Guest Column - November 2009
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Surf to Successful Teen Engagement

By Chris O'Donoghue

One solution to the quandary of how to attract more teens can be found in the board sport subset of what are known as the "gravity sports" (snowboarding, skateboarding, inline skating and surfing, etc.). Their impact is found in all aspects of our teenagers' lives, from the clothes and sunglasses they wear to the types of backpacks they use to carry their books. The impact of these sports on teenage culture is astounding, and tapping into that culture can provide a simple solution to the teenage interest question for many municipal aquatic centers.

For instance, consider one of the more interesting solutions to be introduced in the past 10 years or so—the sheet wave, surfing simulator.

Surfing? In our town?

Yes. Surfing. Surfing is the fastest-growing board sport today. Consider this: Adding a sheet wave simulator to your existing aquatics facility is much simpler than one might think. The space requirement is relatively small, only about 40-feet by 50-feet for a large unit. The units themselves are completely self-contained. They can be manned and monitored by as few as two staff members. So, operationally we are not talking about adding significant size to existing operations (either in square footage requirements or in manpower). Where these devices really stand out is their ability to draw in teenagers. Increases in attendance at municipal aquatic facilities with surfing simulators have been documented at 20 percent to 30 percent.

Board sports such surfing and skateboarding are skill-based activities that challenge riders to develop new tricks to emulate others or to top their friends. By comparison, riding down a large slide is a thrill-based activity. No skill is required. The more a participant rides a thrill-based ride,

the less thrilling it becomes. Because surfing is a skill-based activity, surfing simulators tend to drive more repeat attendance and a large spectator element. This spectator draw tends to foster the social nature of the activity and further meshes with teenagers' need for entertainment and social interaction. The end result is a significant increase in participation. When competition events are added to the programming mix, the social network developed tends to feed on itself, driving sustained attendance as teenagers commit to the sport to improve their skill.

By adding a surfing simulator and thus driving up attendance among teenagers, an aquatic center can also enjoy the benefit of several new revenue streams. For example, it is generally accepted that most aquatic centers will charge a small up-charge to use the surfing simulator for daily body-boarding. In addition, centers can up-charge for many other types of activities that involve the surfing simulator, like stand-up riding fees, lessons for stand-up riding and party/event rentals. When managed properly, a surfing simulator can generate the revenue to cover its own expense in addition to driving other incremental revenue streams.

Most importantly, the addition of surfing and other teen-friendly amenities can greatly enhance the value and excitement of any municipal aquatics facility and add true multigenerational programming with minimal impact on current operations.


Chris O'Donoghue is the marketing manager for Aquatic Development Group Inc., a New York-based, premier supplier of innovative revenue-generating equipment systems developed for aquatic facilities. Chris spent 22 years in the action sports industry, specializing in sales and marketing for several brands, with significant initiatives aimed at attracting the youth market. For more information visit