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Designing, Building and Operating Wadi Adventure – Surf Park Summit

Dan Harmon, Development Manager of Select Contracts, discusses the lessons learned over the last 30 years designing, building and operating attractions in the Leisure and Entertainment industry and Select Contracts’ role in developing Wadi Adventure in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates.


Short on time? Here are five key takeaways from Dan’s presentation:

1) Outside of surfing, other amenities were necessary to draw a crowd

When Dan and his crew at Select Contracts arrived in Al Ain at the Wadi site, the major infrastructure for a surf park, two lakes, and three white water river channels were already built as the only planned amenities. Their first order of business was persuading the owners to offer more activities for a largely non-surfing population of only 570,000 in Al Ain. Ultimately, they designed and added a regular swimming pool, zip lines, an air park, and other amenities, which helped increase dwell time in the facility and broadened the general appeal.

2) Getting surfers to the park was/is not an issue 

In a place like Al Ain, which is a tight knit community, getting surfers to the park was not an issue. The barriers the crew faced lay within skill and danger issues. It became apparent that they needed to set up a very easy introduction to the sport for beginners and then followup programs for progression that gradually lead to bigger waves and made it fun, safe, and easy to chart that progression. Which brings us to the next point…

3) Beginner surfers are essential to the success of surf parks

This is a very important concept to keep in mind when designing/building a park, especially in places like Al Ain and other landlocked areas where surfing is not endemic. For these areas Dan suggested to, “make it clear from the outset that you do not need any prior experience to come and try the sport.” Dan also made the point that beginners are crucial to the profitability of the park. As beginners usually come with family or in larger groups, they are far more likely to eat at the restaurant, buy photo packages, try other activities, etc. Whereas, a hardcore surfer comes solely for the waves, and tends to spend far less time and money on other amenities.

4) The science of happiness applies to surf parks

Dan draws a parallel between the computer game industry that has ballooned over the past 10 years and the surf park industry. Computer games are designed to create happiness in the user which explains why people play them. Computer games offer the gamer satisfying work, the possibility of success, and social connection. Taking this into the context of surf parks and employing existing and new technology shows how surf parks can create happy customers. A system that tracks the surfer’s movement and measures key performance metrics creates real, measurable, and satisfying work for the surfer. The possibility of success comes when the surfer’s performance is measured over time and allows for quantifiable progression. These performance metrics can be placed in the cloud and the surfers can share it with their friends through social networks, creating social connection.

5) Land repurposing is a great consideration for potential surf park sites

Dan draws from his experience of witnessing the environmental destruction caused by the overdevelopment of the French Alps to show how the surf park industry can learn from the mistakes made by other industries. The footprint and environmental impact of surf parks is significant, and cannot be ignored. Dan shows how surf parks can add value back to our cities and towns by transforming old eyesores into functional, revenue-providing leisure sources for communities. Specifically, he uses the example of an old aluminum plant that was repurposed as a climbing facility in Scotland to add value to the local town.

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Stay tuned as we will be releasing all the video presentations from Surf Park Summit over the next 15 weeks!

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