Wave pools have the unique opportunity to be female-focused

With wave pools well on their way to becoming the norm, expect to see more females and families planning holidays that meet their requests – as moms, as women, and as pros looking to log serious wave time. 

For surfers that means chlorinated travel destinations could replace salt water ones

“I think that you can make certain comparisons to surf camps around the world,” said market researcher Sunshine Makarow. “Take someplace like Tavarua, which is the penultimate experience, right? The resort has now become the place for family vacations, where they offer other journeys: if you surf, they’ll take you out over there; if you’re a beginner surfer, you can go over there and go to swimming pools while the pros are aspiring pros are getting barrels at Cloudbreak.”

And with tennis courts, a gym, childcare, and non-surf-related excursions, Tavaura offers more than just a surf-and-leave destination. 

Market researchers like Makarow and her team have taken notice of this model, incorporating the successes of the concept into the future of fast-growing wave pool destinations. With this increase in wave pool accessibility, more and more people are seeking out the pool experience – and several of these surf-seeking customers are women.

Sunshine Makarow and friends in Tavarua
Wave pools have the opportunity to capitalize as a group or family destination, like at Tavarua Island, by offering more than just surfing. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Makarow

What do women want? 

Makarow looked at her audience, polling this nearly untapped market of female surfers seeking the ultimate wave pool experience and she asked them what they wanted in their ideal pool-surfing getaway. The running list included the availability of an experience for all levels of surfer, akin to opting for the luxury offered in resorts like Tavarua, down to a simple, inexpensive hour-long surf workout.

“There were a few things that were a bit surprising [and] obviously things that weren’t,” Makarow said of the results. The intuitive list went a little something like this: “Food is really important: a variety of options, healthy foods, different price points; having a lot of other stuff to do; also having childcare available…important things for women like hot showers or hot towels and being able to stay warm in between sessions […] having a women’s locker room where there are hairdryers and small, creature-comfort details that a lot of times surf camps [just don’t offer].”

Then there was the issue that wasn’t gender-specific, but is nonetheless statistically – overwhelming so – a lady issue: kids. 

Female surfers are also moms and career women – or both. A feature such as childcare would mean they can easily plan some guaranteed waves with the comfort of knowing their little one is safe, happy, and nearby. Obviously, this would benefit fathers as well, but, as women are more often tasked with the majority of kid-to-parent time, this was a major expression of concern. 

“Anyone with kids knows how important childcare is,” said Makarow, “It’s very hard for Mom to go off and get her surf session when she doesn’t have anyone to watch her toddler.”

Rising Tides event pushed up-and-coming women's surfers through the trials.
It’s unlikely that the surfers in a visiting group will be upcoming pros. By offering a variety of surf-level options, wave pools can attract more groups. Photo by the WSL

And if childcare is offered, Mom’s calendar is cleared for other things too, which takes us back to the resort’s offerings. With a gym on the grounds, you can also go get a yoga sesh in or bust out a 30-minute treadmill run. Other features brought up by the feedback were gendered-based lockers rooms with appropriate accommodations and wifi availability. These shifts, though not necessarily gender-specific, were voiced by women seeking a more inviting and comfortable experience. Makarow noted most of these results were expected results.

“I think what was surprising to me was a lot of women responded saying that they were very concerned about the atmosphere and feeling judged – like being on center stage where it’s like, ‘Oh man, is everyone going to be like watching me and making fun of me?’ Most surf breaks, that doesn’t happen because it’s so spread out.” 

Makarow likens the experience to Santa Cruz’s Steamer Lane, “where there’s the peanut gallery up on the cliff and that break is close […] wanting that privacy as you are surfing – it makes sense.” 

Beyond childcare, creature comforts, nutrition options, and private sessions, Makarow said the female surfers polled were unified in yet another area of concern: etiquette. 

WavePoolMag reporter Sarah Beardmore reviewed her solo visit to Urbnsurf in Melbourne, adding that the wide variety of sessions on offer are good for group visits

“How are you going to regulate it so people aren’t wavehogs, taking waves when it’s my turn? How are you enforcing that?” She likens the situation to typical lineups. “A lot of times, people don’t behave well. Women were concerned about going and spending the money and then having that same situation occur.”

Fortunately, in a wave pool everyone waits their turn, so etiquette is really a non-issue.

It’s not that, as wave pools expand into more resort-like experiences, that these changes wouldn’t benefit male surfers, Makarow stresses. “What it really came up to is that they want to know a lot of details ahead of time. They want to be going in eyes wide open, of ‘How is this working? Is there a safety briefing? Is there etiquette? How is the etiquette enforced?’ They want to know more.”

Sunshine Makarow’s wave pool fascination began in 2000 when she trained with the US Surfing Team at Typhoon Lagoon in Orlando

Makarow also stresses that men were not polled, so their concerns are unknown to her and her team.

“I can’t tell you their opinions but the women polled like having all the information ahead of time. It’s critical to know what they are going into.” 

So ladies (and men) – expect to see more variety in your wave pool experience – and your future surf tripping, too. Makarow feels this will put more destinations on the map for female surfers and family surf vacations.

“‘Why not go to Waco for a week?’ or, ‘I don’t know that I would’ve gone to Switzerland otherwise because there’s no ocean there, but if I can go to the wave pool for three days and then go spend three days exploring the Alps…’ There’s such incredible possibility out there.”

Main image by Wavegarden