When can we surf Berlin? Surf Era project digs in
With pulled back blond curls and the beginnings of a feral beard, Eirik Randow looks a bit like a younger, decidedly Germanic Mark Occhilupo. Despite English as a second language, he’s more well-spoken than Occy (sorry Occ!) As the Founder and CEO of Surf Era, both a B2B and B2C wave pool company, he reached out to us on LinkedIn to help spread the word about his project.
We sat. We listened. We talked about surfing and surfing in wave pools. His pitch had the same hyper-promotion we’ve grown accustomed to in the self-inflated culture of LinkedIn. But because Eirik (pronounced “eye-rick”) is a core surfer, all stats, figures and projections eventually circled back to the act of riding waves. We learned that the Coronavirus had left him stranded in El Salvador and that he was really stoked about being stranded until he realised he wouldn’t be able to surf during the country’s lockdown. He beelined to the German embassy and flew home with a handful of compatriots.
According to Eirik there are 25,000 active surfers in Berlin – “active” being dedicated to a few weeks per year of time spent surfing on vacation. But being a surfer in Berlin is tough, and surf trips only do so much to settle your froth. For the estimated 13 million tourists passing through the capital each year a wave pool would be a nice addition to currywurst plates at Brandenburg gate and Check Point Charlie photo ops. Among the city’s 3.5million residents, there are latent surfers waiting to come out. One only has to look at the success of City Wave Berlin to see the collective surf drive in the city.
Project location and design goals
Surf Era Berlin has been years in the making and is now eyeing four potential locations in and around Berlin with the favoured site about 25 minutes from the city center via train. The masterplan design is modular with 15,000 square meters of container-sized wooden structures configured to suit the evolving needs of the park. The prefabricated modules as well as the Masterplan will be done by Grimshaw Architects, the same folks who built the UK’s National Space Centre.
Eirik says he and partner Marvin Thams want to create another world within Berlin available to people who aren’t usually able to do something like surfing.
“It can be the kids, the family or the grandma sipping her cappuccino and watching while the kids go surfing,” Eirik told us. “Surf Era is meant to be a place where people are welcome to get together like we do in surfing. Surfers tend to stick together and are one unit. That’s one of the things I love about the sport and why I fell in love with the sport. And it’s what I want others to experience.”
At the moment, the company is eyeing Wavegarden’s Cove technology as the best fit for their first choice location and because it ticks so many boxes required for a successful surf park: waves per hour, adjustments, beginner areas, etc.
“We’ve talked to Wavegarden and they’ve been really helpful and handed down a lot of information. We can’t just say 100 percent that we will go with that. Once the land is decided we will finalise the tech. Wavegarden is a great system and they know what they’re doing. What I loved about the Wave in Bristol (also using Wavegarden Cove tech) is that if you close your eyes it gives the feeling that it’s the ocean. It’s an ocean feeling with a full-size Cove.”
Despite all the Cove love Eirik added that they are in close dialogues with other very promising technology suppliers.”
The design is also unique in part because it will be enclosed under a retractable roof to fend off rain, snow and the German winters. On these days the surf park will maintain indoor temps 20 degrees above outdoor temperature. So, a minus 10 celsius January morning would mean 10 celsius indoors (15 and 50 respectively in Farenheit.) In summer the roof gets peeled back to let the sun shine in.
Surf Era will use an energy management system that includes wind power, geothermal and lots and lots of solar panels. The extra energy created during summer (there are nearly 17 hours of daylight around the summer solstice) will be stored in batteries for short and longterm use and shared with neighbours or piped back into the grid.
“Independently, artificial wave production is a giant energy consumer so we need to be a giant energy producer. In the ethics of surfing we can’t be in conflict. We have to be in harmony with the ocean. The ocean doesn’t need any fossil fuels to make waves, so why should we?”
Two years ago the project earned a scholarship which allowed Eirik and crew to dedicate themselves full time to the project. They have an investor ready to back the €100million plan once the land lease deal is signed. To ensure a smooth road from concept to concrete pouring, Surf Era is opening up to smaller investors. Even still, it will take some time.
“Especially in Germany where sometimes things can be more complicated with administrative requirements, it can take a while. It’s good that we have that framework that we’re moving toward but with businesses it comes with a downside of just slowing the entire process down. But it’s for good reason. Obviously Berlin has other struggles. There’s a lack of affordable housing which is really important. So we won’t consider a location that could be used for housing.”
The other component to Surf Era is their B2B turnkey work for surf park development. During the build of their flagship site Eirik and crew have learned quite a bit about scalability and sustainability in creating a wave pool. There are a few other companies in the space, most notably Surf Park Management, Extreme Destinations and Select Contracts but Surf Era’s niche-within-a-niche will be that it’s a name-brand surf park product ready for almost any destination in the world.
“If you want a surf park, then you don’t have to run around and test all the technology. No matter which technology you go with, Wavegarden, Surf Loch, Surf Lakes, Bosch Rexroth, AWM, Webber, Okahina, we implement a technology that our clients will benefit from the most. And then we build the Surf Era concept around that. You talk to us and we say OK, here is your land analysis and visitor rate and what prices would work. So we take you by the hand to lead you through building the perfect surf park for your needs. And do it as environmentally and economically friendly as possible. None the less – if the client does not have any interests in terms of being ecological sustainable – he simply does not fit Surf Era beliefs and company core values.”
When can we surf Berlin?
The best case scenario is that we are surfing Berlin in two-and-a-half years from when the land location is finalised. It takes time to go from broad-concept to finalised-concept with government and neighbourhood input and business adjustments which can be a parallel sequence done alongside the necessary administrative work. Once that’s completed it’s 12-to-18 months of construction and testing the facility.
“A project like this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. There are just a trillion things you always need to be aware of and that need to be taken into consideration. We are very grateful that our local surf community is backing us. We are proud of what we have accomplished within the framework of resources.”
As Aaron Trevis, Nick Hounsfield and Andrew Ross will tell you, it takes a strong team and a tempest of the will to create waves away from the ocean. Something has to drive an individual. It’s a spark that goes beyond the LinkedIn cacophony of self-promotional noise. For wave makers, that mojo is the powerful act of surfing itself.
“The first time you stand up on a wave and make that closer connection to surfing is magic. And there’s not a lot of people who let go of that once they start.”