When the waves at the First Street Jetty are waist-high and choppy, most surfers bail and wait for a better day.
But what if nearly perfect waves just kept rolling in every day?
It could happen at a surf park, and a Virginia Beach developer, Venture Realty Group, wants to build one at the old Dome site at 19th Street.
The Development Authority will vote today to enter into an exclusive agreement with a developer for 180 days, and all signs are pointing to Venture. Along with the surf park, the 10-acre site would include an entertainment venue and residential and office space.
Last month, the Pilot confirmed that the city was only negotiating with Venture Realty Group for the project. Music superstar Pharrell Williams, a Virginia Beach native, is among the partners.
A surf park would be the centerpiece of the $300 million project for the city-owned Dome site, which has been an empty lot since the concert venue was demolished in 1994.
“We’re putting it on a pedestal,” said Billy Almond, a landscape architect with WPL Site Design, one of the project partners. Almond, who surfs, said the waves would be competition-grade.
“This is not a FlowRider: it’s not on the back of a cruise ship,” he said. “It’s not Great Wolf Lodge. It’s not Ocean Breeze.”
Councilman John Uhrin, a surfer who’s serving on a committee that’s vetting the developer, agrees.
“This is a legitimate surfing wave,” Uhrin said.
Wavegarden, a Spanish company that has developed man-made wave technology, would bring its “Cove” wave pool concept to Virginia Beach. It provided a description to The Pilot:
“At the push of a button, the size, shape, power and frequency of the waves can be adjusted to suit all user groups, transforming conditions in an instant.”
Waves can vary from small and mellow for beginners to powerful, barreling ones of over 6 feet for advanced and professional surfers, according to the company. It’s capable of pumping out a wave of nearly any size and length every 8 seconds.
Several members of the development team surfed in a Wavegarden Cove in Spain and said a surfer who is hustling could catch up to 30 waves an hour.
In Virginia Beach, tickets to surf would cost $45 an hour. Monthly membership options would also be available. Waves could be customized for surfers of all levels, including beginners.
The park could make Virginia Beach a destination for advanced surfers and those looking to try the sport, said Jason Borte, a professional surfer and author who runs a local camp.
Spectators would be able to watch for free from open decking and grassy areas around the pool and restaurants facing it.
Surfing will be an Olympic sport in 2020. The Venture team envisions the park as a training ground and a place to watch professional athletes demonstrate maneuvers.
George Alcaraz, general manager of the East Coast Surfing Championships, would like to bring some “heavy hitters in the surf industry to do an exhibition.” “What better thing to have than perfect waves?”
Alcaraz said a surf park fits with Virginia Beach’s long connection to the rise of the sport, board shaping and industry brand building on the East Coast.
“Surf culture is so strong here,” he said. ECSC is in its 56th year and draws competitors from around the world to surf for cash prizes at the Jetty. The event generates more than $15 million in revenue for Oceanfront businesses, including hotels.
The surf park could be an additional venue for parts of the week-long event, Alcaraz said.
Could a surf park be the answer for the city after years of let-downs with proposals for the Dome site?
Almond, who is a Resort Advisory Commission member, thinks it is.
“This is iconic,” Almond said. “This is something that I believe is very, very different.”
By Stacy Parker
Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125, firstname.lastname@example.org