Wave Pool Review: Good vibes in a surreal setting – Skudin Surf at American Dream

Average surfer Brett Hass finds that Skudin Surf offers great waves, confusing parking and fun vibes as he drops $250 for 19 waves. Did he feel surfed out after the two-hour session? Below is his full first-hand account of surfing til midnight…

I think of myself as the classic weekend warrior surfer: I’d rather be surfing than doing almost anything else and I do everything I can to maximize my time in the water, but life too frequently gets in the way. Despite my ambition and efforts, an honest self-assessment indicates my skill level is somewhere between intermediate and advanced-intermediate. I’m comfortable in overhead to double-overhead surf, but I doubt any bystanders are particularly impressed by my maneuvers.

Intro to Skudin Surf at American Dream

Until May 19, 2021, I had never visited a surf park. Despite this, I developed a near-obsessive interest in surf parks and was a firm believer that the incredible wave pools in production around the world would revolutionize the sport of surfing. So when my friend Colin, who lives in New York City, told me his wife gifted him a two-hour public session at Skudin Surf in the American Dream Mall and invited me to join my response was an immediate “hell yes!”

Booking our session was as easy as it comes. The Skudin Surf website is extremely user-friendly and it only took us a few minutes to drop $250 on an Option C (Intermediate-Advanced) public session. We might have opted for an Option D (Advanced) public session, but those time slots are few and far between.

The relatively steep price tag was a tough pill to swallow, but I was stoked for my first surf park experience. I channeled this energy into extra time at the gym preparing and even more time spent watching Ben Gravy and other surfers rip Skudin Surf on YouTube.

To be honest, I was extremely excited but my expectations for the surf experience were low. I knew that Ben Gravy and the others pros and semi-pros of social media fame were mostly surfing private sessions and had access to much higher wave quality and count than I would in my two hours of glory. Overall, I figured I would have a really fun time but leave never feeling the need to return to the American Dream Mall.

Driving to New Jersey
American Dream Mall is a few minutes drive away from New York City. Photo Patrick Tomasso

Getting There

I’m not sure what felt stranger – driving through the urban metropolis of New York City to go surfing or the fact that we didn’t have one surfboard in the car between the two of us. I was wearing civilian clothes and carried a bag containing only board shorts, a surf shirt, towel, water bottle and my GoPro camera.

Getting to the American Dream Mall was easy but finding the correct parking lot wasn’t. After 10 minutes of wasted brain cells, numerous parking lot donuts and some helpful directions we rode up to Parking Lot B to find a small crowd of surfers waxing their sticks, warming up on surf skates and waiting for the session. Definitely give yourself extra time to arrive at the mall and pay close attention to the road and parking signs – they’re confusing!

rob kelly at skudinsurf american dream
Surfer Rob Kelly threads the peak at Skudinsurf American Dream. It’s a short, but much celebrated wave.

The Surf Experience

Promptly at 9:15 pm a few friendly staff members from the Skudin team came out to greet us, get our names and ensure we signed the online waiver. They then walked us through the labyrinth mall to the indoor water park where the wave pool awaited us. The setting was so surreal and I truly felt like I was walking into the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of Surfing. The wave pool, powered by American Wave Machines technology, sits in the center of a giant atrium and is surrounded by a medley of colorful waterslides and giant cartoon characters. We were led to one side of the pool where the Skudin team was set up along with a well-built quiver of boards including a mix of high-performance shortboards, hybrid shapes, mid-lengths and longboards. Most of the boards were of the ultra-durable Lib Tech construction, but it looked like there were a few traditional Poly and Epoxy boards up for grabs. A few surfers had brought their own boards and the rest of us excitedly picked through the quiver and selected our boards. I chose a Lib Tech x Lost Hydra, which was 5’7” in length and 37.5 liters in volume. I normally ride boards in the 32-34 liter range, but the Skudin team advises to size up as the chlorinated pool is less buoyant than the ocean and you can always swap out boards to trade down in size throughout the session. I ended up grateful for the extra volume and stuck with the board for the entire session.

Between entering the water park shortly after 9:15 pm and starting our session at 10:00 pm we received a friendly welcome, a quick safety/etiquette briefing and spent the remainder of the time meeting one another, snapping pictures and stretching as the suspense built. At 10:00 pm on the dot, Will Skudin walked us into the pool, kindly introduced himself, graciously thanked us for attending and released us to paddle out to the back wall of the pool where the waves are generated (a few beginners set up on the inside whitewater with instructors). I was still in such awe of the setting that I hardly noticed the water was a comfortable 80 degrees Fahrenheit – a 1mm top might be advisable if you’re a weather wimp like me.

One Skudin staff member acted as both MC & DJ and instructed us via the loudspeaker while other in-water employees helped us line up along the back and sidewalls of the pool. They guided the first two surfers into position in the middle of the back wall where the A-frame wave would be generated and released. The MC (who I think also acted as wave DJ in addition to music DJ) gave a countdown for the first wave and soon enough a small pulse of water magically appeared from the wall quickly followed by the larger, rideable wave. Surf was up and would be practically non-stop for the next two hours!

American Dream Mall during the waterpark construction phase.

