From Bets to Barrels: Sardinian city’s race track joins Italian pool project list

Will Sardinia be home to Italy’s first wave pool? And more precisely will the capital of Cagliari transform itself from a cruise ship step off to a surf tourism hot spot? In recent weeks the island’s warm climate and old-world charm became the backdrop for another wave pool proposal. Italy’s last surf park hope was way to the north in Livorno, a project hot off the heals of Rome’s failed WaveDome.

This mid-December announcement by the powers that be in Sardinia came as a shock to many in Italy. The municipality of Cagliari went the distance and sketched out some concepts (albeit with outdated Wavegarden technology) to build a wave pool.

Not everyone knows where Sardinia is. Those who do know the iconic Costa Smeralda, a super villa and mega-yacht playground for the jet-set and euro-rich. Cagliari is a perpetually sunny city. Winter night temps rarely drop below 10° Celsius (50° Fahrenheit) and the vibe is a mix of sporty and posh all at the same time. It’s not uncommon to find thousands of people taking in the Mediterranean sun at the town’s main beach, Poetto.

Sardinia is the most consistent surf area in Italy and holds some of the Mediterranean’s best lineups. The best spots are usually very crowded when conditions come together.

sardinia has surf
Sardinia has good surf, and ranks with Israel as the Mediterannean’s most consistent coast. Image by Antonio Muglia

The December story “Cagliari wants the Wave park” hit local papers and again many Italian surfers got their hopes up. Just like Livorno’s story, the town is sighting on an old horse racing track. But unlike what happened there in Tuscany (spoiler, the whole deal went south) things could be different in Sardinia. The Municipality itself, through its own initiative, wants the surf park. It’s part of a master plan upgrade to the city aired by the council and come up for a vote shortly.

Most Italian surf park projects in the past have worked the other way – a developer has a dream and approaches a city council to get approval. The fact that this town is pushing the project is a key driver in seeing the wave pool come to life. Municipalities can change maps, transform areas from residential to tourist, and are already familiar with environmental issues. These points often prove a difficult hurdle for developers to clear.

Local surfers and officials are proceeding with guarded optimism.

“There’s nothing definitive yet, but the race track will surely be a great sporting area to makeover,” Cagliari’s Deputy Mayor Giorgio Angius told us. “However, we have several options, some conservative and others very innovative to create the wave park. A decision will be made in the next six months.”

cagliari wave pool rendering
Developers chose a Wavegarden Lagoon system for their artist renderings instead of the company’s Cove design. No specific technology was mentioned in our interview.

Hot on the heels of the announcement, a local group has already raised concerns.

An environmentalist outfit named GRIG, who’s very active in Sardinia, complained and expressed their concerns, as did local horse racing enthusiasts not wanting to lose an abandoned track. Cagliari has a storied horse racing tradition but, just like Livorno, the racecourse company went bankrupt years ago. Despite this, everything suggests that the City really wants to jump into the wave pool business.

In the master plan for the proposed wave pool, the racecourse will be totally reshaped for the creation of a 180.000 square meter surf park area. It will sit adjacent to a sports area, bars, restaurants, shops and an athlete’s guesthouse. No other amenities were mentioned.

Sardinia isn’t the only Italian region with wave pool dreams. There is a company registered under the name of Surf Village in the north who told us that meetings have been going on “cyclically,” meaning they’re not joking but have yet to cement anything. The Zoom sessions included the landowner, investors, wave pool technology managers (which company wasn’t specified), architectural and engineering professionals, and wave pool management companies (consultants.)

sardinia surf
Sardinia has its moments of great surf. Photo by Antonio Muglia.

“No drawings or renderings will be available until we start digging the hole,” Surf Village team member Dario Nuzzi told us. “We will talk about it publicly when everything is set.”

That’s it. No further details except that they did admit it will roughly be in Lombardy in Northern Italy. The Surf Village Company is based in a small town in Lecco’s Province, 60 km north of Milan called Mandello del Lario.

While the registered company doesn’t always correspond to the planned wave pool’s location, an important clue is that Mandello del Lario is on the shores of stunning Lake Como which brushes up against the Swiss border – home to one of the world’s most successful surf parks, Alaia Bay.

Top image by Laura Lugaresi

Endless Surf 2023A