The Battle for Perth Part Two: Urbnsurf & Endless Surf
Perth wants a wave pool. So much so that the city allocated a 5.7-hectare lot adjacent to the Kwinana Freeway and Cockburn train station. Then they pitted veterans of the surf pool space Aventuur and Urbnsurf against each other in the bid to build Western Australia’s first wave park.
The two parties have a tangled history.
Aventuur and Andrew Ross, the face for Urbnsurf Melbourne, just purchased exclusivity to Wavegarden’s Cove technology for most of Australia and nearby environs. This means that Urbnsurf, now led by CEO Damon Tudor whom we interview here, is blocked from using Wavegarden Cove technology for their OZ projects. Urbnsurf will still complete a Wavegarden Cove design for their Sydney Olympic Park pool in 2022 as that was licensed before the Aventuur deal. However, Urbnsurf has discovered a new technology they believed is better suited for the Perth project.
It’s an intense battle mostly being waged through media opps to influence public opinion and sway decision-makers in Perth. Andrew and Damon insist it’s all fair and above board competition. And by all appearances, Aventuur and Urbnsurf are playing nice.
This interview is with Damon Tudor of Urbnsurf and comes as part two (you can read part one here) of Perth’s imminent wave pool, in this case, an Endless Surf design.
What’s happening in Perth?
As you are aware, the Western Australian Government approached Urbnsurf to put forward a proposal for the Cockburn development. Many of Urbnsurf’s shareholders are based in WA so we have a strong connection to the region. The whole Urbnsurf community can’t wait to see us build in Perth and we are just as excited to bring the best man-made ocean-like waves to WA.
So the Government said, ‘OK, we have this land, we want to do a surf park. We’ll talk to Aventuur and we’ll talk to Urbnsurf.’ And so you both present to the powers in a competition for the contract.
Urbnsurf has actually been in discussions regarding the Cockburn site with the WA Government for the last two years and we have invested considerable time and money. More recently, the Government decided to open a competitive tender and, while it is certainly an unusual circumstance that we are now competing with one of our own shareholders, we believe Urbnsurf has the best credentials to deliver in Perth. Urbnsurf is a wholly Australian-owned business that over the last three years has, with its current management team, built, launched and operated Australia’s first surf park in Melbourne gaining huge support from the community. We have also designed, permitted and raised the capital for our next project in Sydney.
How is your relationship with Andrew and the crew at Aventuur? He’s on the Urbnsurf board, correct?
Andy ceased to be an executive in the business in early 2020 and left the board in July last year. There’s a lot of respect for Andrew and the vision he created.
When I was approached by the Board in 2018 to join the newly formed executive team to be part of the turnaround, the brief was to address major project and funding issues to get the business back on track. My role was to develop and deliver all operational and commercial aspects of the business. Our current Chair Simon Bayley was brought on a month later to complete the construction of the park itself (which was a muddy hole at that time), and our CFO Keith Irving was brought on to resolve the historical financial matters and raise the required capital to complete Melbourne and develop other projects.
In 2019 the new leadership team successfully addressed the gaps, raised another $14m to complete Melbourne and launched the park on time and on budget. I’m happy to say that the same key team that delivered the turnaround, from a hole in the ground to the launch of the park are still here today. They are an amazing group of people to work with who have been through the depths of the surf park experience. We now have 35 full-time staff with 100 casual crew members on the books.
Tell us about the technology you’ll be using. You will have Wavegarden in Sydney but Endless Surf elsewhere – is this correct?
We think it is important to consider the right product for the right market and there is a massive amount of R&D occurring in wave generation technology. Due to these advancements and from our own experience in operating Melbourne we decided to shift to being technology agnostic. This approach allows us to offer the best possible solution to each unique location. Wavegarden is suitable for Sydney and we’re excited to partner with them again, as we are excited to see new technology partners such as Endless Surf come to life in our other projects.