Session Beginning

The first hour was a mix of the “Classic” and “Gotham” A-frames. Frankly, I hardly noticed a difference between these two waves. Both had two-to-three-foot peaks with smooth and shapely two-to-three-foot faces running toward the sides of the pool. The waves had more push than expected, and I quickly got the hang of the takeoff. However, others in the group had a harder time adjusting to it and missed waves were common. The Skudin team wisely advises a strong paddle effort and a couple more paddles than you think you need to get into the wave. Proper positioning is also key, as I noticed a few people placing or paddling themselves too far inside of the peak and then being unable to get into the face of the wave. Once on the wave it was easy to pump down the line and generate speed, but the wave wasn’t great for maneuvers. It was near impossible to drive through a meaningful bottom turn without bogging and losing speed, so getting vertical was tough. At most one could manage one-to-two decent snaps or turns per wave.

Session Middle

In the middle of the session, each surfer got two section-waves. These were strictly right or left breaking waves that would start from one corner of the pool (each surfer got to choose their preferred direction). A nice three-foot wedge would then be sent from the adjacent corner and would link up at the end of the line. That wave was incredibly fun – I could ride it all day. The section is close to the wall so an air could literally send you into the concrete, but it was perfect for a big slash or cutback. That wave was also about 1.5x bigger than the A-frame – it felt like a true four foot takeoff and held most of its size down the line into the section. Unfortunately, the section wave required extra patience as it was one experienced surfer at a time with a 20-30 second interval in between waves. Big bummer for those guys who missed one (or both) of their two section waves.

Session Ends

We closed out the remainder of the session with more A-frames. By this point, all of us surfers were in good rhythm, were increasingly comfortable with the waves and had each made a few new friends in the water. The vibes were great as everyone respected the order of the lineup and was stoked for one another as we rocked out to the classic rock queued up by the DJ. Eventually, midnight rolled around and our session was called to a close, each of the fifteen experienced surfers had a chance at about 20 waves apiece. I personally had a number of both rights and lefts that I was stoked about, and even though my heart wanted to keep surfing my arms were ready to call it a day.

The Skudin team gave us enough time to get a fresh water rinse, towel off and grab our belongings before thanking us again, walking us back through the mall to the parking lot and bidding us adieu.

It was solidly past midnight by the time Colin and I headed back into the City, yet neither of us felt the least bit sleepy. We were so exhilarated by the surf experience that we spent the entire car ride excitedly debriefing the session and recounting each others’ best (and worst) waves. By the time I made it back to my accommodations and showered it was well past 1:00 am, yet I still had trouble falling asleep from the adrenaline still coursing through my veins.

A glimpse at the bizarre reality that is the American Dream mall. Photo by Dylan TerMorshuizen.

In The End..

I had an absolutely fantastic time at Skudin Surf at the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Like I mentioned before, my expectations were low going in and I assumed it would be a one-time novelty surf session, but I had so much more fun than anticipated and will definitely return again and again. The setting was as unique as they come, the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful and the waves were deceptively fun in spite of their small size. The vibes from the music and other surfers were great and it was a huge relief to have a perfectly organized lineup where drop-ins are nonexistent. Lastly, it was amazing to finally experience a wave pool firsthand – the consistent wave quality and the controlled environment offer an incredible learning and training experience for surfers of any skill level.

Thank you to the Skudin family and American Dream Mall for making this dream a reality. I was a believer before and now I’m a full-blown surf park evangelist. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to surf at Skudin or any of the other operating surf parks around the world.

rob kelly at new jersey wave pool
Rob Kelly lives nearby and is one of the most visible surfers on the American Dream scene.

From the WavePoolMag Surf Planner

The Lowdown: Multi billion dollar mega mall waterpark in line with the Mall of America in Edmonton, Canada. The surf component here is American Wave Machines Perfect Swell tech modelled after BSR Surf Resort (but indoors)

Accessibility: Open to the public, All-ages

Wave Generating Technology: American Wave Machines PerfectSwell technology.

Wave’s Technical Information: Performance wave with rights and lefts suited to all ability levels but super-customisable with fun perks like the Freak Peak. Surfers get to choose from a diverse wave menu with names that sound like theme park rides: The Party Wave, Rubber Ducky’s, Sinatra, and The Vortex. Rides are (relatively) short at only 3-8 seconds per ride.

Crowds: Expect anywhere from 1-16 surfers in the lineup. Waves run 75-150 per session depending on whether they are split peaks or longer reeling waves.

Price Breakdown: Run by SkudinSurf, private ‘dream’ sessions for surfing are Private $3200 Weekday and $3800 Weekend. They estimate that works out to $90 per surfer (depends on the number in your group. Prices for single-person pool entry are $145 (booked via one two-hour session at a cost of $290). Cabanas and all kinds of add ons available.
Pool Structure: Indoor concrete

Waves per hour: 120-160

Apparel: Heated indoor setting, so boardies and bikinis

More about Skudinsurf American Dream at this link

About the Author:

Brett Hass grew up in Southeast Florida and learned to surf at a young age but never set his rail until deep into high school. After graduation he moved away from the coast for several years, which only hurt his surfing game. To compensate, he’s managed surf trips to Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and various parts of the California coast.