Australia’s first surf park has opened at Melbourne Airport, with 250,000 annual visitors expected to catch perfect waves. Is a new asset class or activation strategy about to land on our shores?
URBNSURF has transformed two hectares of its 5.8-hectare Tullamarine site into an iridescent blue lagoon that surfers would expect to see in the Maldives, not at Melbourne Airport.
The park is the first of several passion projects of lifelong surfer Andrew Ross. In 2012, Ross visited Spanish company Wavegarden’s headquarters among the Pyrenees mountains, and was “blown away” by the perfect waves produced miles from the coast.
With more than 2.5 million surfers in Australia – the highest number of any nation per capita – Ross recognised the potential for surf parks Down Under.
After acquiring exclusive rights to Wavegarden’s technology – including its next-generation Cove design – he’s been working towards creating the first urban surf parks in Australia.
“It’s been an interesting journey,” Ross admits.
“This is the first time that this particular wave-generating technology has been used at such a scale. With that came a raft of engineering and design issues to resolve – which we had to do to a large extent on the fly.”
Take the floor of the lagoon, which is roughly the size of the MCG.
“It had to be non-slip, UV and chemical resistant, have a white finish, be easy to clean, cost effective to install, and be capable of being repaired under water,” Ross explains.
Ross and his team spent almost two years devising a unique solution: a flexible cement pavement with a polymer membrane finish. This was designed to withstand the two million-odd waves that will break in the lagoon each year, and be flexible enough to deliver a bathymetry, or floor profile, which mimics reef break contours in the ocean.
Draining the lagoon’s 23 million litres of water “is a cost to the environment – as well as business,” Ross explains. And if the water were to penetrate the flexible layer, the power of the waves could break the floor apart.
Ross spent weeks on his hands and knees, checking the 22,000 sqm floor for cracks and irregularities. “I rubbed my fingerprints off and the scanner on my phone wouldn’t recognise me. That was the level of intensity.”
Pumping out renewable waves
Turner & Townsend, which had a strong existing relationship with Melbourne Airport, was appointed to project manage and act as superintendent.
“We love complex projects – and this project was certainly complex,” says Jason Veale, Turner & Townsend’s project director.
“There was Spanish technology integrated with Australian standards combined with the requirements of working in a controlled airport environment. The scale of the project and working with two separate contractors also presented challenges.
“Creating waves of the desired shape and height demanded a high level of construction accuracy,” Veale adds.
The Wavegarden technology can produce more than 1,000 perfect, ocean-like surfing waves every hour, from between 0.5 metres to two metres in height, accommodating surfers of all levels.
With the push of a button, the size, shape, power and frequency of the waves can be adjusted to suit all abilities – from first timers through to elite athletes.
The project’s sustainability credentials are impressive, and important because “surfers have a deep green core,” says Ross.
With 18,000 tonnes of recycled concrete used to build its surfing lagoon, URBNSURF Melbourne is home to the largest recycled concrete structure in Australia.
By adopting water sensitive urban design principles during the construction process, URBNSURF now harvests and retains rainwater for use on site. The park also uses 100 per cent renewable energy to power its wave generator.
“We use half the amount of power than the average aquatic centre – and what we do use is renewable power,” Ross adds.
A must-visit destination
The innovative land use is just as impressive as the waves.
Alongside the two-hectare surfing lagoon sits a surf shop, surf rental centre, a surf academy for lessons and training, and amenities such as hot tubs, day beds, a kids’ playground, shipping container cabanas, and landscaped outdoor spaces.
Byron Bay restaurant group Three Blue Ducks will open its first licensed Melbourne venue in Autumn.
“It’s an amazing new asset and bringing new visitors to the area. Melbourne Airport has been delighted with the buzz,” Ross says.
Veale also agrees the park is one to watch from a property perspective.
“I’m interested in this as an emerging asset class. It appeals to people who want to do something active and then have a nice meal and drink afterwards,” Veale says.
Ross was always confident his passion project would pay off.
“We knew if we could tap into the huge existing market of surfers who would love to surf more, and to provide an authentic experience that is also convenient, accessible and safe, we’d have a new must-visit destination.”