Three Obscure Wave Pools You Can Still Surf Today
Next time you happen to be in Edmonton…
Right now, 19 wave pools around the world are open to the public.
1. The Surf Ranch
2. Wave Park
4. The Wave
5. Praia da Grama
6. BSR Surf Resort
7. Surf Stadium
8. Skudin Surf American Dream
9. Adventure Parc Snowdonia
10. Alaia Bay
11. Typhoon Lagoon
12. Big Surf Arizona
13. West Edmonton Mall
14. Siam Waterpark
15. Valley of the Waves
16. Wadi Adventure
17. Sunway Lagoon
18. The Splash House
19. Kobi Reyes
Pools are listed in no particular order. If you like particular orders, read this piece which breaks down everything you need to know about the top 10.
However, there’s more to this story than an elitist top 10. We thought it would be nice to highlight a few places that have been disrupting water in the name of pleasure for a while now. New wave-making technology may have left these pools in the dust, but we find something charming about the idea of inebriated Canadians surfing together 1,000 kilometers from the coast.
So, without further ado…
West Edmonton Mall: Edmonton, Canada
The West Edmonton mall is home to a chlorinated dream that, when there’s eight feet of snow outside, looks pretty tempting. Thirty-two million visitors per year make their way through the mall with a small handful ending up in the pool during surfing hours.
Why you’ll want to surf here: You’re in a mall and it’s snowing outside. The novelty brag of jumping into 80-degree water while the glass ceiling ices up above the surf is priceless.
Wave’s technical information: The Blue Thunder Wave Pool spits out a knee-high jumble of waves with an interval that would be ocean equivalent to 4 or 5 seconds.
Hours of operation/seasonal hours: Mall is open all year. But you have to join the club to have surfing access which can be done on Facebook through the club. The pool director then lets the club know which upcoming evenings will be dedicated to surfing, typically 90 min sessions.
Price Breakdown: Each 90-minute session is $79.
Getting there: Fly into Edmonton International, rent a car and drive 30 minutes to the mall. A bus along the same route takes one hour.
Where to stay: Hotels and motels from $50-$150
Food: You can gorge yourself post-session at one of the world’s largest food courts
Surf in the region: Mellow. It’s a quick 17-hour drive through the Rocky Mountains to get to Tofino.
Cultural hits: The West Edmonton Mall is listed as a top attraction. If the smell of chlorine and butter-flavored popcorn isn’t your bag, Ice Castles — a sort of petting zoo with ice instead of sheep — is a big draw.
Oddity: Edmonton is North America’s northernmost city with a metropolitan population of more than one million people.
Typhoon Lagoon: Orlando, Florida
Typhoon Lagoon is the original, so we can’t be too hard on it. But if corporate restaurants serving fried food and splitting a mushy peak are your thing, this is the place. Again, no judgment.
Why you’ll want to surf here: You live in Florida.
Wave’s technical information: Typhoon Lagoon pumps water into silos, or caissons and then releases it into the pool. When the silos are half full it creates a 4-foot wave and if you fill the silos all the way, then an 8-foot wave could be created. Most popular is the split peak which, although it satisfies two riders, tends to be mushier than the dedicated left or right wave settings.
Hours of operation/seasonal hours: Year-round including some holidays. Surfing is done before and after regular pool hours, so 8-10 am and 5-7 pm.
Price breakdown: You can rent the pool with friends and pricing follows the number of waves generated during your rental block. 100 waves is $1,150, 125 waves for $1,550 and 150 waves goes for $1,850.
Getting there: Orlando has flights from just about anywhere in the US and fares are really competitive. You can do a round trip from LAX for under $200. But you will have to pay for your boards, or pick up a Craig’s Lister on the cheap as Typhoon Lagoon only rents soft tops. Half your flight will be going to Disneyworld so expect screaming children.
Where to stay: So many homogenous hotels with great deals, sad buffets, and expansive parking lots. Welcome to the exotic world of surf travel.
Food: Something went seriously wrong in America when whimsical themes collided with dining establishments. Name a franchised restaurant and it’s here in Orlando. Fuck adventure. You can order the exact same thing you do when you dine out with the in-laws during the Holidays.
Surf in the region: In just over an hour, you can drive to Cocoa Beach, pray beneath the Kelly Slater statue, kiss his feet, then grovel in his honor.
Cultural hits: There’s a smattering of art galleries and theatres. But people come here for conventions and theme parks. So the city is like a big outdoor mall catering to these visitors.
Oddity: The only surf spot on the planet where the water might actually be 23% urine.
Big Surf: Tempe, Arizona
If you thought Typhoon Lagoon was the original, well, we lied. In 1969, flush with cash from the Clairol hair company, Big Surf opened as the world’s first surf park. For a few years, the artificial beach and environs were dedicated to the surf set. Then they realized they’d make more money as a waterpark and surfboards were relegated to off-hours.
Why you’ll want to surf here: It’s historic. It’s where Rick Kane comes from. And the novelty wave has actually spawned a whole scene that is on its second and third generation of surfers.
Wave’s technical information: WaveTek wave system by ADG that pumps water into silos to then release the water and push out a wave once every four minutes. There really aren’t any settings to vary the waves that come through. But it was state of the art at the end of the ’60s.
Hours of operation/seasonal hours: 8-9 AM morning surf hour and 5-6 PM evening surf hour. The time in between is for swimming only.
Price breakdown: Even in freewheeling Arizona, Big Surf was closed for the last season due to COVID. But at last check, $350 would get you a season pass to access the morning or evening sessions. After you buy the pass it’s $5 per session.
Getting there: Fly into Phoenix International Airport and take a cab, car rental, or bus to the surf park only 10 minutes away.
Where to stay: Inexpensive motels in the $50 range on up to a Hamptons Suites for $170 per night and every imaginable corporate establishment in between.
Food: It’s a bit like Orlando in that all the familiar generic eating establishments are nearby. Beyond that, Phoenix could claim cheese crisps and chimichangas as their own.
Surf in the region: You can drive to Southern California in six hours. Or you can win a contest, use your prize money to buy a ticket to Oahu, meet a man named Turtle, fall in love with a local girl, experience highs, experience lows, and eventually live your dream. Whichever you prefer.
Cultural hits: Due to suburban sprawl, each year you have to drive out a little further but there is amazing desert and giant saguaro cactus to be found.
Oddity: The Clairol sponsorship was sealed years before the surf park opened, back when the Gidget era craved the blond surfer look. By the time Big Surf opened, the shortboard-back-to-mother-earth era was in full swing.
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