the corner of a casino conference hall. She’d only been in her job as COO of Surf Park Central for a few weeks, but she was already on the road, at a trade show in Las Vegas. Our virtual hallway meeting, it turns out, was an apt snapshot of her experience so far.

“Jumping in right before the summit is a little crazy,” she said. “So I’m focusing short-term on Surf Park Summit and then I’ve got a list of things to get to after that. We’re asking questions like, what does next year look like and where are we going from here? It’s exciting.”

But first, the summit. This year’s event, which runs from Sunday, October 16 to Tuesday, October 18, will feature some new ways to learn about the industry, form connections and highlight standout businesses. Among this year’s additions, Mahoney said, will be lightning rounds, in which a handful of companies will present their technology in 10 minutes or so, one after another. Monday’s lightning rounds will be overviews of new wave technologies; Tuesday’s session will focus on deep-water standing waves (rapid, standing & stationary wave pools). 

“If you’re a developer or an investor,” said Mahoney, “it’s going to be a great overview to understand what’s on the market and who the players are so that you can start looking into the opportunities and know what’s available.”

There will also be in-depth sessions on lessons learned from the industry overall. Not just from wave pool operators, but surf lagoons and water parks. This year there will be even more focus on water park development and business, as well as on sustainability. Also this year, the summit will have awards for stand-out businesses in three categories: sustainability is one of them; so is democratizing access to wave pools; and innovation and progression in the surf park industry. 

There’s a lot of ground to cover in the nascent wave pool space. Surf Park Summit gathers players to share knowledge, learn and network.

As a whole, Mahoney sees the summit as an opportunity not only to spark connections and dialogue, but also to share lessons about how to make the business of wave pools work. 

“At Surf Park Central we see ourselves as a catalyst for bringing all of the different goals together,” she said. “Whether you’re a developer or an operator or an investor or technology provider or a supplier of food, beverage, retail engineering, or architecture, there are so many different elements that need to come together in order to build a successful surf venue.

“People want to have a good experience, not only in the water on the wave, but also when they get off of it. So if they have a session for an hour, and then they’re there for another hour or two, how are you making money?”

As technology catches up with interest in the development of surf parks, Mahoney predicts even more rapid growth. That will bring changes to every facet of the surf park industry as it evolves and matures. From a business perspective, growth will push companies to experiment with and pioneer new types of revenue pathways and approaches to development. From a market perspective, an uptick in the venues where people can learn to surf and get a taste of the culture could lead to subsets of surfers and potentially even push the envelope of surfing progression. 

“That real experience you get in the ocean—that’s irreplaceable,” Mahoney said. “But how does that translate to the wave pool experience?”

There might be people whose entire experience is in a wave pool. Whereas for others, as a lot of professional surfers are already proving, wave pools can be places to try maneuvers that one wouldn’t necessarily try in the ocean, lest they waste a good wave. Endless opportunities, in other words, can breed innovation. 

As the surf park and wave pool industries expand, so will the need for a place for know-how and connection. That’s where Mahoney sees SPC’s future.

“SPC wants to position itself as that central spot to pull people together,” she said. “To bring that network to one place so that there is a community and an understanding, and there are learnings that are shared and the encouragement to develop technology. 

“So when you come to Surf Park Central, it’s about being connected to the other key players in the industry as well as the conversations that we’re having. Whether it’s through a podcast or an insider’s episode where we’re diving deep into the business, sharing lessons learned or the latest technology advancements, or providing research and white papers. 

“What is the surf market and what are the consumers looking for? What are people saying that they want in these types of parks? We’re a resource for reliable information that emerges and also a catalyst for networking and connecting.”

To Mahoney, sharing information and expertise will raise all boats—or waves. The SPC network and function, she believes, “will help everybody succeed.”