Wave pool project hopes to revitalize Parisian neighborhood

First launched a few years ago, a redevelopment project in the Sevran quarter of Paris is taking aim at issues unique to under-represented neighborhoods. And it’s doing so with a wave pool.

Urban renewal (charged terminology that it is) has grown rather stagnant. It follows a pattern: build a few soccer pitches, condos, and storefronts and then call it a day. But this blueprint doesn’t always work so well. Thirty-six percent of the population here lives below the poverty line with 75 percent living in subsidized housing.

Sevran is unique in the banlieues of Paris. Fifty percent of the population is under the age of 26. The area produces both French Tier 1 athletes and
Jihadists. There is a strong musical legacy here too. The town is home to both the Conservatoire de Sevran as well as rappers Kaaris and Ixzo.

“We want to make Sevran a destination,” Mayor Stephane Blanchet told local press last year. “This means a change of both image and urban space. Sevran must become attractive. We have to bring people to live, work, play and invest.”

The Terre d’Eaux project is a gamechanger in the world of urban renewal. With the mantra “Sports, Culture and Nature” the development will build a boardsports utopia complete with a WhiteWater EndlessSurf wave pool at its heart. The development will also include skate ramps, wake and a few other surprises. In doing so, they hope to create jobs, community and a new generation of surfers.

Advisor to La Vague Grand Paris is Baptiste Caulonque, a surf industry veteran specializing in operations, finance, and business development who transitioned to the real estate sector a few years ago. In this interview, Baptiste Caulonque gets detailed on how a wave pool can serve the needs of a community.

artist rendering of La Vague Grande Paris
Artist rendering shows an active aquatic culture at La Grand Vague Paris

How is the project coming along in light of challenges like 2024 Olympic surfing going to Tahiti and COVID-19?

The 2024 Olympic surfing event going to Tahiti comes more as a lost promotional opportunity than a missing business item as it had not been accounted for in the plans. It was opportunistic. The show in Tahiti will be amazing and spectacular though so a good promotion for the sport of surfing and French Polynesia.

In parallel, the city of Sevran got the label “Terre de Jeux” (Land of Games) which will enable it to be part of Paris 2024 in a form yet to be determined. So we’ll use our equipment around surf, skate, 3×3 basketball and climbing (which are all part of Paris 2024) to come up with fun ideas.

COVID is a different story and its impact is hard to measure yet. However, since its start, it has not prevented the La Vague Grand Paris team from reaching senior agreements with investors, operators, and equipment preferred partners. So from a project perspective, it barely slowed us down. We still have a lot to do before the submission of construction permits to the local government for approval, but we are making progress.

In the long run, COVID may reshape the way people spend their time off and, in particular, the way surfers may focus more on short distance surf trips where planes are not required. So one could say that La Vague Grand Paris may prove even more relevant now than ever before. Such a getaway 30 minutes from Paris city center to experience surfing, skateboarding, a park, a hotel, and food and beverage may stand out even more. Time will tell.

“We designed an active lifestyle program mixing boardsports (surf and skate), urban culture (3×3 basketball), and new sports (climbing) with agreements with the city to offer privileged access to schools and inhabitants.”

The first designs called for a Wavegarden Cove as the centerpiece at Terre d’Eaux. Now you are the first project in the world to use WhiterWater’s new Endless Surf technology. How did that come about? What does the technology offer?

When we started the project back in 2017, Wavegarden was pretty much on its own on the market, very organized, and with new technology, meeting required criteria to offer a great surf experience and a sustainable business model. For the last three years, Linkcity, Crescendo, and myself worked extensively on understanding technologies, meeting with newcomers, and fine-tuning the business model. We regularly met with the representatives of the local government to share findings including the surf and beach experience, the guaranteed safety, the water quality, and the contribution of La Vague Grand Paris to the City’s vision for the future.

Our matrix for decision changed accordingly and the flexibility of the wave pool became critical for one: To offer surfing and non-surfing activities and two, to convert from a high volume wave pool at times of peak operations to lower volume and longer waves at times of surf events, privatization, or B-to-B activities while consistently offering a true beach feeling. 

