Employee Spotlights, News

Tom Lochtefeld, Sheet Wave Inventor

by Marshall Myrman

Tom is the sole reason we all have jobs in this industry today. He invented the artificial wave category. Oh, I know, Big Surf in Tempe and numerous other attempts over 100 years, etc., but Tom’s “sheet wave” (stationary wave system) invention spawned a new sport and activity that while having a similar feel to surfing, was totally unique. The activity? The sport of Flowboarding, a hybrid activity combining wake/skate/snow/skim and surf. Where did it all come from?

Tom was born on NAS (Naval Air Station) North Island, Coronado, CA. I only know one other person born there…me, actually. Navy babies. Tom went to Mission Bay High School, and a little- known fact is that he was All-CIF Defensive End in football. Tom also was a devoted surfer; he spent countless hours in the surf of San Diego. I met his younger brother Peter in 1970 surfing Big Rock in La Jolla and met Tom shortly thereafter. The thing about Big Rock – high risk, high reward, but as addicting as any drug, is the act of getting barreled out of your mind. And in Southern California, Big Rock filled the prescription!

The surf addiction will cause you to do many wayward things – blow off meetings, classes, girlfriends and relationships, but Tom waded his way through the clutter to get his bachelor’s degree in finance and a subsequent law degree. While working in commercial real estate in San Diego, Tom became involved in the Raging Waters Waterpark in San Dimas.

The story goes, he was shooting water up a ramp in his bathtub and it was creating a perfect little barrel.  Since Tom had a passion for perfect left barrels (he is a goofy foot), the wheels started spinning.  And when Tom’s wheels spin, it is in overdrive. One thing led to another and he was building a VERY makeshift sheet wave at the San Dimas waterpark, built out of plywood and sandbags. Wearing a full wetsuit, helmet, and any other padding he could devise, he risked life and limb to test his idea.

Tom risking life & limb testing the very first FlowRider at Ranging Waters San Dimas.

Fast forward to the 1990s and Tom was busy trying to commercialize his idea. I remember when he opened one of the first “FlowRiders®” at the Vista Waterpark in Vista, CA.  He invited all his surf buddies and we all flopped around like a bunch of fools.  Then he built two mobile FlowBarrels™ for the Swatch Mobile Tour. These went all over the world and at the end of the Tour, one of them landed at Belmont Park in Mission Beach, San Diego. Of course, the one that made it to San Diego was the Left!

It was affectionately named Bruticus Maximus, or B-MAX for short. This wave spawned a whole new high-flying activity – the equivalent of the half pipe in snowboarding or a vert ramp in skateboarding – and leading the charge was the “godfather” of the FlowBarrel movement – Greg “Laz” Lazarus, followed shortly thereafter by the high-flying circus act of Eric Silverman. The FlowBarrel made Wave House San Diego the place to be – it was a PARTY!  Wave House was the nexus for any stand-alone surf machine-driven venue, where entertainment, retail, and F&B enhanced the experience of the attraction.  Tom was certainly at the forefront of this creative movement.

Tom’s stated goal was to be able to bring the feel, passion and lifestyle of surfing to anyone, anywhere in the world!  Well, mission accomplished, Tom!  And while Tom has moved on to pursue the creation of “real” artificial surfing waves with his new company SurfLoch™, the legacy of what was created at WaveLoch lives on through the license agreement with Whitewater West (WWI), and the passion of those of us who are still in the business with FlowRider, Inc. (a subsidiary of WWI). With over 250 FlowRiders installed globally, there is no question that what Tom created is the most successful artificial wave in the world.

A couple things I know about Tom specifically – he is unafraid and is one of the hardest workers I know.  Hobbies? Work!  Passionate about?  Work!  Oh, I know he still surfs, as I see him in the mornings sometimes. We are surfing different spots now though, as Big Rock is not for our age group!

The one and only time I ever saw Tom drink a Coke – a very rare moment in time.

Tom is married to his wife and business partner Maureen, and has two sons, Ranney and Logan. He is due to open his first surf pool by the end of the year! 

Keep charging, Tom!