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Peak Surf Park’s Tony Miller Shares His Inspiration and More About His Role in the Surf Park Industry

There are a lot of exciting projects in the world of surf parks. New parks are popping up worldwide, with each destination bringing a unique experience in a new place hungry for waves.

The Surf Park Central team recently spoke with Tony Miller, the founder of Peak Surf Park, an exciting new project in the Tampa, Florida area. That’s home for Miller, who has lived there since moving to the Sunshine State’s west coast when he was 15-years-old. He now lives there with his wife and two daughters.

While he’s been a surfer for decades, surfing has not been part of his career until now. Mille says he’s worked in insurance, marketing, and M&A, along with interests in a spirits brand. At one point, he owned a branding and marketing agency focused on hospitality and travel brands. 

“I have been a business leader in the Tampa Bay area for quite some time,” says Miller. “So, I’m fortunate to have a good network which I’m leaning on heavily to provide necessary team and partnership expertise as we push forward on the project.”

The world of surf parks seemed like a rational next step. 

Peak Surf Park could be one of the first parks using Surf Lakes wave technology. Here’s what Miller had to say about his organization and the future surf park.

Surf Park Central: What first inspired you to enter the surf park industry, and what were the first steps you took to make those steps?

Tony Miller: In early 2021, I was on a networking Zoom call with a bunch of people, and we were all talking about what we were doing. One of the guys was an Australian who said he was trying to help raise some money for this group called Surf Lakes. I told him  I grew up surfing, and he said here, let me show you a video. It was one of those videos of the facility up in Yeppoon, and I was just blown away. I said how have I been missing this? So, from there, I spent the next month or two doing a deep dive into all things related to the surf park industry.  Eventually, I contacted Surf Lakes, and our conversations developed from there. 

Surf Park Central: What was the specific reason you went with Surf Lakes over all of the other technologies?

Tony Miller: I went with Surf Lakes for a few reasons. First, I did a lot of research knowing I had jumped into a couple of endeavors in the past too quickly because I got very emotionally excited and tied in.  I knew a surf park could be the same issue, but times 10!  So I needed to step back and look at it from a less emotional place and do some hard research. 

What I found that I liked about the Surf Lakes model is that it’s more than just surfing. The 360-degree experience allowed you to surround that surf experience with a whole lot of other experiences. In doing so, it would allow you to mitigate all of the reliance being on just surfing revenue. So you could really build out your revenue streams in a lot of different ways and reduce the risk of the project overall.

I also saw Surf Lakes as the best model to create the biggest guest experience possible. One that can appeal to a wide audience and increase dwell time and repeat visitation.  

In terms of surfing, I believe Surf Lakes provides the most authentic waves that you can get. And I love that you have an opportunity to get all skill levels inside the wave lagoon at the same time. I think that’s going to prove to be a bigger and bigger challenge for some of the other techs as more skill levels want to be in the lagoon at the same time.

With all that being said, I believe that all the other techs have their place. I’m not one of the people who say, ‘Hey, there’s only going to be one winner in this space.’ I think that most of the other technologies will find their niche and they have reasons that they’ll do well in the space. 

Surf Park Central: What is your ethos, driving force, and inspiration that is bringing this park to life?

Tony Miller: I have a personal mission statement that I created a few years back. It came from a speaker who asked a question in front of a business leadership group. He asked how many people here have a business mission statement for their business. Every hand in the room went up. There’s probably a hundred people in the room. And then he asked the question how many people have their own personal mission statement for their life, And three timid hands went up. So nobody really had that and I didn’t either.  So I spent some time trying to determine what’s my personal mission statement for my life.

The first one I wrote was paragraphs long, very wordy, and lengthy. I worked on it until I got it down to six words. And so my personal mission statement in life is to live big, laugh a lot, and elevate others. That’s it. That is what drives my life and has the most purpose and meaning for me.