So we met with the Endless Surf team and jointly worked on the best possible design, combining the pool shape and their pneumatic wave-making solution. We sat down with Geoff Chutter, WhiteWater’s CEO and founder, their engineers, and architects and just worked. Long days were spent rethinking many of the components of La Vague Grand Paris – not just the wave pool. The whole masterplan, consumer experience, safety, and security programs to improve the park and to deliver improved financials (CAPEX and OPEX). Plus, WhiteWater’s 40 plus years of experience in the business triggered reassurance across the board.

wave pool project at Sevran
Map with legend of the new EndlessSurf powered facility at La Vague Grand Paris

When most of the world thinks of Paris, they think Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but Sevran is a very different Paris. Tell us about the area and what the wave pool will bring to Sevran that it needs right now.

For sure Sevran is different from Paris and its iconic monuments. Sevran is a challenging city in the 93 district between the North of Paris and the Charles-de-Gaulle airport. It’s strategically located though, at the very heart of Greater Paris. By 2024, when opening La Vague Grand Paris, it will be pretty much 30 minutes away from anywhere in Paris using public transportation.

Since the start of the project, we have worked a lot with City representatives to make sure that La Vague Grand Paris would shine upon Sevran and, most importantly, a benefit to the population of Sevran which is fifty percent under the age of 26. So we designed an active lifestyle program mixing boardsports (surf and skate), urban culture (3×3 basketball), and new sports (climbing) with agreements with the city to offer privileged access to schools and inhabitants. This whole area of Paris is the fishpond of so many French Tier 1 athletes that you best believe that amazing talents will emerge thanks to La Vague Grand Paris. Sevran’s location, its connection to public transportations (improving by the hour thanks to the Olympics) and the on-going City plan for renewals are offering a great geographic opportunity for such a park.

outline endless beach tech
Endless Surf’s heart-shaped design maximizes surf area while creating zones for different surf-abilities.

In light of COVID-19, we expect more governments to pump money into work projects like this to create jobs and a community attraction. What role is the government playing in this project?

We have had great support from local and national governments since the start. The park, the sports, and programs will offer access to all and have always been greatly appreciated by everyone. Also, working with the French Surfing Federation and Handi’Surf since day one enlarged our approach and generated even more buy-in. So COVID may push the French Government to help La Vague Grand Paris further but it would be genuine continuity as we have been working side-by-side for a while now.

Besides jobs how will the local community be a part of the wave pool project?

La Vague Grand Paris is part of Terre d’Eaux which is a 30Ha project offering new housings (about 900 units) and a huge park offering a combination of green and blue space. La Vague Grand Paris is a bit less than half of the total size. So it’s a new living environment for the people of Sevran with new housing, a great park to walk and run through and enjoy and, at last, the possibility to participate in La Vague Grand Paris.  

Jobs are obviously key and the very nature of La Vague Grand Paris around sports and hospitality will provide many employment opportunities for the local community and our partners, hotel, and park operators, are sensitive to local hires.

Local schools and clubs will have dedicated access to La Vague Grand Paris and education programs with Paris 13 University are under discussions. So La Vague Grand Paris and Terre d’Eaux are a big program for Sevran and its surroundings exceeding by far boardsports access even if it will play a great promotional role for Sevran and Greater Paris.

Baptiste Caulonque
Baptiste Caulonque brings his surf industry background to the development in Sevran

Run us through a typical day at La Grande Vague Paris – who will come through the doors for a surf session? 

I don’t know if there is a typical day or typical visitor. La Vague Grand Paris will be a surfing spot for every active surfer in the Paris area so there will be members going there every day for an hour or two of pure stoke. It will be a hangout place for skaters, a secured and supervised learning center for kids to get to learn surf, skate, climbing, etc… Families will spend a day or two enjoying the sports activities, the aquapark for the younger ones, the food & beverage and hotel. While on weekdays corporate seminars will be welcome as Paris concentrates a huge proportion of France’s largest businesses. The La Défense Arena will be 30 minutes away in 2024 using the Métro. And every morning, kids from local schools and clubs will get to surf, skate, and more. This variety of audiences, and ways to connect to the proposed experiences, make the time spent at La Vague Grand Paris very unique.

Finally, will we be able to get barreled?

Spring 2024, on time for the Olympics and using this amazing event to activate La Vague Grand Paris.