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$595M Mixed-Use Project Planned Around Mechanical Surfing Wave Pool

Developers in Fort Pierce, on Florida's Atlantic coast, are planning a massive development around a man-made surfing park.

Kelly Slater winning his surfing world title in 2011.

Willow Lakes Village is designed to include a resort built around a mechanical wave pool, with 800 homes, 600 hotel rooms, 400K SF of retail and 125K SF of office on 200 acres.

Fort Pierce officials voted last week to approve a set of major zoning changes that would clear the way for the $595M project, and construction could begin in Q3 of 2021, local news outlet TCPalm reports.

“The last thing we wanted to do was another golf course community," Willow Lakes Manager Chad LaBonte told TCPalm.

The project highlights growing interest in man-made wave pools as amenities. Such projects are expensive to undertake and have historically been challenging to turn into reality, but in the past few years, viable wave pool-centered projects have been starting to pop up around the world. 

The developers of Willow Lake have owned their land in Fort Pierce since 2004. They are partnering with American Surf Parks, which aims to develop surf park resorts throughout the U.S.; plans are already underway for one in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. These resorts would operate under the name brand Surfworks and include a "Wavegarden Cove" surfing lagoon.

Spanish company Wavegarden is leading the charge in surf park technology. It has already delivered four commercial surfing facilities, according to its website, including ones in Bristol, England, and Melbourne, Australia, that opened this year, and it has another four set to open by the end of 2021. Wavegarden says it has more than 30 more in development across five continents.

The largest Wavegarden, in Siheung, South Korea, is on the verge of opening. It is part of a massive, half-billion-euro development called Turtle Island, an hour south of Seoul, that will include a convention center, a marina and a Ferris wheel.

American Surf Park's website says the Wavegarden technology allows for perfect man-made waves with varying intensity. It can accommodate 100 surfers — 50 beginners, 50 intermediate to advanced — at a time. 

Willow Lake's first phase would cost $40M and feature a Wavegarden wave pool and possibly a 150-room hotel. According to Construction Journal, Willow Lake's project owner is Eaglebridge Capital and the civil engineer is Bohler Engineering. 

According to WavePoolMag, plans for surf parks in Florida have been floated and stalled before: a Disneyland "paddle-powered pool" in 1972, a Sky Surfpark in Orlando and a concept by Ron Jon's surf shop in 2008.

World champion surfer Kelly Slater built a private wave pool at his Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California, and in 2017, along with partners including billionaire Dirk Ziff, announced plans for a major surf park in Palm Beach County, where they had bought land for $6M. The project was scrapped in 2019 after planners decided the water table was too high to proceed. A similar facility, NLand Surf Park in Austin, Texas, opened in 2016 but closed in 2018. Slater reportedly bought it.

Thus, a wave pool at Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon is currently the only one in Florida where surfers can ride. A wave pool for surfing is different than a "standing wave pool" that can be found at hotels and cruise ships.

People in the surfing industry have for decades experimented with wave pool technology, because reliable, machine-made waves could popularize the sport even in landlocked areas and create ideal conditions for training.

Surfers preparing to compete in the Olympics in Tokyo next summer — the first time ever that surfing will be an Olympic sport — have been training in Waco, Texas, at the BSR Surf Resort wave pool. But rides there last only about five seconds, compared to about 45 seconds at Slater's Surf Ranch, according to top-ranked pro surfer Carissa Moore. A ride at a Wavegarden pool lasts about 10 to 15 seconds.