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How was Summit 2023? Here’s my take – an Insiders View with Jess Ponting

10 Years of Summit! 

Wow, Surf Park Summit 2023 was massive! This was our 10th anniversary of the global Summit, and I’m happy to report it was the largest event we’ve ever had, with more than 300 Executive-level developers, investors, wave technology companies, real estate professionals, and park operators in attendance… we even had the fire marshal come out, given our capacity constraints. Fun stuff!

My Take on Summit 2023

This year the Summit event itself evolved with the addition of the Developers Track, a series of breakout sessions specifically targeted to current and aspirational surf park developers, moderated by experts working real projects.

In addition, Summit introduced a series of roundtable discussions with the intent of forming working groups to stay engaged throughout the year, and for developers and operators to get the support they need, beginning with the topics of insurance, sustainability, and therapy/adaptive surfing. Each roundtable session represented a new opportunity for the surf park community to work together for the benefit of the entire industry.

Why work together?

Surf Park Summit keynote speaker Jeff Pensiero, a legend of the North American snowcat snowboarding scene and early member of the Canadian industry Association, Helicat Canada, had some valuable insights for the nascent surf park industry.

Summit 2023 Keynote Speaker – Jeff Pensiero, Founder of Baldface Lodge

Jeff explained how that, even though individual Helicat businesses were essentially in competition with each other, they still work together to save their industry, establishing common-sense standards and regulations, sharing legal protections and defenses, and negotiating group rates with insurers. In terms of managing risk, Jeff was in full support of the approach Helicat Canada has taken for their industry:

“We have a great trade organization. We support each other, we create these standards, we work together with government so that you know what you’re going to get… That’s really important in our industry. With things like insurance, we went to literally the best waiver lawyer in Canada and said we need a waiver that will withstand the risk that we’re taking. Now all the members of the trade association have exactly the same waiver, and that waiver has gone up 19 times in court, and never lost.” 

– Jeff Pensiero at Surf Park Summit 2023
Who needs waivers, right? ; )

Insurance has become a real pain point for surf parks preparing for opening. As a new industry that is poorly understood by insurers, surf park insurance is expensive and not always forthcoming.

Jeff experienced a similar insurance landscape in the heli and snowcat snowboard sector when the entire membership of their association were dropped en masse by their insurer after a tough year for natural disasters. By sticking together the association managed to source and negotiate a good collective outcome:

“A couple of years ago there were tons of hurricanes, boating took a beating, ships were being lost all over the ocean. That’s when Lloyd’s dropped insurance for our industry. So we went to the Japanese market, we packaged up our industry and hired a broker out of Canada and he went and shopped our industry to these different markets and showed them the standards that we have showed them our history, showed them the amount of risk that they’re really taking and was able to get them to buy. Now they’re the ones who insure us. We all buy our insurance from the same broker. When we were kind of worried and threatened that we weren’t going to be able to get another provider, we started talking about self-insuring our own industry. And that was a really interesting discussion that happened over about six months. And it’s a possibility, it’s something that we kind of have in our back pocket. If we all stand together, we’re much stronger than standing individually.”

– Jeff Pensiero

The need for this functionality, the need to work together as an industry, resonated throughout the rest of Surf Park Summit. Jeff explained that the benefits of working together can even go beyond standardized training, safety, operations, and insurance. There is even the potential to collaborate for more favorable financing terms.

“It’s really hard to finance a seasonal operation, especially when you want to invest in a backcountry lodge where maybe it’s on leased land with the government. We all went together to the Business Development Bank of Canada and negotiated as an organization. Now when a new operation comes in and needs funding for one of these things, they can go to this government sponsored bank as opposed to one of the charter banks and find some financing and a path towards doing this where the traditional banks are not that interested in startups like this. The trade organization can show a lot of success at paying off debt with these operations. It’s just that it’s seasonal. Sometimes when we have a bad season, we need to be able to go to interest only payments for a year. But if you look at this industry on a 25, 30 year scope, it’s a really good bet, but maybe not for traditional banks.” 

– Jeff Pensiero
The ideas were flowing at Summit 2023!

What This Means for Surf Parks

At Surf Park Central we’ve noted the core issues facing the relative few operators at open surf parks and those in development, particularly around insurance complexities, but also in terms of operational standards, property entitlements, and negotiating with suppliers.

In response, Surf Park Central as an organization continues to reflect on how we can support this evolving need for our members and sponsor organizations.

Taking action this year, we added the roundtable discussions to the Summit program to establish working groups that will continue to meet throughout the year and generate tools for the industry to be better able to integrate best practices into their operations, namely on the topics of insurance, sustainability, and accessibility/therapy. As a personal participant in these conversations, the roundtables took on unexpected gravity in light of Jeff’s advice to the industry and the conversations he catalyzed in his keynote.

Summit attendees have also communicated their support for a new future surf park trade association led by Surf Park Central and members – and we are taking that potential our role seriously, currently researching and testing with prospective members if and how such a movement should continue forward. This is an active and developing story!

Please reach out to me if you have ideas for additional working groups or would like to nominate yourself or someone else to join a working group. Generally, it feels like we are finally starting to work together to make waves!

For a full recap of the Summit 2023 event and topics covered, VIEW THIS RECAP

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