Surf's Up! Going With The Flow Takes Whole New Spin As Riders Test Skills On Indoor Waves

As I walked behind the counter and opened the glass door, I had no idea what to expect.

The smell of chlorine, yes. But the deafening roar? Wow!

Intimidated, I walked up the stairs, turned the corner and walked down the ramp that runs parallel to the stationary wave, the Flowrider inside International Plaza's Adrenalina, an extreme sports store.

The Flowrider is basically a "surf-simulator." A person stands on a fiberglass board similar to the dimensions of a longboard and is pushed uphill by a two-inch layer of rushing water moving at about 30 miles per hour. The surface is similar to that of a trampoline and looks like a mellow waterslide, but feels like a wave when the water is introduced. Participants ride one at a time and switch when a rider falls.

I had been to the store in the past and watched people Flowride while I was looking around. It's hard not to watch since the Flowrider is in a massive 20,000-gallon tank placed in the corner of the store with giant glass windows; mall shoppers can see people riding it from the hallway. When a person is Flowriding, he or she looks out at the entire store.

But I wasn't bashful. I knew going in that I was probably going to take a spill. Well, more like a few spills.

Going For Gusto

So, I stepped down to the starting platform at the base of the wave. There is room to walk on the right side and directly in front of the wave up to the glass. The water is shot out along the floor right in front of the beginning of the wave. Here, the instructors give you the board and explain how to keep standing.

"It's tough because everyone learns different, but little kids are easy to teach," says Jimmy Sugrue, a Flowrider instructor at the store. "With the older, heavier guys, it's tough to get them going."

Though upon meeting me, you might think that I'm relatively young and slim, I am one of those guys.

Sugrue, 18, has ridden Flowriders across the country and has been an instructor at Tampa's Adrenalina for more than a year. He said that the part people struggle with most is putting all of their weight on their back foot because it's an awkward feeling.

It's important to lean back so that the water shoots under the board. With the water shooting out at 30 mph, this unnatural weight distribution is the key. If the rider puts his weight toward the front of the board, the water will rush over it and the rider will fall.

It's not that often that I genuinely surprise myself, but I actually stood right up on the board and rode for about five seconds, although it felt like more. The ride was incredible, until the first spill.

It all happened so quickly that it's hard to recall, but I think I tried to turn the board—a poor choice on my part. Depending on which way riders want to turn, they must use their toes or heels to make it happen, similar to a snowboard or skateboard. I left that part out and the board was swept out from under me before I knew what happened.

"It's pretty fun when you fall actually," says University of South Florida senior Dominic Steiger.  "It's like being on a slip-n-slide that goes up and backwards."

Riding Down With Aplomb

The funny thing about the Flowrider is that the falls are virtually painless. Startling, but painless. No matter how ridiculous the wipeout looks, the Flowrider sweeps you right up the wave; unless you're me, that is. I was swept halfway up the wave, where I came to a stop and had to crawl the rest of the way to the shallow pool at the top.

Steiger, 21, said that riding the Flowrider was more like riding a wakeboard than surfing.

"You lean back on the board," he says. "Plus, the water is coming from in front of you instead of behind you like real surfing."

Steiger also mentioned turning as one of the most difficult parts and fared much the same as me when he attempted to do it.

With something like the Flowrider in a retail store where anyone can pay the $20 for 30 minutes of Flowriding, it seems like there would be injuries galore, especially with up to eight people riding in each session. But store manager Brittny Hiatt disagrees.

"We have a very serious waiver that outlines these things," Hiatt says. "But literally no one has gotten hurt unless they were teenage-boy-age doing something they weren't supposed to. There's been a dislocated shoulder, but nothing big."

Teenage boys aren't the only ones who enjoy the Flowrider. Hiatt said she has seen kids as young as 3 to adults as old as 60 try their luck on the wave.

"The other day, a tiny little girl, probably 3-years-old, looked up at her dad and said, 'Awesome, daddy, awesome,' and she barely even talked," Hiatt explains. "So it attracts everyone."

Starting From Extreme

The Flowrider has always been a part of the Adrenalina stores. Since the first store opened in Miami in 2006, shoppers have had the option of catching some waves while shopping. In fact, during certain parts of the year—like summer—the Flowrider is responsible for most of the store's business. Weekends are usually crazy as well and it is hard to catch a wave without a reservation.

"I think it definitely draws people in and gives us a better chance against companies that are similar to us," says general manager Ben Corwin. "We're the only retail store that is allowed to have a Flowrider in any of its locations. We have an agreement with the company that makes it (Wave Loch, Inc.)."

Corwin, 25, explained that Adrenalina is "basically the all-encompassing extreme sports store." The stores carry a little bit of everything for every extreme sport including skateboarding, surfing, wakeboarding, kiteboarding, base jumping, dirt biking and even skydiving.

However, the store is more than an outlet for the casual extreme athlete. Tampa's Adrenalina store tries to help out local extreme sports teams as well, such as the Derby Darlings—Tampa's female roller derby team.

"The Derby Darlings really love 187 pads, so we really try to work with them to make sure we have all the pads that they ever need," Hiatt says. "So we're trying to get all of the colors they want and keep their size pads just because that's all you can do when the economy is crappy is to help the other extreme sports in Tampa."

Shoppers around the country can expect to see more Adrenalinas appearing in higher-end malls. Two previous locations in Miami and Orlando are on the move and new store locations are planned for Denver and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Adrenalina at International Plaza is located between Nordstrom and Robb and Stucky, and is open between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. There is also an outside entrance labeled with a giant, red "A."

Matt Wiley, a journalism student soon to graduate from the University of South Florida, writes out of his North Tampa apartment. When not stressing about whether he'll be accepted to grad school and find a job in the journalism industry, he enjoys skateboarding and playing guitar. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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