The alchemy of attracting surfers to your wave-filled wonderland is nuanced

All surfers love surfing, yes? Getting them through the door and into a wave pool is simple. Well, not always. While the heady mix of guaranteed good waves on demand is alluring, the grounding reality of work and life schedules tends to get in the way. 

Balancing this pull of opposites isn’t always easy, but throw into the mix differing types of waves and prices, varying water and air temperatures throughout the year, and travel distances, and the task of getting surfers into your pool can become trickier still. We weigh in with Surf Stadium in Japan, The Wave in Bristol, England, and Waco Surf in Texas on the issues they face and how they tackle them.

The alchemy of attracting surfers to your wave-filled wonderland is nuanced. Like any business, knowing your customers – collecting and collating data – is the skeleton key to your revenue.

“Segmenting our customer data to understand frequency and surf ability is critical to balancing acquisition of new surfers, alongside retention of our more frequent and loyal surfers,” said Joe Dale, Head of Commercial for The Wave. 

Joe Dale of The Wave
Joe Dale of The Wave in Bristol says balancing acquisition of new surfers, alongside retention of frequent and loyal surfers can be tricky. His team has implemented a few winning practices.

All pools agree that their customers generally fall into one of two categories: local or out-of-town surfers. Marketing to each of these segments requires different approaches.

Amy Hunt from Waco Surf points out that surfers from outside of Texas, both throughout the U.S. and internationally, require plenty of time to organize flights, rent cars, and take time off work.

“We listened to a ton of feedback when we first took over in 2021, and the main complaint was the lack of ability to plan a trip around the surf session schedule,” she stated. Previously, all public sessions were released online at once about 30 days before the start of the month – trying to book all the public sessions for you/your group/your family was, well, trying. “We implemented the Stay and Surf program, where our sales team will book guests into our Waco Surf Hotel on-site and prebook guests into their public sessions before they are released online. So they can book everything in with us, up to 6 months before their arrival here,” said Amy. 

Japan’s Surf Stadium has also taken a similar approach, this year releasing packages that combine surf sessions with accommodations in the area. They’ve also created new web pages specifically for overseas customers.

The local crew and the challenge of keeping them motivated and incentivized for repeat visits are on the opposite side of this equation.

Local Texas surfers are more flexible and can scoop up last-minute sessions at Waco Surf, reckoned Amy, so “space available” programming works well for these guests. Space-available programming is released online after Stay and Surf guests are booked.

Waco Surf also promotes other amenities and rides adjacent to its wave tub. “Aside from the surf, we also have programming built around our Cable Park and our Water Park – which attract different clients,” said Amy. She added that this approach is working, and they’re seeing an increased overlap in group multi-activity trips.

Beyond the waves, Waco Surf draws clients with their slides, lazy river, and other amenities. After extended effort, Amy Hunt says they are seeing an increased overlap in multi-activity trips and visitors are enjoying more than just one feature of the park.

Bristol’s The Wave also targets local communities from around the area to use their facilities for more than surfing. “Our playpark, skate park, restaurant, and extensive space make it an incredible space to come and spend the day, surfing or not,” said Joe. The idea is that people coming in for social events may well become interested in trying surfing.

Surf Stadium in Japan emphasizes a high level of service, and lessons have helped them attract domestic travelers from around Japan and more local crew. Special days featuring professional surfers and a focus on surf coaching have proven effective in attracting numbers.

“The lesson service has increased the repeat rate,” said Surf Stadium’s Atsushi.

Giving an insight into Japanese surf culture, Atsushi stated that as the quality of the waves in Japan is lower than in America or England, Japanese surfers are keen to take any opportunity to improve their surfing, particularly in group environments.

“I feel that Japanese people are more conscious of wanting to improve surfing skills by taking lessons,” said Atsushi.

Once the initial euphoria from a surfer’s first couple of visits to a pool has simmered, the battle is on to get them back in. Incentives need to be offered, and while all pools agree on this, there are varying approaches.

“Retention, through regular surfers as well as aspiring learners, is done predominantly through rewarding purchasing in higher volumes with bundles and multi-buy offers,” said The Wave’s Joe Dale.

These offers mean a much lower price per surf. The Wave also utilizes e-mail campaigns targeting a surfer’s booking history so they can receive suggestions for the next experience for their surf journey. For example, beginner surfers can receive updates about beginner and intermediate sessions.

Despite intricate planning and data-driven approaches, sometimes a particular play doesn’t go according to plan. Surf Stadium’s Atsushi admitted that a recent promotion, a discount day for women only, didn’t work. Whereas similar promotions at Melbourne’s URBNSURF, have been successful. While a plan may look good on paper, the difficulty is how the same promotion is received in different countries. 

‘Surfers’ as a particular segment of the population to market to has never worked – see almost every Hollywood movie made about and aimed at a youth/surf demographic and follow the trail of tears from many a producer. Also, the over-saturation of surf-themed threads; think Hang Ten, Lightning Bolt, No Fear, and OP, to name a few that have been sold from hedge fund to hedge fund and on to obscurity, or disappeared beneath the waves of time.

Wave pools are more tangible; they’re destinations in their own right and places where people gather. While this does improve their chances of longevity, each wave tub has to carefully parse the data of what previous clients have done and apply it with as much foresight as possible.

There’s not a single playbook that applies to all pools. This modern tech survives or thrives on getting surfers through the gates – and keeping them universally stoked.