Insights on managing a surf park from Shaun Hutchinson
Shaun Hutchinson is Group Operations Manager at Melbourne’s favorite wave pool. What does that mean exactly? Well, he’s hands on for every operating component, from employee schedules to removing bits of melted wax from the artificial turf that lines the change areas.
Shaun recently joined us on the WavePoolMag podcast and was kind enough to dig deep and reflect on the job. From that conversation we grabbed a few takeaways on what is involved in surf park management. We listed these nuggets of insight below. You can listen to the 30 minute podcast here.
Creating a nice mix of surfers throughout the day
We open at six, and we see our core dedicated surfers who like to start their day with a surf. They’re a little quiet, especially the 6 a.m. crew. Not much talking in the water, but then as as the day progresses, especially around nine 10:00 in the morning, it it completely changes to the more progressive surfer, that surfer who wants to learn. And then we’re bringing in groups from schools that aren’t necessarily close to the ocean, but now we’re close to them. So they’re getting their very first surf lesson ever in a completely safe and friendly environment. We normally tie that into a water safety program, so we put them safely in our rip and let them float and experience the rip. So it’s about merging fun and safety together for those schools. And then after that, there’s mother groups that come through and surf together. And then the tradies come in the after work and they get their their barrels for the afternoon. And then in the early evening we do a lot of five week progression lesson classes. So these surfers come back every day, five weeks in a row and it really speeds up their progression as well. So there’s such a nice mix and diverse group that just comes in and out throughout the day. Whether it’s your first time or you are that core surfer, there’s this little sub clique that we’ve created around our wave settings for you, and you really mesh with that, that kind of community, and then you slowly expand from there.
It seems like our regular members and people that surf frequently with us have created this amazing culture. And they will also help surfers that are not from Melbourne, surfers who may use ocean etiquette, which is sometimes a little dirty. The members will actually simmer them down and have a quiet word with them and give them pointers and tips and tricks on how to paddle into the wave, what to look for and stuff. So we are highly reliant and really appreciate all our members for the kind of vibe that they bring in the water. That’s not something that is staff based, and that makes the experience here so much more genuine. Our community does that for us.
And what works in summer doesn’t work in winter
We started with two wave settings. It was an intermediate and an advanced and we realized really quickly that it needed to expand from there. So with each expansion, I would love to say there was a lot of science behind it, but we just threw a lot of stuff at the wall and some stuff worked and some stuff didn’t. And what works in summer doesn’t work in winter. And there’s a lot of variation to it. So now that we have three years of data, we really rely on our data so that we’ve stopped throwing stuff at the wall and we just use our data. And at the same time, we’re speaking to a lot of the bigger groups on what would be more beneficial to them. My favorite story is Jackie. Jackie is one of our members, and in winter we reduced our operational hours and she’s created this core group of six intermediate surfers and begged me to to open a session specifically for them, even though we opened at eight, 9:00 in the morning. And I’m like, you got to get minimum numbers or this is not going to happen. She made a promise and she stuck through it all winter. Every week this little core group surfs. Every single week. And every week they hit their numbers. And I surfed with them for the first time just this past Tuesday. And it was just such a different vibe with that team. They are so friendly and just so supportive of each other and anybody in the water, and that’s what it is.
What is your bay doing and how is that working?
What many wave technologies haven’t cracked yet is the bay. And that’s that’s a big part of your business that shouldn’t be overlooked. And that’s going to be the future of surf parks. So what is your bay doing and how is that working? Because if you can get your point and your bay to work together, you’re smiling.
Safety is the base of every decision we’ve made. We had to create it from scratch and we’ve had support from other bodies. Even if you have this crazy good idea for a wave or this commercial idea, it all comes back down to safety. Safety is this wheel that just spins in the background, and it could stop moving one day and you can find yourself in a lot of trouble. So if there is a death anywhere in the world in the surf park, that is going to grind all surf parks to a halt, everybody will start looking at it differently. So safety really is a key attribute, and that’s something that we are keen to share with the world on our learnings. And there’s no point that we’ve gone through all this hardship and we expect everybody to go through the same hardship. Be focused on your safety. Don’t take it lightly because you’re when you open your surf park, you’re not just opening your surf park. You’re determining the future of the surf park industry. And the more surf parks there are, like, the more we’ll learn from each other. We learn from the current surf parks all the time. It’s not like everybody is making really smart decisions on what’s happening in their community, and it’s always good to listen and learn more than speak yourself.
Australia really works on a lot of casual labour. So there’s full time contracts, part time contracts and casual. So we have about roughly 20 full timers with us, a few part timers. And then over summer we can go up to 100, 150 casual staff. But on a day we would have on a shift, we would have about 30 to 40 staff work for us. It’s very labour intensive. I think the the other thing that’s so exciting about surf parks right now is last year we hired somebody from Bristol’s The Wave. So one of their surf coaches wanted to work a summer with us and so got his own visa and got sorted but applied from the UK. And obviously working from Bristol is a no brainer to take him. So yeah, it just makes sense. We’ve also sent one of our staff to Alaia Bay. So there is this weird exchange program that’s going on that we’re not really talking about, but it just kind of works. (You can find more job listings at the below banner)