Before each of us started surfing, the mall was a cool place to hang out. Playing video games, sneaking into movies and heckling shoppers constituted a really fun Saturday night. Come to think of it, that still sounds fun, but compared to surfing, a night at the mall is pretty lame.

That’s about to change. Ron Jon’s Surfpark, the first wavepool designed and built exclusively for us, surfers, expects to be operating by next winter at Festival Bay Mall on Orlando’s International Drive, with potential for others to follow in both New York and New Jersey. Heading up the project is former Transworld Snowboarding Editor and Columbia MBA grad Jamie Meiselman, who embarked on a mission to build a better pool several years ago and has seen the technology come to fruition. His company, Surfparks, LLC, promises that it is no longer a question of if, but when we will overcome crowds, the elements, inconvenient ocean access, and an intimidating ocean environment. The solution, they claim, is here.

Granted, wavepools have been the great, unrealized hope of surfers for decades, and rumors of the ultimate artificial wave have been circulating for years. (In fact, posted a story on a Texas plan just days ago.) But where hopes like the failed Gotcha Glacier get stymied by a price tag of more than {{{100}}} million dollars, these new surfparks will start pumping out waves at a cool $8.5 million.

“Packaging it with Ron Jon’s has made it more palatable to investors,” insists Meiselman. And while the project is yet to obtain full funding to build the upscale pool, which would allows waves as high as eight feet that peel for up to 100 yards (the smaller model peaks at five feet and forty yards), he is confident that it will come.

“The Surfpark concept is happening,” he claims. “And at this point, we’ve got critical mass and the momentum.”

The momentum comes from engineering as much as it does economics. Meiselman knows that nobody will be standing in line to ride another mushy, overpriced dribbler. That’s why Surfparks LLC teamed up with some of the world’s top scientists, combining technologies to create the most realistic wave possible. “We wanted to make a good wave,” says Meiselman. “One designed to make surfers want go on a regular basis, at least once or twice a week.”

First step: build a better wave generator. The solution came from by partner company ADG, whose machine produces waves in nine-second intervals, not only eliminating Typhoon Lagoon’s {{{90}}} second lull between plunges but producing a more realistic and powerful burst.

Then, there’s the pool itself. Designed by ASR limited out of Raglan New Zealand, a company led a marine science expert and surfer of 40 years, Dr. Kerry Black. ASR modeled some of the best waves in the world to create a computer program that accurately predicts how waves will break, thereby creating the Versareef. This catchy-named, computer-controlled bottom has the ability to create “a nearly infinite combination” of characteristics. Whether you’re looking for lefts, rights, mushburgers, or barrels, it’s all there – and it’s all cheaper than a trip to Buxton. The expected price tag? About a buck a wave, including a membership fee to encourage regular use. “The key is affordability, ” says Meiselman. “We built the whole model around what we thought surfers would pay regularly and took it from there.”

And for those who aren’t surfers already, each park will come with it’s own bunny slope, one of Tom Lochtefeld’s infamous Flowrider standing waves, toned back a bit to break in surfers instead of breaking them in half. And once they’re ready, they can just step across the padded, flexible geotextile reef, and become one of thirty-six surfers trading off twenty true-breaking waves over two hours for about twenty bucks. (50 bucks for “non-members”.)

Of course, if you don’t live in Florida, the travel expenses ruin that happy financial equation. Fortunately, other surfparks are also in the works, beginning with one at New York’s Randal’s Island Aquatic Complex slated for opening by the start of 2005. Sure, January in the Big Apple is a shriveling thought, but that park, containing both a small and a large pool, will be part of a 133,000-foot indoor development. Beyond that, plans were recently unveiled for Meadowlands Xanadu, a 4.76 million square foot behemoth of family entertainment, offices, hotel rooms, and sports, including an indoor wave pool. Although there are no specifics as of yet, the Xanadu developers have a meeting planned with Meiselman for May of 2003.

But what about the West Coast? Couldn’t we strategically place a few crowd-busters between Swamis and Trestles?

“We want to put them in the places where the waves are worse to begin with,” Meiselman explains. “But once we get the first one proven, that’s when it gets really interesting.

Whether or not our dreams of artificial perfection are about to be realized, we clearly stand on the cusp of something big. At the very least, it will be cool to go to the mall. Jason BorteJamie Meiselman welcomes any and all feedback. Send your commentary to him directly by clicking here.