You’ve seen them on cruise ship commercials, or maybe at a water park.
It looks like a surfing machine.
It looks like fun.
That would be a cool way to start surfing, you’re thinking, right?
It’s called a “FlowRider,” and it is fun, but it’s not as easy as it might seem. And while they’re marketed as “The Ultimate Surf Machine,” it’s not really surfing.
New Jersey has two of the machines, so NJ Advance Media sent two reporters who surf, Alex Napoliello and Kevin Shea, to try one out – the Flow House at Thundering Surf Water Park in Beach Haven. (The other one is in Wildwood.)
Here’s their report:
When an editor came to me with an assignment that involved surfing, there’s no way I could say no.
First, let me get this out of the way: I surf, but I wouldn’t say I’m good at surfing, nor do I pretend I am.
Like many North Jersey residents, I spent my summers as a child vacationing at the Jersey Shore – in Lavallette. My love for the ocean pulled me to the Jersey Shore full-time after I graduated from Rutgers in 2009.
I started surfing with one goal in mind — to have fun. And I’ve managed to get myself to the skill level where paddling out in the ocean is no longer frustrating – it’s enjoyable and soothing.
When I arrived at the Flow House on Long Beach Island, with my surf board and wet suit in the back of my car, I was taken aback when the instructor said: “This is nothing like surfing. It’s more like wakeboarding and snowboarding.”
Great, I thought to myself.
I can at least pass as a surfer. But snowboarding and wakeboarding? I’ve never even attempted those activities.
So, here I am, clenching a rope like my life was on the line trying not to fall off this tiny board atop a perpetual, angry wave.
I fell. A lot.
In fact, the next morning I could barely walk.
I’ve been surfing since 1995, and like Alex, did not grow up at the Jersey Shore. I’m a Maryland native who, also like Alex, vacationed at the Shore growing up. And when I moved here, also after college, (you see a theme here?), I also started surfing for fun.
(Yes, all you non-surfers should really try ocean surfing. Put it on the bucket list. Take a lesson. Really, do it. OK, back to the Flow Rider.)
I call myself a weekend surfer, but I have paddled into a few hurricane swells.
Would you like to try to the Flow Rider and shoot a video? Hell yeah, I told the same editor.
Us surfers, even the shortboarders, ride boards that are at least six feet, usually. This little thing was like a skateboard. On a rushing wave.
But at least it was water, so, yeah, I can do this.
Austin Ogule, our guide and a pro rider (see below) schooled us the best he could, but we had to get out there, drop in, and be humbled.
The biggest difference: you start riding while already standing, which is a huge brain switch for surfers – no need to pop up from the belly. There’s bodysurfing on the flow rider, which most casual riders prefer.
I also fell, a lot. And the surface, while bouncy, is not as forgiving as a Jersey Shore wave. But don’t let that make you not go and try this. It’s not exactly surfing, but it’s not bad, either.
While’s it’s not technically “surfing,” – it’s sometimes called artificial surfing – man-made waves are all the rage in the surf world.
Legendary surfer Kelly Slater created a wave pool in California that is the hottest thing in the sport right now, and it’s nowhere near the ocean. Check out the videos here.
And in Waco, Texas there’s a wave pool that’s also attracting a lot of attention from pro surfers. Ocean City pro Rob Kelly was one of the big testers earlier this year. Check out this video.
Jersey surfers were a big part of the early testing of the technology in the Texas pool, so could that mean one day they’ll build one here? Probably not, cause of those darn winters.
Until then, catch the Flow House – there’s still time left this summer.
Our final thoughts:
Says Alex: I’d like to think we were better than most people who attempt the Flow House – until I saw kids half my age flipping around on boards like it was nothing. I turn 31 in September. Maybe this is what getting old feels like.
And Kevin: I was sore the next day. Walking was tough, but my ribs took a shot and I had trouble brushing my teeth!
Kevin Shea may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @kevintshea. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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