Francis Menassa, JAR Capital: Will inland surf lakes create the perfect swell for investors?
Rapid technological advances and changing consumer behavior have opened up a range of new investment opportunities in the leisure sector, but there is one in particular that is attracting significant attention. Surfing, a sport for some and a way of life for others, is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing leisure activities.
According to the latest British Marine Association Annual Watersports Participation Survey, surfing activities have seen the highest increases in volume with a 40% increase in participation since 2015. It is estimated that there are now just under 650,000 regular surfers in the UK, most of whom are between 16 and 34 years of age.
Despite the rise in numbers, surfing is, in fact relatively inaccessible. Not only is it held back by geographical limitations - most surfing beaches are some distance away from the main urban areas - there is weather and swell conditions, winds, and tides to contend with too. Plus, even on the best beaches, good surf spots are a rare commodity.
Until now that is. The introduction of a revolutionary new technology designed to mimic ocean waves is revolutionizing the world of surfing. And with an average number of seven surfs per year per surfer, there is a huge capacity for growth. Wavegarden Cove technology is set to open up the surfing to a far wider market.
A perfect swell for surfers...
Using cove technology, new inland surf lakes are being developed throughout the UK on brownfield sites and unused golf courses.
An inland surf lake is soon to be opened in Bristol, and just outside Edinburgh, there are plans to transform Craig Park Quarry into a surf lake. Meanwhile, the Lee Valley Leisure Complex, just east of London, has been given the go-ahead develop an inland surfing destination.
Artificial wave technologies are nothing new. They have been around for decades; those old-fashioned wave machines at local leisure centers were always a disappointment. But even the more recent wave technologies, some of which operate in the same way as a snowplow, have been unable to produce enough surfable waves.
However, the modular design of the Wavegarden Cove technology is the next step in the evolution of surfing technology. This wave-generating system has the ability and computer power to replicate the exact water particle movement of ocean ground swells producing better quality waves at a greater frequency. They can generate up to a thousand surfable waves per hour and range from 50cms to almost 2m in height. With six different surfing zones catering for all levels of surfer, these kite-shaped lakes have the potential to host over 80 people at any one time.
An urban or landlocked surfing resort is, without doubt, large capital investment and it is vital that revenue is generated in a short period of time. Therefore, from a commercial perspective, this design is more viable because any repairs that need to be made can be done on a modular basis. In short, there is no need to empty the lake or close it down if something goes wrong.
Wavegarden Cove technology is generating a lot of interest from investors and for a number of very good reasons. Firstly, the leisure sector, in general, is experiencing unprecedented growth. Despite overall consumer confidence falling to an 18-month low, net spending in the UK leisure sector grew by two percentage points year-on-year in the final quarter of 2018, according to a Deloitte report published in February 2019. An earlier Deloitte report describes leisure as a growing but underestimated sector.
Secondly, surfing is generally considered to be one of the fastest growing sports in the world and particularly so with surfing about to make its debut in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics: the Olympics often acts as a showcase and can help drive public participation in sports.
Notwithstanding the numbers, with the importance of leisure as a part of everyday life, rather than a special occasion, and the rise of the sharing economy, the UK leisure sector can offer a range of exciting and innovative options. And with well-being issues now high on the public agenda and for many investors too, inland surf lakes are set to generate significant opportunities for both surfers and investors.
© 2019 Francis Menassa