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‘A church to surfing’

Written by Emma Koehn, The Age   |   September 17, 2019

Inside a long-held, $30m surf park dream.

Andrew Ross is getting ready to “turn the taps on” at his Melbourne business and realise a surfing dream seven years in the making.

“We’re going to be the location where people stand up on surfboards for the very first time. We regard that very, very highly,” Ross says.

It was 2012 when he first tried a surf park, at a lagoon in San Sebastián that had been constructed “under the cover of darkness” by Spanish startup Wavegarden.

The former lawyer and investment banker said he could see market opportunity for the tech, which generated consistent waves in a man-made structure, from “the very first wave” he rode. He wrote a cheque for an undisclosed sum to become the Australian partner for the technology and started the company URBNSURF.

In the years since he’s raised millions from mates, private equity funds and high-net-worth individuals in a bid to get surf parks off the ground in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.

Ross declined to name any of the investors involved.

The total capital development costs for the projects sit at between $30 and $40 million and after years of building challenges Ross says the company is “a couple of weeks” away from making waves at the site in Melbourne’s Tullamarine, ahead of an opening this summer.

“It was [a question] of ‘how do you build a church to surfing? How do you build something that appeals to core surfers and beginners?”

That question took more than a year to iron out after buying Wavegarden’s technology.

The parks, which are a similar size to the MCG, produce waves for users to practice their craft without having to worry about difficult surf conditions.

“I don’t think anyone has [ever] delivered on this vision,” Ross says.

Finding suitable sites for the business has been a challenge.

In March, the company suffered a setback when the West Australian government rejected a planned URBNSURF location on Perth’s Swan River. The site required use of crown land which was deemed inappropriate.

Ross says the company lost around $500,000 over two years because of this.

The Melbourne URBNSURF site looks like it will be the first to realise Ross’ long-held hopes for a community of surfing beyond the beach after a three year process of development. “We need to respect and honour the very detailed heritage of surfing,” he says. “The waves are one part of that, then there’s also the community.”

URBNSURF is hoping to tap into a large cohort of local surfers who either can’t get easily get to the coast or don’t have access to safe surf beaches.

Figures from Statista suggest the number of Australians involved in outdoor recreation like cycling and surfing is up this year, with 3.3 million participants contributing to $1.9 billion in revenue.

An exact date for the Melbourne opening is not yet known, and ticket and pricing information is still to be released.

The planned Sydney site at Olympic Park is slated for a 2021 opening, according to the company’s website.

Read the article via The Age, here.

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