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Beach City Warms to Wave Maker

Huntington Beach officials like the idea of an arena where surfers and novice tourists could practice under perfect conditions.

June 13, 2004|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Surfers in Huntington Beach may one day find the perfect wave -- a few blocks inland.

A proposal to construct a commercial, $10-million wave pool -- where operators will be able to spoil surfers by summoning perfect, 8-foot barrels -- is making the rounds at City Hall.

At first, the notion had the appeal of a refrigerator salesmen in the Arctic, but after giving it more thought, city officials said they were smitten.

"For the good surfers who don't like crowds and people in their way, this would be a wonderful place to practice," said Mayor Cathy Green. "I questioned them about having the ocean nearby, but they validated their points."

The idea is being promoted by Jamie Meiselman, whose limited partnership, Surfparks, has teamed with Florida's Ron Jon's surf stores to develop a wave-pool centerpiece next year at an Orlando shopping mall.

"It doesn't take a lot of research to realize that Southern California is a very likely market," said Meiselman, who was in Huntington Beach scouting locations.

He identifies his target audience as surfers in their mid-20s who who have jobs, spouses and little free time.

"They don't have time to waste with sloppy wave conditions," he said. "Think about this: What if you could tell your wife or buddies that you'll be surfing good waves Tuesday at 8 a.m.?"

The cost to catch the perfect wave hasn't been decided, but other parks charge about $15 an hour.

Meiselman's is one of several companies founded by investors who think their product can find a market by improving on nature, just as artificial turf sells in Kentucky.

"We have the technology to build a perfect 10-foot barrel that can peel off 100 yards or more," said Tom Lochtefeld, who co-founded Raging Waters in San Dimas in 1983 and more recently constructed the Wave House at Belmont Park at San Diego's Mission Beach.

The first generation of wave pools, which debuted in the 1970s, created 3- to 8-foot waves by the sudden release of water from behind walls. More than 300 operate today, primarily for swimmers.

But with improved technology, a few parks are suited for surfing.

Lochtefeld's FlowRider operates by forcing water, just several inches deep, across taut, polyester-reinforced vinyl, formed to resemble the shape of a wave. The water rushes toward the surfer, who "rides the wave" in place as the water travels below and past him.

The largest proposed open-air wave pools would be about the size of a football field.

Lochtefeld and other boosters believe surf pools would prove as popular in wave-challenged Kansas as in Redondo Beach and other Southern California coastal locales already stocked with surfers, snowboarders, skateboarders and others up for the challenge.

Purists say nothing can replace the real McCoy, which is why they chase waves at faraway locales with names like Uluwatu and Teahupoo.

But coastal surfers also face contaminated water, annoying crowds and flat or poorly shaped waves.

"Friends of mine drove all the way up north around San Luis Obispo and when they got there the waves were flat. They got skunked," said Bob Bolen, a Huntington Beach long boarder who in the 1970s owned the Greek, a famed Main Street surfboard shop. "If these entrepreneurs can design a 100-yard, 8-foot wave, you can attract guys who really can charge a wave."

City officials have warmed to the notion.

The city would get a stream of tourists from around the world, many eager to learn to surf, Green said.

"It's the first thing they want to do. But when you're a beginner trying it in the ocean, you find that it's a tough place to learn."

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