Wave Pool Surf Travel: Will it become a thing. You know, like the Mentawais?

Scoring epic waves in the wilds of Indonesia, South America, or any of the myriad of far-flung corners on this watery world is an adventure. An adventure that’ll take a week or more, a nice chunk of change, and possibly provide waves. If you could have guaranteed man-made waves with less time spent traveling, as opposed to potentially scoring storm-bred swell in exotic climes, which would you choose?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. And a lot of it boils down to whether you’re time and/or money rich? Are you unable to travel halfway around the world for a ten-day surf trip due to work or family commitments? That Maldives boat trip too much of a stretch for your finances? Do you just want a quick hit of guaranteed waves instead?

Today, many surf tour operators believe there’s going to be a market for people wanting to head to wave pools for a surf holiday. To find out where the emerging wave-pools-as-travel-destinations mojo is at the moment and where it’s headed. We spoke to three players in the game. They are: John Finlay (Director) and Steve Adam (GM) of World Surfaris; Chris Buykx, Global Head Coach and surf tour industry veteran from Perfect Wave Travel (formerly The Perfect Wave); Thermal Travel CEO, Drew Patterson.

Travel to a wave pool destination such as switzerland is becoming more popular. Image shows surfer with alps as a backdrop
Why yes, that is a castle in the background. Wave pools in destinations like Switzerland offer a lot to see and do outside of daily surfing sessions. Mathilde Gremaud. Photo by Alaia Bay

Do you see future demand for wave pool trips/holidays? Will surfers want to travel overseas to surf one or more wave pools

World Surfaris: Absolutely. With various technologies and exotic locations in the mix, the novelty of surfing a new pool, in a new locale, combined with the virtual certainty of ‘perfect waves’, is likely to drive aficionados to travel the globe, ticking various pools off the bucket list – in much the same way that surfers have always done with regular surf trips, both domestically and internationally. 

Perfect Wave Travel: For sure, we’ve been booking Urbnsurf since it opened. Groups of surfers are booking a mission to the pool for all the reasons surfers do trips. The stoke of great waves shared with mates, then add awesome hospitality and it’s good times all ‘round. We’ve been working with Wisemans Surf Lodge (the planned wave pool, close to Sydney on 45-acre riverfront property) as the experience of an incredible wave pool in a stunning setting will offer many of the attractions surfers will travel for. In Europe, Alaia Bay is putting the wave pool experience at the heart of a beautiful destination, with a mountain backdrop, that’ll attract surf travelers to land-locked Switzerland

Thermal: I think there’s a clear future here. Look at the demand for the Surf Ranch; surfers are thrilled at the idea of getting great, consistent barrels. And if you can combine a great surf experience with a compelling destination, I believe there will be strong consumer interest.

wave pool travel in Korea with Wave Park being a favored surf trip destination
Turtle Island opened Wave Park before its other attractions. Once construction is done in the surrounding area, visitors will find hotels, shops, and a tropical resort atmosphere. Photo by Watermelon Surf Photographer

How will marketing wave pool holidays differ from promoting regular surf trips?  

Thermal: Wave pool holidays offer a different proposition for surfers than a typical surf trip. The consistency and predictability can’t be beaten. Surfers know they won’t get skunked and they don’t need to plan trips around swells, that’s a huge plus. Though wave pools don’t offer the same diversity that comes from other surf trips. Surfers aren’t in the ocean and they aren’t connected to long-standing surf communities. It’s a different thing.

World Surfaris: When promoting a regular surf trip to say, the Maldives or Indonesia, from a surf quality perspective, you’re limited to selling possibility. You can guarantee the product, i.e resort/ boat will be of a certain standard, you can even guarantee the destination is a tropical paradise with perfect surf potential. You can’t, however, guarantee the surf will be good or even existent when someone is actually on their trip!  

Wave pools eliminate that uncertainty and take out the unknown variable. You will get perfect surf, or as perfect as that particular pool can make it, on the minute, every minute (mechanical breakdowns notwithstanding). So suddenly, you can even guarantee the number of waves a client may be able to catch over their trip. 

The one uncontrollable element that cannot be guaranteed when promoting a regular surf trip in itself becomes a selling point. The focus now shifts to highlighting “how many waves someone can catch over a week-long trip”. Further, we can then calculate what the exact dollar value assigned to each wave will be and can even guarantee barrels. Something we would never use as a marketing ploy for a regular surf trip.

