CADDYSCHWACK!

posted by / News / April 1, 2004

White shoes. Lime pants. Pink shirts. Blue hair. Are these the future colors of surfing? Well, whether or not golf fashion infiltrates our sport in coming years, if Orlando, Florida’s Ron Jon Surfpark comes to fruition, we may inherit some of the country club’s more stylish qualities: like reserved, orderly sessions among a select number of people; lessons with pros; lounges and libations — and best of all — special access to a perfectly sculpted playground.

“A country club is actually a good {{{comparison}}},” says Surfparks LLC managing partner, Jamie Meiselman. “We want to build a place where, for a reasonable fee, members can consistently come to practice their skills, get quality instruction and — most importantly — surf a world-class wave.”

Here’s how it will work. Surfers can sign up for memberships, paying from $625 to $2000 a year for a guaranteed spot in the lineup. Depending on what plan they choose, they can surf a certain number of waves, at certain times. Once registered, all the surfer will have to do is schedule a session — much like a tee time — and show up for a two-hour surf where they’ll take turns trading waves with up to 35 others for a total cost of one to two bucks a wave.

And, oh, what a wave. As revealed on Surfingthemag.com last April, this ain’t no chlorine mushburger. Surfparks is holding what could be surfing’s ultimate dream machine. Combining a specialized wave generator with a computer-controlled floor called the VersaReef, the Surfparks design can mimic a number of famous breaks — from Kirra to Raglan — offering saltwater rides up to 8 feet and {{{100}}} meters. Sounds to good to be true, but the pool and floor technology were developed by the world’s leading artificial reef expert, Kerry Black, who has a 1/8-scale working model housed at his ASR Ltd, headquarters in New Zealand. And over the past seven years, Black and his team have built a database of 42 spots from around the world to work with, although this first park will launch with fewer options.

“We’re only going to start with a handful of waves,” Black explains. “But with the VersaReef we can basically tweak those in any number of ways — we could even flop Pipeline and make it a right.”

Needless to say, the idea of putting a design-your-own superbreak in one of America’s most wave-light regions has caught the attention of more than a few industry players. Not only has Ron Jon signed on as a title sponsor — providing a location and tourism-draw for the 10-million-dollar facility at Orlando’s Festival Bay shopping complex — top professionals such as Shea and Cory Lopez are already aboard as staff pros and there are deals in the works with both Hobgood brothers and four-time world champion Lisa Andersen.

“Our hope is to develop a crew of on-site pros, like you’d find on a golf course,” says Mitch Varnes who manages the Hobgoods and Andersen. “For example, there’d be week or two a year where, say, {{{CJ}}} or Lisa would be available for private lessons. And in between there would be a staff of seasoned professionals who would instruct based on CJ and Lisa’s competitive principles.”

While Meiselman is still seeking funding for the project, interest remains high from both potential investors and the general — and not so general — public. When a Florida Today article announced the park would begin signing up memberships in advance for its proposed arrival in early 2005, the Surfparks website nearly maxed-out its capacity of 1200 registered members in a matter of days. And the list of would-be takers doesn’t just feature nearby Floridians; it includes addresses from Virginia, Connecticut, New York, even California. Furthermore, some of the most recognized names in East Coast surfing are getting in-line, such as former WCT pros Bryan Hewitson and Danny Melhado, upstarts like Adam Wickwire and Eric Taylor, plus top wakeboarder Darin Shapiro.

These are all surfers who rule their homebreaks and could book an exotic boat trip in a matter of minutes. So why are they willing to spend up to two grand a year for local status at a souped-up cement pond?

“I signed up cause I’m curious,” says Melhado. “Who knows if it’ll work, but if there’s really going to be a good, consistent barrel in Florida, wouldn’t you want to be there?”

Hard to argue with that kind of logic. Which brings up another scary question: what about the other 100,000 Sunshine State surfers who’ll want to ride but won’t have a pass? Flat spells can last a month in Florida, and Orlando is smack between two coast’s worth of surf-hungry Gators. If this dream park becomes a reality, opening day could be more crowded than Sebastian in July. Don’t worry, Meiselman’s already thought of a solution.

“Well, as part of a larger, tourism-based facility we have to make sure that the random curious customer can walk up and give it a shot, which is why we limited the membership to account for just 40% of the total capacity,” he responds. “But I could totally see building other facilities that would be strictly for members — provided the demand was there.”

And while perfect waves may be a rare commodity in Florida, demand for perfect waves definitely isn’t.

“Sure, today it’s offshore and five feet, but what about the other 360 days?” laughs Shea Lopez. “You can spend a couple grand, travel for days and hope all the conditions come together. Or you can spend half that, drive for an hour, get your fix and go home. Seems like a pretty easy decision to me.”

Sounds like it was an easy decision for almost 1200 others, too. But if things work out, the next round of issues might not be so easy to figure out. Like, could surf parks be the answer to California’s claustrophobia? How much do you tip your caddy? And, perhaps most importantly, do these plaid trunks go with my duck-print rashguard? Matt Walker

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