“I’m a surfer, not a businessman,” says Charles Williams, of Fort Pierce, who has been building Impact surfboards since the mid-1970s and stays afloat by marketing his boards at the beach.
Fort Pierce already is home to a popular surf spot: the north jetty.
But an artificial wave pool, part of a recently proposed development on Midway Road, could elevate the city to an even more popular surfing destination.
Brevard County, a hotspot for professional surfing competitions, is considered Florida’s surfing capital, said John Hughes, executive director of the Florida Surf Museum in Cocoa Beach. But wave pools, such as Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch in inland California, also host pro contests for a stadiumlike setting.
“Fort Pierce could turn that into something,” Hughes said. “They could pull more of the surfing industry down there.”
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A visualization of the Wavegarden at Willow Lakes on West Midway Road in Fort Pierce, a surfing and entertainment village that received a first set of zoning approvals from the Fort Pierce City Commission, Sept. 21, 2020. (Photo: CONTRIBUTED IMAGE FROM BOHLER)
Wave pools for surfing are rare in Florida. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park in Lake Buena Vista near Orlando is the only one Hughes knows.
He surfed there once and found it to be “fairly expensive.” His group paid about $1,000 for a couple hours, splitting it up to be $100 each. And it wasn’t a quality wave, he said.
Looking at the technology proposed by WaveGarden for Fort Pierce, he said, that would be legitimate.
Wave pools aren’t a new concept. Hughes said he found articles from the 1920s about an aquatic center in London with a machine to create waves like in the ocean.
“It’s basically trying to create a wave where there isn’t one because people want to be able to surf when they want to,” Hughes said. “People have been trying forever, but trying to make a wave like the ocean is hard, and it’s expensive.”
Even Slater, the 11-time world champion from Cocoa Beach, tried to bring his artificial wave pool technology to Florida.
The World Surf League, which bought the rights to the Kelly Slater Wave Co., scrapped its plans last year for a wave basin in Jupiter Farms in inland Palm Beach County because of the high water table.
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Hughes said the wave pool would bring people from across the nation to Fort Pierce. Whether locals use the wave pool, especially on those flat summer days, will depend on how affordable the owners make it, he said.
“They could make it affordable so a lot of people can go there,” Hughes said, “or they can turn it into some exclusive, elitist club that has a high admission, like a golf club.”
Charles “Chuck” Williams, an Impact surfboards shaper who’s been surfing at the Fort Pierce Inlet State Park for about 50 years, said he could see the wave pool benefitting his business.
Not only would it mean new surfers needing boards, it also would require seasoned surfers to get more boards because of the difference in buoyance between saltwater and freshwater.
“It could bring a lot of attention to our area and bring in a lot more surfers,” Williams said. “It’s going to bring a lot more surfing into the area.”
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Surfing is unlike other sports because the athletes can’t play unless so many conditions are right, he said.
“You have to wait on the waves,” Williams said. “And you have to be a weatherman to even know when the waves are going to hit.”
With a wave pool, surfers can be guaranteed waves every 90 seconds.
Even though the proposed Fort Pierce wave pool appears to be the only one located near a beach — as well as a popular surf spot — Williams said it makes sense. A wave pool could give parents peace of mind for their kids to learn surfing almost risk-free.
“The possibilities are limitless. If you could take one part of the pool and do surf lessons — no sharks, no jellyfish and the lifeguard’s right there — parents can drop their kids off just like they do with golf or tennis,” he said.
People who can’t take off work to surf during the day could go at night, he said, if the future facility allows it.
“It’s going to be really good for the working surfer,” Williams said. “They have good jobs. They make good money. They don’t mind paying a little.”
Jeff Hawkins, who started Sonic Surfboards with his brother in 1994, has been teaching people to surf locally since 1987. He runs a 12-week surf camp for kids and offers private lessons year-round through Fort Pierce Surf & Skate.
Hawkins said most wave pools have different skill levels, so more advanced surfers can practice maneuvers on one wave while beginners can learn on another. It makes the learning curve a lot faster.
“It would be a good place to learn because the wave is repetitive,” Hawkins said. “It’s the same wave over and over, so you can work your muscle memory. You can figure it out a lot faster than a regular wave at the beach, where it’s inconsistent and always changing.”
Laurie K. Blandford is TCPalm’s entertainment reporter and columnist dedicated to finding the best things to do on the Treasure Coast. Follow her on Twitter at @TCPalmLaurie or Facebook at faceboook.com/TCPalmLaurie.
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