Product Safety & Technology

Is a Stationary Wave System or Surf Simulator Safe?

Is a FlowRider safe? Why isn’t it safe? What are the risks? Are there ever serious injuries on a FlowRider? I have been asked these questions (and any other safety-related questions you can think of) many times over the years. And to be honest, there is no simple answer.

Years ago, when I joined Wave Loch and got involved in this wonderful industry, I became involved with the American Society for Testing and Materials or ASTM. ASTM brings together countless individuals spanning all industries, volunteering their time to create standards for safety. The chapter that addresses Amusement Rides and Devices is called F24, and after my first meeting, I was somehow appointed Chairperson of the Stationary Waves Systems Committee. I guess partly by default but mostly because I was the only person in the room that knew much about these types of attractions. I knew virtually nothing about ASTM and/or the processes involved at the time.

The focus though was now on the creation of a standard for the safe operations of “Stationary Wave Systems” and we were blessed with a group of technical experts in the field of “ASTM Navigation” that were part of the committee.

To ask, “Are they safe?” is like asking “Is skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, wakeboarding, skim boarding, etc… safe?” These are all sports that require a level of skill to improve upon. These are all activities in which people fall. Falling is generally not good for one’s health. I learned how to ride a stationary wave system when I was 50 years old. Not because I wanted to, but because I felt I had to if I wanted to run a company that designs, builds, sells and installs these types of products. And, because there are inherent risks in these types of activities, and I need to know these firsthand – not by watching but by doing, experiencing.  What I found was an activity eerily similar to snowboarding in powder – nose up weight back and a great workout. But much like learning to snowboard, I fell. Frequently and hard. I had great instruction though, so I pushed on and learned.

The manufacturers are responsible for trying to make the experience the best it can be. This includes comprehensive training, operational procedures and instructions that must be adhered to. The venue must strive to have Wave Operators that are also competent riders, to enhance the guest experience. But, don’t forget, nothing will prevent people from falling. When people fall, there is the opportunity for injury – mild to VERY severe. It is inherent in all board sports. I know, as I have been hurt many times surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding. I even broke my neck in large surf 20 years ago. I believe I have the “injury thing” covered.

When riding a thin sheet wave surfing simulator, there are two forms of activity:

Riding on a bodyboard – limited fall risk and the least risk on the attraction

Standup riding on a flowboard – this has the most risk associated with it

The risk involved in standup riding is primarily from falling. And when you do fall, it is important to learn how to fall safely. It takes time to learn how to ride well, and it takes time to learn how to fall safely too, but good instruction on the attraction can make or break the experience.

It also depends on what you fall on. Is the ride surface a soft landing? Are you falling on a ride surface that is the equivalent of 2” gym mat foam on top of a concrete or expanded metal substrate? Is it a drop stitch inflatable device on top of concrete? Or is it on top of a “kicker of foam?”  Or is it a tensioned ride surface – like a trampoline?

All of these types of ride surfaces are options available to the customer. Before any purchase decision is made though, the buyer should go try out the various waves. Make sure they fall and feel the impact for themselves. These products are not cheap so there is really a ton of research that can be done through reading, riding, and falling!! Make sure that the exit areas are soft and safe, and that the orifice where the water comes out is well protected. Basically, as owner, operator, rider, and patron of a surfing simulator, you want to make sure that every possible area that you may come in contact with is soft and has some impact attenuation.

Any board sport is a “risk/reward” proposition. No one ever got better, and excelled at their respective craft, without falling. It is just a basic function of board sports, and flowboarding is another activity that “falls” into this realm.

I was at a trade show several years ago, when a large group came by our booth. They said, “We will write you a check for X (the ‘X’ was a VERY large number) if you can guarantee no one will ever get hurt.”  This conversation went on for a couple of hours – them asking, and me answering – Over and over again, I said, “There is no way I can guarantee that.”  Finally, they left the booth, probably upset with me. If we wanted to make a multimillion-dollar sale, then I should have said, “Yes, I guarantee it!”

That is not how we operate though. And anything less than the truth is not the right answer.

So yes, people can, and will, get injured on a surfing simulator. Some more serious than others. It is part of the risk of board sports, and of the industry we are in. We make every attempt to make sure patrons and customers are aware of the risks, and to do everything possible to mitigate those risks so that the patron has the best possible experience.