For Perth, we have been able to start with a clean slate and we think that the Endless Surf lagoon is ideal. Rather than simply replicate an experience that is available elsewhere, our decisions are driven by the best solution for the customer experience, safety and project feasibility. The concept of creating an entirely different experience, like different breaks that surfers travel to, is great from a customer and tourism perspective.
A key part of our strategy is that we see Urbnsurf as not just a developer but a world-class operator. Our experience can be applied to multiple technologies – surf parks are about so much more than construction – operating one is complicated and we have developed risk, safety and the overall customer experience to a level where we aim to be industry-leading.
Aventuur talked about the technology being key to profitability in a stand-alone surf park – will Endless Surf meet these requirements?
Yes – it comes down to wave quality, options, frequency and capacity. Endless Surf has the capability to program a myriad of modes for waves from a symmetrical A-frame wave or end-to-end point break and everything in between including air sections. It can run different waves on the left and right at the same time and you can run the big waves while holding lessons and kids sessions in the shallow zones. Both have a huge impact in terms of optimizing the occupancy of the lagoon.
The Endless Surf lagoon we are proposing in Perth will have the capability to offer a 160m long ridable wave which equates to around a 26-second ride. This is twice the ride length we currently have in Melbourne.
A common story you will hear in the industry is about energy use. While this is an important consideration it only represents 5-10% of our cost base and there are other important issues: maintenance cost, maintenance access, water usage and chemical usage are all key factors. With Endless Surf, all the moving parts sit above the water which means less corrosion and all maintenance is easily performed– meaning we don’t have to drain the lagoon and thereby wastewater, plus the overall lagoon size uses 40% less water and subsequently fewer chemicals. These are all attractive features to us as an operator and important for sustainability. In Melbourne, we are using 100% renewable energy as we will in Sydney.
The other key piece is that we can manufacture, install and commission the Endless Surf technology locally. This has a big appeal for us as we are Australian-owned and committed to local job creation, particularly during and post the pandemic where so many people are struggling. In addition, we already have Perth-based contractors established for consulting and civil works and renewable energy contracts and solar panels included in our proposal.
Have you fleshed out what facilities and amenities you will have there and can you share? Can you give us specifics, size, amenities, etc?
In addition to the surf lagoon we are looking to provide boutique accommodation for families, corporate guests and athletes. We will build a high-performance center, similar to what we already have planned for our Sydney project. Other amenities planned include food and beverage, retail, hire, gym, surf academy and health/wellness studio facilities. As the lagoon itself takes up a lot less room than other technologies, we are able to provide a bigger parklands space that has the capacity to use for events/cultural and community activities. With Endless Surf, we are also looking to install a standing wave, leisure pool and kids’ water play facilities.
What else has been happening, how is Sydney going?
Everything is going really well. It’s been a hell of a rollercoaster ride…2019 was the turnaround, 2020 was survival with COVID-19 and in 2021 we are looking to double the size of the business. We have successfully raised over $100m to fund our projects including Sydney and the interest from multiple operators around the world to work with us has been flattering.
Most importantly, we have some amazing members and guests (90,000 at last count!), and incredible strategic partners to work with – Rip Curl, Surf Hardware International and Creatures of Leisure. We have also been able to work with some fantastic charities such as Waves of Wellness, SurfAID, Ocean Heroes and indigenous group Strong Brother Strong Sister which is a big part of what we are about. Surfing Australia, Victoria and New South Wales are also core partners on our current projects. We have been able to discuss the future with Surfing Western Australia who was also really supportive.
To maintain our authenticity, we want to be a humble member of the surf community and contribute where we can to Australian surfing goals, whilst ensuring we can invite and welcome a broad range of new customer segments like families, females and school children to surfing as a new activity.
We’re really excited about the future, and I am incredibly grateful for the customers, shareholders and team we have. One of our core values is courage and I have seen that in spades from our crew over the past three years as we have developed and operated Urbnsurf and are looking to continue to #surfmore in Melbourne, Sydney and hopefully Perth.