The Endless Curl

The Wave Waterpark
Vista, Calif.

By Jenny E. Beeh


While surfers the world over are constantly in search of that perfect wave, it seemed only a matter of time before science stepped in on Nature's turf.

With its perfect, endless curl, The Wave Waterpark in Vista, Calif., gives the nearby San Diego beaches a run for their money. The municipal park's not-so-secret weapon is its FlowRider, which is a continuous, simulated wave system, moving 30,000 gallons of water per minute. Engineered by Wave Loch, Inc. of La Jolla, Calif., the FlowRider is the park's most popular amenity, attracting bobyboarders (and sometimes surfers) of all ages.

Unlike traditional wave pools where waves are created by pumps at one end of the pool then travel the length of the pool and break at the other end, the FlowRider wave stays in one location, and surfing hopefuls take turns in the curl.

"It gives you the feeling that you're surfing and that look," says Kenny Handler, park manager. "It's better to surf on. In a typical wave pool, the wave ends. This is a wave you could ride for 24 hours."

Ah, if only the park were open around the clock.

This wave flows over a smooth surface, so wipe outs are much less painful, compared to skinning yourself on hard concrete or sand.

"It's a really safe ride," Handler says. Unlike the ocean, it's also a controlled aquatic environment, so there are few unknown hazards, either natural or manmade, like rip tides, jelly fish or local surfing territorial disputes.

"Patrons prefer this to the beach," he says. "We wanted to relate to our beach community. We also offer a safe area for kids to play in without big waves slamming them down, a place where they can learn to bodyboard."

The FlowRider attraction is coupled with an attached lazy river, so that the pumps that create the wave also generate the motion of the river.

Although sunny California seems like a perfect fit for a surfing attraction, that's not to say places like the Midwest or Rockies couldn't enjoy a little tropical temptation.

"I would consider adding it if a park was looking for a unique niche," Handler says. "It definitely brings the beach to you."


Unlike some typical waterpark attractions, masses of people can't participate all at once, but that doesn't stop the FlowRider from being a real crowd-pleaser.

"It's not a big through-ride, but it's a great spectator ride," says Handler, adding that even though there's a more modest number of participants per hour, lots of patrons enjoy watching.

Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., May to October, the three-acre Wave Waterpark debuted in 1994 and is operated by the City of Vista's Parks and Recreation Department. In addition to the FlowRider with lazy river, there are several water slides, a children's play pool, a competition pool, children's play areas, a volleyball court, grassy areas for picnics, food and beverage, and apparel and bodyboard sales. The competition pool is open year round for community and school activities. Daily admission fees are $11.50 for all-day unlimited usage of park facilities for adults; the price is $8.50 for children and seniors, while and children under 2 are free. A season pass is $75 per person. The FlowRider can also be rented for private parties at $120/hour.

The park's attendance last year was more than 116,000 recreational visitors, with an additional 24,000 people from community and school groups during the off-season. As a suburb located in North San Diego County, the City of Vista has a population of 89,857, with an additional 941,000 residents within a 20-minute drive of the park.

As popular as The Wave Waterpark is today, initially getting approval for the park was not easy. The City's original plan was to simply build a municipal pool. After much analysis, however, a larger investment upfront for a waterpark seemed to be a better long-term choice for the facility.


Rather than accept the constantly yearly drain of several hundred thousand dollars in operating costs for a municipal pool, the City could actually subsidize other activities through seasonal park revenues.

"Originally I thought the City couldn't afford a waterpark with a FlowRider and lazy river attraction, but I soon realized that the City couldn't afford a pool without one," says Jim Porter, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Vista.

The Wave Waterpark was financed using a combination of $1.6 million in park fees, $1.5 million in general obligation bonds, $600,000 in redevelopment revenues and $200,000 in revenues generated directly from the park.

The City's goal for the park is to be financially self-sufficient, therefore not spending City general funds for park operation or debt service. In 1999, the park's annual operating revenue of $1,280,000 exceeded annual operating expenses of $1,220,000, however, total expenses still exceeded revenues due to debt service and almost $70,000 in unreimbursed services provided to the local school district. The waterpark in general, and the FlowRider attraction in particular, subsidizes the 25-yard by 10-lane competition pool operated on a year-round basis and used by community swim teams, school swim and water-polo teams, and general swimming.

"Building the waterpark has developed a pride of ownership in the community," Porter says. "It has given us something to hang our hat on."

For more information
Wave Loch, Inc.: 858-454-1777
Or visit

The Wave Waterpark

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