There are less than two dozen surf parks in the world, but those who champion the industry believe that the future will likely include many more of the man-made wave pools that mimic the ocean and allow everyone from beginning surfers to the sport’s top professionals to try their hand – and feet – at riding waves.
With that in mind, San Diego – home of some of the best surfing spots in the nation – will be hosting the 10th annual Surf Park Summit later this year. This year’s event will include a special focus on new development, with a series of specially curated sessions aimed at those in the construction, design and development sectors of the surf park industry.
Since 2013, Surf Park Summit has brought together global industry leaders from hundreds of businesses – including food and beverage services, sports and fitness insurance companies and major real estate developers — that work to create the future of surfing outside the ocean.
Put on by the Solana Beach-based organization called Surf Park Central, the summit has sold out in years past, so organizers are looking to get the word out well in advance of the event, which is set for Sept. 19 and Sept. 20 at Scripps Seaside Forum in La Jolla.
Surf Park Central boasts a loyal network of more than 275,000 followers; its audience and contributors include developers, investors, retailers, resort owners and operators, action sports enthusiasts, professional surfers, entrepreneurs, wave technology providers, suppliers and professional service companies and industry stakeholders around the world.
“We are a catalyst to bring people interested in development of surf parks with man-made waves together,” said Surf Park Central COO Jessica Mahoney. “We started primarily for people interested in surfing and how do you bring that beyond-the-ocean surf to the public, what does that business look like?”
San Diego State professor Jess Ponting, along with surf park developer/industry expert John Luff, founded Surf Park Central in 2012 to help accelerate the successful growth of surf parks. Ponting, who teaches sustainable surfing tourism at SDSU, said there is more institutional capital being invested in surf parks now than ever before.
While there are only 14 surf parks around the world – including pro surfer Kelly Slater’s new Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California – Ponting said he expects there will be six to 10 more in the coming two years, including one in Palm Springs and another in Palm Desert.
He also shared some telling statistics about outdoor recreation, of which surf parks are a growing component. Ponting said that Outdoor Industry Foundation reports that outdoor recreation in the U.S. saw its largest ever participation rates in 2021 and that the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis says that outdoor recreation’s gross output ($862 billion) currently outstrips the broader U.S. economy by two to three times across different indicators.
Ponting also said that over the pandemic, surfing experienced unprecedented growth – 27% in the U.S. – and that “the surf populations are getting younger and more female.” U.S. participation in 2022 was between 3.3 and 3.5 million people, Ponting said, noting that 80% say they surf at least monthly.
Surf Park Central
FOUNDERS: John Luff, Jess Ponting
HEADQUARTERS: Solana Beach
BUSINESS: Business Intelligence Aggregator
CONTACT: Visit surfparkcentral.com
SOCIAL IMPACT: Works with nonprofit beneficiaries. At last year’s Surf Park Summit, surfer and surf artist Drew Brophy did a live painting on a surfboard with the proceeds benefiting the Rob Machado Foundation.
NOTABLE: Two surf parks will be opening in the Southern California desert areas in the next two years, one in in Palm Springs another in Palm Desert.