Why wave variety is important and how it’s done

The thinking goes that with a larger wave offering a wave pool business will be able to attract more customers, from those who have never surfed before on up to elites seeking high-level training platforms. It sounds obvious enough, but look closely and you’ll find there are many layers that answer the question “why do you need wave variety, and exactly how you go about doing it?”

Why variety is important

The first, and most obvious reason is that surf parks need to attract more than just a niche customer. Core surfers are great, but relying solely on this demographic can choke a business model, especially for those locations far away from the coastal high-performance shortboard set.

“You want to attract as many different customers as possible,” said Bruno Gujer, who helped bring Alaia Bay online. “If you have body-boarder or long-boarder specific waves you’ll attract those disciplines. Wave variety simply equals attracting more clients.”

The appeal here is that guests don’t get bored with your wave pool’s offerings. As some in the industry have pointed out, amusement park visitors will tire of even the most amazing roller coaster after few consecutive rides. Surfing and board sports are different.

Jamie Watson of Ka’ana Wave Co. applies lessons learned from his snow and skate background to the emerging wave pool-scape.

“Surf, skate, or snow, it doesn’t matter, riding the same feature over and over again gets boring,” said Jamie. “Surf parks that provide a variety of waves can deliver a surf experience that is more fun for a wider range of ages, skills, and abilities. This is important. As surfing and surf parks become more and more accessible, and people have options, they are going to gravitate toward venues that offer variety.”

Jamie added that surf parks that provide a variety of waves are also better equipped to produce broader, more versatile programming, which creates more flexibility for an operator. And it’s these parks that will be able to attract that diverse customer base each week. “Variety is a powerful tool for surf parks that want to sell out faster and at full price,” added Jamie.

Keeping visitors interested and therefore returning is what sustains this wave pool shelf life. But just how to do this is where things get tricky. For Ka’ana Wave Co, offering a variety of waves in pools and lagoons which can be activated for additional activities is the answer. For venues like URBNSURF Melbourne, it’s drilling down customer data to ensure that clients stay interested and that sessions are booked as fully as possible.

kaana wave variety
For Ka’ana Wave Co, offering a variety of waves in pools and lagoons keeps things interesting

It keeps customers interested

“The broader the product selection, the broader the market segments you can tap into,” said James Miles of URBNSURF. “This has advantages from an occupancy and revenue perspective, customer acquisition perspective and providing a clear pathway for progressive surfers (our biggest market segment), that increases lifetime customer value.”

James said they have worked with Wavegarden to create new session types that best reflect their client demands. An example is the Cruiser session which have proven quite popular with the longboard, intermediate and fresh-from-being-a-beginner set.

Wave variety helps surfers progress

Newbies don’t wobble on a foamie forever. In a best-case scenario, they advance their surfing abilities through your surf park. Serve them well and you will create tomorrow’s advanced customers. Jamie Watson noted that it’s this variety in surf offerings that is key to helping the surfer progress on their journey.

“Surf parks that can provide a range of waves to deliver quick progression for beginners and full-range skill development for advanced riders are better set to keep more guests engaged, and for longer,” said Jamie. “It’s those surf parks that can continually create different, fun, new waves that have a marketable edge up as they can give guests a legitimate reason to come back next week, next month or next year.”

Waco Surf’s pro sessions offer a wedgy barrel, for which people are willing to shell out a few hundred bucks

Wave variety generates more income

Chat with anyone at a wave pool and the first question is “what session are you on today?” It’s that reference point that communicates heaps about a surfer’s preference and ability. And surfers will pay for that variety.

For example, Waco Surf’s pro sessions sell out at $349 a pop while the beginner sessions are priced at a relatively lower $99. It helps to note that each and every one of those surfers paying for a pro session were beginners at one point, and that between these two settings are intermediate and advanced offerings.

Sean Young at Wavegarden noted that ordering waves on tap is the best way to see your customers advance from the intermediate to the advanced stage and pony up for the more expensive sessions later down the line.

“One of the most exciting and attractive features of surf parks is their ability to help surfers learn and progress more quickly than would normally be the case in the ocean,” said Sean. “It is therefore vital that surf parks can offer a wide variety of waves to support this progression from complete beginner to expert.”

Ben Skinner at The Cove
Ben Skinner breaks some rules and rides a longboard during a shortboard wave setting

How the technology companies are meeting customer demand

Sean noted that a Cove design has the ability to add new types of waves to the menu and to plug any gaps in the progression and learning curve for the ambitious customer. As a result, the company now offers 20 different types of main waves, a few specialty settings and a ‘reform’ or secondary wave that is suitable for beginners and improvers.

From Waco’s pro sessions to URBNSURF’s Play in the Bays, surf parks are threading the needs of both extreme ends of the surfing consumer public.

Baptiste Caulonque, Chief Commercial Officer of Endless Surf, says its the job of the wave technology companies to take careful notice of exactly what it is that surfers want.

“To meet the demand that exists out there for surfing, technologies and operations have to deliver a wide range of experiences to cater to all groups, as well as offer premium surf to progressing surf performance,” said Baptiste. “Rigid, one-size-fits-all models are not a best practice, as they do not satiate the surfer appetite nor help businesses succeed in the long run.”

He noted that multiple consumer groups exist at each surf park and that every single one needs to be addressed to make a surf park business sustainable.

“A wave pool needs to cater customers by gender, age, ability, surfboard type, stance and surfers with special needs,” added Baptiste. “And every consumer group is looking for a different experience in that lagoon.”

Baptiste broke it down further noting that businesses need to not only provide the most waves possible to help a surfer improve, but also provide a wide range of waves during that one-hour session. He suggested replicas of existing dream waves, the ability to randomise which waves come through the lineup and being able to mix it up in an alternating or shared lefts and rights environment.

Endless Surf operating settings
Endless Surf operating settings offer a variety of waves

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, all this theory goes out the window if a wave pool doesn’t fill up their sessions. And there’s a lot that goes into achieving a full wave tank.

“For surf park operators to make the most profit out of their asset they need to be able to adjust their offerings as the market grows and there’s more competition,” said Baptist. “A surf park is a substantial investment, and it needs to factor in not only volume driven operating hours, premium hours for club members and private events, but also tailor operations to capacity so there are no wasted waves and wasted energy.”

In addition, to figure out a schedule that meets the needs of customers, surf parks need to pay close attention and adapt and evolve.

“Having a schedule that aligns with the lifestyles of our consumers has been a really important part of our success,” noted James Miles. “Remote work and increased flexibility has meant significant changes to which of our segments are coming at what time of the day. Remaining agile and initially limiting how far in advance you are scheduling sessions, allows operators to review occupancy data and customer feedback to schedule for maximum success.”

In a zen sense each and every wave is perfect simply for what it is, whether generated by machine or winds across an open fetch of ocean. But humans are a complicated group and, well, demanding. Fortunately, when we are the ones creating the waves, we have the ability to tailor when and how they are delivered.

For a company like Ka’ana it’s offering small footprint, adjustable waves, while for Endless surf it’s different pneumatic creations. There are many technologies out there, each has its strengths, but the discourse always returns to variety.

“Variety means a better surf experience, for the surf park it’s attracting more customers,” said Jamie. “Surf parks that provide a variety of waves can attract a larger, more diverse customer base, keep guests engaged for longer, and give those guests a reason to come back often.”

Endless Surf 2023A