Image credit:
Alistair MacRobert/Unsplash
Image credit:
Alistair MacRobert/Unsplash

Beach vibes in front of concrete: how artificial waves attract the community to the country

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The urban OutDoor trend of "artificial surfing" is sweeping across the country as a huge wave of success, and the surfing community is increasingly riding it. This is made possible by a variety of offers - from natural river courses to high-tech wave pools. In addition to highly anticipated surf sessions, the adventure playgrounds for water sports also bring opportunities for brands, tourism and clubs.

Fantastic barrels off Hawaii, constant surf waves off Australia, perfect reef breaks off Bali: the best surfing spots are often half a world trip away. And between trips? Surf enthusiasts are forced to sit on dry land. What a luxury when you don't have to get on a plane for the next wave, but at most a train, bus or your own bike.

Urban surf spots bring the sport and the associated beach experience to the cities. This has long applied to standing waves such as those in Munich's Eisbach, but is now increasingly true of other concepts too. A running wave is currently being created not too far from the well-known surfing hotspot in the English Garden.

O2 Surftown MUC: Innovative technology for the classic beach experience

The opening of the O2 Surftown MUC in the Bavarian municipality of Hallbergmoos is planned for this summer. The site north of Munich covers around 20,000 square meters, the heart of which will be a gigantic wave pool. This pool alone, which is up to three meters deep, takes up around 10,000 square meters of space. Next to it is an area with sunbathing areas, a lounge, a restaurant with a sun terrace and a kids' area. "We are creating a unique outdoor offer for Germany, with which we are making it possible to experience a sport in an urban environment that is otherwise only available by the sea," says Stefan Schumm, Head of Marketing at Surftown.

The wave technology, which was developed by Surftown partner Endless Surf and installed in Hallbergmoos, is particularly unique - and not just in Germany. During operation, a total of 34 different air chambers can be controlled separately. Using air pressure, they generate the desired waves, which not only reach different heights up to a maximum of 2.20 meters, but can also form different sections. The surfing experience can therefore be adapted exactly to individual wishes. "Unlike in the sea, we have the advantage of being able to offer the desired wave at the desired time," explains Schumm. This attracts the interest of professionals in particular.

The O2 Surftown MUC is anything but just a training ground for the surfing elite. Newcomers can try their hand at the sport under safe and modulable conditions. In fact, time on the board will be just one of several aspects that will attract outdoor enthusiasts to the gates of Munich. "We want people to come together, spend the day together and simply live the surfing spirit," says Schumm.

Up Stream Surfing: Always against the current

Around two hours south of Hallbergmoos, this spirit can already be felt. Urban Surf Solutions has been offering a mix of surfing and wakeboarding in Innsbruck since 2019. For their up stream surfing the operators use a special pulley mechanism that they developed and patented themselves. In 2016, the system already impressed the jury of the ISPO Brandnew Awards. Back then, Up Stream Surfing made it to the final round.

Eine Surferin reitet auf einer künstlichen Welle.
The perfect wave? There is no such thing. The different wave systems all have advantages and disadvantages.
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The mechanism behind surfing against the river is very simple - and therefore simply ingenious. What you need is a rope, an underwater sail and a pulley that you attach to a bridge, for example. "The sail absorbs the current energy of the river," explains Michael Strobel, co-founder of Urban Surf Solutions and engineer for the sports sector. If the sail at one end of the rope drifts downstream, the person at the other end really picks up speed. "By translating the energy, we can accelerate someone four to six times faster than the speed of the current." On the Inn, the surf fans reach speeds of up to thirty kilometers per hour. They jet a good two hundred meters up the river at this speed.

Good teamwork is required for upstream surfing. The sail only dips into the river when someone pushes it under water. The fun on the surfboard is earned by helping others. "This makes upstream surfing suitable as a team-building activity for companies, for example," says Strobel. After a start that was severely affected by coronavirus, the offer has now been very well received. Not least because the community meets up for various festivals and events at "Airport Reef Innsbruck" during the season.

Is surfing conceivable as a club sport?