When I saw the whole concept of a surf park, I got so hooked because I could fulfill each one of those three components of my personal mission statement. That’s what I want to do with the surf park. I want people to come and have an awesome experience and live a big life while they’re here. We’re going to fill it with fun and laughter and joy, and you’re gonna have just a really, really great time. There’s a huge opportunity for guests to elevate their surfing, but I think there are opportunities to elevate others. How can we help our staff grow? How do we help elevate the community around us? Live big, laugh a lot, and elevate… I think the vision for Peak perfectly aligns to all of those.

Surf Park Central: You talked a lot about the guest experience with the Surf Lakes technology and park development. As surf parks are relatively new concepts, what do you envision the impact of these parks on the communities that they serve?

Tony Miller: I believe that they’re going to have a lot of positive impact. There are a lot of people who gravitate to the sport of surfing, but they’ve never been able to do it. So, I think the ability to have access to surfing through these surf lagoons is going to bring a lot more people to the sport itself. They’re just going to get the pure enjoyment that we know and love about surfing. 

Down here in Florida, once they started opening some ice hockey rinks, there quickly became  this huge thriving ice hockey community. So, it unlocked this market to a new sport and I think surfing and surf parks are going to do the same thing. 

I also believe that you’re going to see the surf parks become what I would call a “third place” where you go to hang out. Everybody has their work, their home and they need the place that they’re going to hang out. I think this has the opportunity, especially with my kind of project, where this just becomes a new place to foster community for the community. 

Surf Park Central: You talked a little bit about the community that your park is going to be serving. Do you think you could dig in a bit deeper about what guests in your community can expect that may be different at your park than at a different park and how the location of your development played a factor in the plans for the development itself?

Tony Miller: So, I think that at our park, one of the things that I really want to focus on is the authenticity of the experience. I do not want it to feel like a theme park, and I don’t want it to feel like there are concessions there. I want it to feel like a surf village that you’ve entered into, and I want to bring all of the cool aspects of surfing into that overall park experience. 

So, for example, we’re here in Florida. I want to pay homage to how I grew up surfing on the East Coast at Cocoa Beach. As a teenager in the 80s, there’s just a lot of cool surf culture that I want to infuse into the park. I wanted the food and beverage to be small format representations of food from the best surf spots around the world, whether that be Indonesian food, Hawaiian, Australian, Mexican, etc.  So you really feel connected to the world of surfing in an authentic way.

Plus, it won’t just be about surfing. We’re going to have a sports village and a festival field for concerts and events. There’s going to be great retail, not cheesy souvenir shops.  And the staff will play a huge part in ‘being the vibe’ which is one of our core values.

Surf Park Central: You’ve talked a lot about sustainability in the past, and that’s something that falls into that authenticity with surfers. How does Peak Surf Park plan to integrate sustainable practices into its operations and experience?

Tony Miller: Whether this was important to the surf community or not, it’s important to me. It’s something that I think we want to infuse into our operations. I think it starts with intent. You have to have the intent to do it. One of our five core values is Strive to Sustain, which definitively states our commitment and intent. That core value drives behavior that then infiltrates all of the decisions we make from how we’re building out infrastructure to who we’re hiring and how we’re delivering on our sustainability goals.  The other important component is measurement.  What gets measured gets done, which is why we have been an early participant with STOKE.  That accountability is critical to actually getting stuff done.

Surf Park Central: Building these surf parks is difficult, especially in such a new industry. What resources in the surf park industry have helped you work towards completing this goal?

Tony Miller: Surf Park Central and WavePoolMag are great places that I leaned on to do some research and understand what the industry is all about. There have been some great podcasts that we’re really helpful from people who have blazed the trail. Really good stuff that helped with my own research and ideation. 

However, I’m going to turn this question around and give you something that’s a little bit different. I think there is a real gap in our industry that, if filled, could really help projects gain momentum and get completed.  Traditional developer’s have not jumped into the space very aggressively.  Surf parks are unproven and not an asset class most developers have much experience in.  And they typically have more of a build it, fill it, and flip it mindset. So a short term horizon.  

