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GUEST POST: Surf-Anchored Properties – Architectural Best Practices

With a growing need in the hospitality industry for experiential, activity-based resorts, we see that surf-anchored properties are increasingly on the rise.

Guest post from Bruce Greenfield with AO:

With a growing need in the hospitality industry for experiential, activity-based resorts, we see that surf-anchored properties are increasingly on the rise. Developers and cities are coming together to bring these exciting destinations to life. The benefits are real. These properties serve as an oasis in their community providing green landscape, water attractions, and an economic boost. In 2022 we surveyed our team of architects, planners, designers and engineers at AO in preparation for our participation in the Surf Park Summit. Our goal was to sift through our experiences, getting past the anecdotal stories to reveal the truths and best practices in designing surf-anchored resort properties. We revealed our Top 5 Considerations then, and now a year later, some of what we posited holds true, while there have also been some changes in the industry. The following are our updated findings.

With eight active surf-anchored developments in our design pipeline, we feel uniquely qualified to highlight these best practices in creating a 360-degree experience that holds up to critical stress tests.

Think collectively from the start: Like any other high-value major undertaking, surf-anchored properties require intense planning. At AO our teams rely on charrettes, meetings where we bring together the owner, consultants, and contractors at the earliest stages of planning to collaborate and workshop different design options. This process helps us ensure that we are coming up with nascent plans that will maximize opportunities and deliver high value, and where every voice is heard. With this in mind, it is highly recommended that design and development partners are brought on early in the visioning process to ensure that all components are cohesive and well-orchestrated. When creating an immersive destination experience, be thoughtful about incorporating revenue-generating retail, food and beverage options, guest services and resort-style amenities that embody the place. A well-executed design will pave the way for a memorable and unique experience guests will instantly recognize and remember.

Creative placemaking should showcase the obvious, the wave-crashing surf lagoon, while also incorporating the other elements of the surf park; the 360-experience of restaurants, bars, lookouts, residences, hotel rooms, pool decks, etc. The design team should frame the centerpiece to be accessible and connected to its surroundings. Guests should not have to trek too far away from the action to enjoy the rest of the park’s offerings. This requires designers to be intentional about wayfinding, pedestrian pathways, and active and passive lounge areas highlighted by landscape.

Don’t forget the hospitality operations: At face value, surf parks can be perceived as expansive landscaped parks, with the lagoon and wave pool as centerpieces. Designers should remember that they are also large-scale commercial and hospitality developments and should be treated as such. Attention should be paid to park operations, staff needs, maintenance crews, and equipment storage. The design team must have an expertise in back-of-house operations as well as an applied understanding of the complex technology and systems that drive the waves. Additionally, the design must consider the operational requirements for food and beverage, retail, and other services offered within the surf park. Guests may not notice any of the behind-the-scenes operations, and ideally should not. Well executed design and space planning with these elements in mind allows the business to run smoothly.

Embrace the environmental challenges: Each surf park location has its own site-specific challenges, whether it’s topography, local climate, or access to resources. And by nature of being water-reliant, surf parks will always need to make peace with the perception that they are wasteful and bad for the environment. This negative opinion is far from the truth. Most surf park projects have set goals of attaining 0% emissions by 2050, and studies show that wave pools use a fraction of what an 18-hole golf course requires in a year. In all, these surf-anchored resorts can be an excellent, environmentally- friendly, revenue-generating development option. It takes knowledgeable designers and planners to discern the various environmental challenges and counter with smart design.

Realize the possibilities: Design surf parks with room to include future possibilities. The allure of wave- riding will bring more audiences than just weekend pleasure seekers. Without ignoring its core target of families and 20-somethings craving a day in the sun, architects should plan for the multiple other customers. Surf park planning should include things like training facilities, rehabilitation centers, spas, meditation centers and other surf-centric uses that bring in professionals searching a less staid location for conferences and retreats. Onsite programming opportunities include licensed brand partnerships and entertainment events onsite, such as product launches, fashion shows, private concerts or movie screenings. Special events are also revenue generators as the natural landscape and Instagramable location are sure to attract birthday and wedding guests. There is something for everyone at surf parks. 

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