Many members of the Up Stream community would like to come to the (bottle) train regularly. A club structure is therefore already being considered, says Strobel. "It will be important that the safety concept is adhered to," he emphasizes. "There must always be a security person on site. Those responsible must also have the necessary training to set up and dismantle the system."

The members of the non-profit association "Surfwelle Augsburg" face a different challenge. They want to create an artificial river wave in the Senkelbach, which is suitable for surfing, kayaking, bodyboarding and wakeboarding. Planning permission has now been granted by the city. As soon as the financing has been clarified, Augsburg can appear on the surfing map.

In general, surfing clubs in Germany are still in their infancy, apart from the German Surfing Association with its numerous members. "Although there are now quite a few clubs that are active in the field of rapid surfing, the structure with regional clubs at various sub-levels is developing slowly - but steadily," says Stefan Schumm. "A facility like the O2 Surftown MUC will naturally promote this development, not only in the sporting environment, as surfing is an Olympic sport, but also in the organizational and administrative areas."

Artificial waves worldwide

Wave Garden, which claims to be the global market leader in artificial waves, is currently represented at eight locations around the world. In addition to coastal countries such as Brazil, Australia, Spain, England and South Korea, the technology can also be found in inland Switzerland. Further surfing facilities are currently being built in the USA, Israel and Scotland. Competitor AllWaves recently opened a huge facility in Belgium.

More than just the sea: what urban surf spots mean for brands

Tourism is likely to increase the potential target group even further. The majority of sports and nature lovers are expected to come from the region, especially as O2 Surftown MUC is strategically located in the DACH region. "This is our core catchment area," says Schumm. However, he believes that the wave pool will definitely attract surfing enthusiasts from Europe and all over the world. "For many, the O2 Surftown MUC will be another incentive to spend their vacation in Munich because they can now combine their stay there with real waves." This will add another attractive facet to Munich's surrounding area, which is already known for its leisure and outdoor activities. Smaller standing waves, such as those from CityWavehave the advantage that they can move even closer to the urban centers. Or they can be built right in the middle of the city, like Rif101 in Rotterdam.

Sustainability: surfing the "green wave"

The fact that the artificial wave at the Hallbergmoos site was well received right from the start is certainly due to the expected boost in tourism, but there is another reason. "We thought early on about how we could position ourselves sustainably," says Schumm. The site is located in a business park where no natural or landscaped areas had to be sealed. In summer, up to one hundred percent of the energy required for operation will come from solar power. And the water treatment system makes the most of the water cycle, meaning that it rarely needs to be replaced.

Eine künstliche Welle in der O2 Surftown MUC.
In Halbergmoos, the artificial waves will be rolling from summer 2024.
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"In addition to the ecological dimension and the economic dimension, which we promote through tourism, for example, we also see a third dimension of sustainability, namely the social dimension," explains Schumm. "We want to make surfing an experience for everyone." The company is currently working with charitable associations to enable children and young people to take part in the sport. Integration into school lessons is also being considered. And physically impaired people could also get on the board on the reliably controllable waves in the surf park.

Up stream surfing: full of energy without an external power source

Up Stream Surfing approaches the topic of sustainability from another angle. "For us, it's not about the question of how to make a product," says Michael Strobel, "but about how I can put my commitment into a service that offers added value. We wanted to show that you can create a sports facility that doesn't require any structural measures, doesn't consume any energy and is still a lot of fun."

Under the right conditions, this type of artificial surfing is also conceivable in other cities. A river alone is not enough, the flow speed of the water must also be right. "It shouldn't be faster than seven or eight kilometers per hour, otherwise it gets too wild," explains Strobel. "And the system doesn't work below walking speed."

In future, Up Stream Surfing is to be expanded to include two aspects. Together with a Finnish company, they are working on Up Stream Wave, a construction that is pulled through the water and forms a wave above it. Up Stream Energy is also being planned. This further development of the patent that has already been applied for is set to generate electricity in the near future. "In this way, we are moving Up Stream Surfing from fun to a more sensible area," Strobel looks ahead, adding with a wink: "Although we consider both to be sensible." The starving surf community in urban areas will undoubtedly agree with him.

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