Perfect Wave Travel: Wave pool holidays will tend toward the shorter trip – 2 or 3 days, the classic long weekend experience, enabled by proximity and ease of access. We are seeing the Wisemans Surf Lodge clientele looking for the same sort of trip style they would get with a few nights snowboarding or skiing in Thredbo or Perisher Valley. Play all day, hang with friends, relax in a club-style setting amongst a like-minded community. The marketing won’t be that different from a regular surf trip, as the shorter wave pool holidays are just a new type of tour. The clientele are the same, they just have more choices to invest their time and budget.

wave pool travel an empty wave peels along a man-made lake at the kelly slater wave pool
The perfection of Lemoore is a legit surf destination. Photo by Pat Nolan/World Surf League

Who would be the main clients for wave pool trips/holidays?  

Perfect Wave Travel: Wave pool holidays are not for all surfers as the costs will always be there. It will be easy for surfers to spend a few hundred dollars a day on surf sessions in the pool, then add food, beverage, accommodations and you’re in the daily budget range equivalent to a quality surf resort. So we’ll see clientele similar to those wanting Maldives surf resorts trips or Indo surf charters. These are surfers who will make a priority of their surf trip. They are not always wealthy but will dedicate part of their budget to the annual surf trip that is so important to them. This happens later in life so most surfers will be aged 30 – 60 and will travel both with family and friends. Developments like Wisemans Surf Lodge perfectly target this market as resort accommodation and club-style hospitality along with natural settings and attractions like golf, the National Parks, and the river make it a great trip for both family getaways as well as a bunch of surfer mates. We think shorter wave pool trips will be competing with snow, golf, and mountain bike trips – they will not be taking away from longer international surf trips.

Thermal: I can see wave pool holidays appealing to a variety of surfers. Folks who are time-constrained and want predictability are a great target market. Likewise, for surfers still learning, the consistency of pool waves can be really helpful. At the same time, the current price point of these waves will limit their appeal to the affluent.

World Surfaris: As more pools and technologies emerge globally and people have access to more than one type of pool, we could certainly see a demographic of pool surfers emerge. Especially in big cities, where access to ocean surf on a daily or even weekly basis is challenging. These surfers would be an obvious client to send to more exotic destinations/pools as they emerge. For example – if you spend your time at UrbnSurf, you’d have an appreciation for the Wavegarden technology and might be drawn to a surf trip to South Korea to sample their iteration of the same technology. The surf pool trip would certainly suit time-poor surfers.  

wave pool travel to the wave bristol: image shows a drone's view of the wave pool and surrounding land complete withe camping area
The Wave in Bristol recently added more stay options for visitors. Photo by Global Shots

Do you think in the future there will be a segment of the surfing population that’d prefer to take holidays to surf pools instead of traditional surf locations? 

World Surfaris: We certainly believe so. There will definitely be a customer base primarily interested in wave pool destinations. We have seen research that claims that for every “surfer” in Australia, there are meant to be 10 “aspirational surfers”- people who would like to try, or would take up, surfing but won’t for a variety of reasons – scared of sharks, not near a suitable beach, lack of confidence, haven’t got suitable equipment, too hard to learn, the fickle nature of surf and so on. 

This is an interesting question. In short, yes. We’ve worked with a couple of pool operators for some time now. For our purposes, we focus on the viability of assigning consultant resources to facilitate both small-scale bookings (a couple of hour-long sessions) and large-scale group trips (groups of 10 surfers or more, 3 days or more, with multiple sessions, flights, boards, etc.)  

Frankly, even with the larger trips, currently, the amount of time involved in facilitating a wave pool booking means that it is less viable than booking a regular surf trip. It is early days, so we’re sure there will be developments in that area that should streamline things and allow travel agents to assign more resources or even focus on wave pool travel.

Perfect Wave Travel: Surfers turn to Perfect Wave Travel when they want to do something special or require advice. We are now emphasizing groups and exclusive pool bookings, targeting Boardriders clubs and the groups that do charters together. We are also working on special events to make a compelling experience. The surfers who just want a few public sessions will always just book direct with the pool. 
The traditional surf trip will always remain relevant, knowledge and experience are critical to the success of surf trips so we’ll continue to use this to drive bookings. The difference is that good wave pools add a new option to the specialized surf travel segment.

Thermal: When planning trips, surfers want to great waves and to connect with local culture. That same challenge exists whether one is planning a visit to a wave pool or connecting with a knowledgeable guide in a destination that is new to them. Helping surfers discover these places and make memories on remarkable trips is why we created Thermal. That’s just as true for wave pools as it is for more traditional trips.

wave pool travel : image of surfer in the tube at urbnsurf in melbourne
Urbnsurf is already a surf travel destination thanks to its branded advanced and expert settings (yes, including beast mode). Photo Chris Stevens