Wrap Up Report Surf Park Summit 2022: Thought leaders, investors & developers connect

Under a brilliant October sun at Scripps Seaside Forum in San Diego, a record-setting number of surf park operators, developers, investors and thought leaders gathered to share ideas and connect at the 2022 Surf Park Summit. It was the seventh annual event, since Surf Park Central launched their first gathering in 2015.

With a steady stream of snacks, coffee, cocktails and conversation, the beachside space beyond the conference hall was a hive of activity. Talking waves, trading notes, exchanging insights (and sometimes, business cards), summit attendees flowed from chats outdoors to company booths just inside and conference panels that ran during the two-day event.

This year’s panels, broadly speaking, covered innovations and challenges in the business. Among the biggest points of discussion were sustainability, the availability of data, and the growing pains of a burgeoning industry. Group talks covered topics from finance to marketing and surf progression to innovation. 

The networking breaks during the panel intermissions were extremely popular. Photo by John Cocozza

Opening Ceremonies

Surf Park Central co-founder Jess Ponting, Ph.D., who’s also a sustainable surf tourism researcher and consultant at San Diego State University, opened the event with a state-of-the-surf-park union. He touched on some of the industry’s recent highs, like new capital and developments and Surf Park Central’s growth as an industry hub. He also spoke to some of the hurdles, like the public’s focus on water use and sustainability.

To clear stumbling blocks around that, he said, the industry should prioritize cohesive messaging, far in advance of future projects.

“Negative press around water has thrown a significant curveball,” said Ponting. “It’s a testament of the need to get way out ahead of these issues and have water and carbon neutrality baked into plans. As well as a solid, authentic narrative of how it will be achieved.”

Along with sustainability, Ponting discussed how public perceptions of wave pools and related developments have changed over time. In 2015, when Surf Park Central created its first public survey, respondents were more concerned with the authenticity of wave pools within surf culture than with the wave pool experience. Now, seven years later, there’s virtually no debate about the merits of wave pools versus ocean surfing. Instead, said Ponting, the quality of artificial waves was the top priority.

How core do surf parks need to go with their surf marketing? WavePoolMag curated five widely different stories from UNIT, Alaia Bay, Surf Park Management, Firewire Surfboards and Urbnsurf. Photo by John Cocozza

Day one panels

A full day of panels and networking followed Ponting’s opening remarks. First up was a panel on financing and investments in surf parks. Matt Hyslop of Colliers led the discussion, whose panelists included Beach Street Development’s Alex Bergman, Proswell’s Ryder Thomas, Wavegarden’s Sean Young, Lagniappe Capital’s Andrew Limbocker, and Bryce Petty from GAST Clearwater.

One of the key issues for surf parks seeking investment, said Bergman, is a lack of data and transparency. A lot of surf park developers and wave pool technologists, he said, keep their numbers close to the chest. There tends to be lack of visibility into profits, lack of visibility into the credentials of the team, and then general opacity around data about surfing overall.

Taken together, those factors make it difficult for individual investors and family offices to feel confident. As the industry grows, it’s another opportunity for surf parks to create and share clear information around their businesses, and a move that can help the landscape overall.

Day one also featured the first of two lightning rounds, in which wave pool companies shared their innovations and updates in successive, 10-minute presentations. Dynamic waves took the spotlight first, with rapid-fire talks from companies including Endless Surf, Wavegarden, Surf Lakes, Surfloch, Westlake, Swell MFG and Olas Surfing Technology. 

Rounding out day one panels were talks on the future of and techniques in sustainability for the surf park milieu; the use of core surf brand marketing; lessons from surf lagoons; and a crowd favorite: a sunset happy hour presented by Endless Surf in partnership with Myrtha Pools.

WavePoolMag editor-in-chief Bryan Dickerson hosted the core surf messaging panel. The discussion included a wide spectrum of players in the field, all with different use-case scenarios of core surf messaging in either their surf park or technology. Alaia Bay in Switzerland explained the benefits of partnering with Boardriders to convert new clients, while Urbnsurf opened up about their data-driven process.

Fernando Odriozola, Rupert Partridge and James Miles taking in the late afternoon beachfront cocktail vibes. Photo by WavePoolMag

Day two panels

For early birds on the summit’s second day, Firewire offered demo boards to kick things off, in knee-to-thigh-high surf. No, it wasn’t firing. But the small-scale conditions meant that surfers could test the equipment’s mettle in the kind of waves that matter: the workaday slop of the urban surfer.

If knee-high waves didn’t provide enough inspiration, next up was a VIP breakfast featuring prominent ex-pros including Shane Beschen, Ian Cairns and Damien and CJ Hobgood, along with recent Olympic contender Kolohe Andino. With Olympics top of mind, the day’s first panel focused on the progression of surfing and the role of surf parks, led by USA Surfing.

Other highlights throughout the day included a discussion on planning, development and design, and the elements that go into creating a great overall surf park guest experience. Spotlight sessions focused on Beach Street Development and Melbourne, Australia’s Urbnsurf park. 

The day two lightning round, meanwhile, focused on standing waves. Companies that presented their work included EpicSurf, FlowSurf, YourWave, Ka’ana Wave Co. and UNIT Surf Pool. In addition to advances in technology and updates to each operation, the discussion centered on how standing waves can augment a surf park experience, and where they fit into the larger ecosystem of wave technology, tourism and surfer progression. Another golden-hued happy hour closed the event, as attendees mingled and chatted until well after the sky grew dark. The banter was warm, the drinks were cold, and the mood was upbeat. The summit, which is designed for surf park leaders, developers and investors, had taken on a natural rhythm of its own, and left attendees with new open doors, new conversations started, and a collective sense of purpose.

Surf Park Summit 2022 award winners EpicSurf, Unit and Wavegarden. Photo by John Cocozza