Melbourne’s first urban surf park, URBNSURF, opens this January in Tullamarine, to great excitement among the surfing community.
But what is it like riding the city waves as a first-timer?
Commercial Real Estate visits on a 40-degree day and parks the car at the edge of the vast lagoon.
The water is tropical-coloured, like a Fiji island, and calm. Curves of white concrete encircle the water, and in the background the airport hums. All is still. Then, from the far edge of the azure water, a wave builds, grows and rolls over in a perfect arc, exposing its frothy white underbelly. The people watching shout and laugh excitedly, slap each other’s backs.
How exactly the waves are made is a secret. But, explains Andrew Ross, the founder of URBNSURF, it is like dominoes. Underneath the lagoon there are 46 “modules” and under them lies a series of rectangle boxes.
“Imagine those boxes lined up like a series of dominoes,” says Ross, but instead of them lined up back to back, they are edge to edge.
“When we create waves, they move out to the left in a sequence, and then out to the right in a sequence.”
The technology gives more control than the sea – obviously – and waves can be personalised to the surfer.
Ross says, “We can vary the waves and change the peeling angle that the swells come out at – change the height, change the speed, change the direction.”
Then it is our turn to learn. We lie on our bellies on the hot concrete and practise our paddling. The cheery coaches show us how to get up onto the board – either leap like a ninja or take it in four steps: hands, front foot, back foot, swivel. “Cool beans?”
They tell us not to overthink it. They show us the hand signals we can communicate wordlessly with and of course how to do the Shaka – the iconic surfer hand gesture made by extending the thumb and pinky while holding the three middle fingers curled into the palm. They waggle their tanned Shakas at us and shout, “Yew!”
We lug our boards along the concrete shore, kicking at the shallows. The lagoon is divided into two sections – The Bays for beginners and The Point for pros.
“Everybody’s welcome, from first-timers to world champs,” says the website. Here today there are both. We nervous newbies wade out into The Bays to the spot where the waves will break. The water is waist height. Behind us, in The Point, experienced surfers and surf celebrities ride huge barrels. One of the coaches excitedly points one out, “He made all these boards!”
The waves come in sets. When the first wave builds behind us, we pull ourselves onto the board. When another surges underneath and pushes us forward, we paddle four times as instructed – “Paddle, paddle!” shout the coaches – and try to stand. I make it to my knees and wimp out – once, twice. Then, a few awkward clambers to my feet and graceless falls into the water. It tastes fresh and cold, like a lake, not salty like the sea or chlorinated like a swimming pool.
The lapping waves make a soothing noise, and the sun reflects off the white chop. The seagulls have made themselves at home already. They skim over the spray, and it is easy to forget that this is not the sea. “Even though this is a man-made environment, it’s still a very organic experience,” says Ross. Like a snowflake, no wave is exactly the same.
Then, after 20 minutes in the water, I do it: I stand up. And I stay up, hunkered down low like they taught us. The water coasts away beneath me, like a glass road, and I am gliding with my arms outstretched. It feels slower, more peaceful than I imagined. It feels like yoga. At the end, I tumble into the water and jump excitedly to my feet. The coaches are waving their arms, Shaka-ing and cheering, and I feel exhilarated – and addicted. “Yew!”
URBNSURF is located at 309 Melrose Drive, Tullamarine, and opens to the public in January 2020, offering a range of lessons, sessions, competitions and memberships. Facilities include hot tubs, cabanas, kids’ play equipment and easy gear rental. Hungry? The Byron Bay darling, Three Blue Ducks, will be running the restaurant – and there is a private bar, The Lookout, for hire.
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