From an industry perspective, as well as the wave tech folks, I think the best people to build and develop a surf park have much more of an operator’s mindset. They have a long-term view of what they’re trying to build and accomplish. That’s me. I have an operator’s mindset. I am not a traditional developer. And the same goes for most of the Surf Lakes licensees, as well as the founders of most of the other tech company projects that have open parks.  

Here is the rub, traditional developers have the expertise and resources to move projects forward better than operators.  However, operators are better suited for the long term viability of the projects and the industry.  

So there seems to be an opportunity for development consultants to solve this dilemma and fill a critical gap in the early stages of our emerging industry.  Provide operator-minded founders with the expertise and relationships necessary to accelerate their projects.  We have lots of folks offering Ops Management consulting, but you have to get the project developed first before those services can deliver value. So I think there is a huge opportunity to marry the best of an operator’s mindset with the know-how of a developer’s experience to get more successful projects finished faster. 

Surf Park Central: What has been your largest learning experience during this development? If you were to provide one piece of advice for someone who’s starting out their journey developing a park, what would it be?

Tony Miller: I don’t know that I have just one largest learning experience. I think that everything that I’m doing is somewhat like drinking from a fire hose. 

I’m having conversations with the Southwest Florida Water Management District about how we could create sustainable water solutions by reusing stormwater one minute and then having conversations with engineers, architects, investors and commercial real estate folks the next. All of these sit in a space that I know something about, but I’m not an expert in any. You have to quickly learn and be able to know enough to make smart decisions and keep the project on the rails and moving forward. 

It is a bigger lift than I ever thought, and it takes more time. So, my advice to somebody would be to plan for it to take longer than you think it’s going to take, get creative in your problem solving, and have the patience and resilience to grind for a long, long time. 

Surf Park Central: How do you stay updated on industry trends and advancements in surf park technology developments, design and so on?

Tony Miller: I check out Surf Park Central and the content coming out on WavePoolMag. I check out social media and the people in the space. I check in with Surf Lakes and the other developers. 

It’s easy to get really focused on your own project and be driving that forward, but before you know it a year has gone by and there are new things out there. So, it’s important to keep a pulse on what’s happening in the space.

Surf Park Central: You talked about your personal drive, but can you share more about the inspiration for your park as a whole? 

Tony Miller: I’m very focused on the idea of a tremendous guest experience that’s very thoughtful and intentional. That applies to the core surfer, but it also must include every single guest that walks into Peak. I want them to feel like they’ve entered into a very authentic surf culture that extends beyond the water.  Every touch point defines their experience as a whole.   The waves, the beach, dining, concerts, sports, the staff, the facilities, check in, lessons, the list is endless.  We have an opportunity to create incredible experiences for people every day that leaves them happier and more fulfilled because of it.  And our five core values will drive the decisions and behaviors necessary to deliver on that guest experience expectation.

Surf Park Central: What is next from your development? 

Tony Miller: The big challenge for me in Florida has been securing 35 acres of land. We have a unique environment that is really going to help us once we get the park open, but it’s challenging early on with the in-state migration we’ve experienced. There are a lot of people moving into the state of Florida. The numbers are pretty astounding when you look at how many people are actually coming to the state every year. What that created was a lot of competition for land, specifically with multi family developers who are focused on Florida. These developers were looking for the same piece of dirt that I was looking for so they could build condos, townhouses and apartments. They were willing to pay top dollar, and it made property scarce and  really expensive. So, that’s been the biggest challenge. However, I now have a purchase and sales agreement that I believe is ready to go. It will now begin to speed up the momentum in a lot of ways and it is in a terrific location.

Surf Park Central: Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or your project?

Tony Miller: One of the things that I put significant thought into revolves around the operational keys to success.  I have landed on four areas I really want focus on well ahead of operations commencing.  Authenticity of experience is one that I’ve already talked about quite a bit today.  The other is safety, which is incredibly important, and really just table stakes for any park at this point.  The third, which might be a bit out of the norm is a focus on the female audience.  And the last one, which I have a ton of passion around, is serving the underserved.

So going back to the female focus, I think that the surf industry as a whole has not done the best job with females, to put it lightly!  It happens in many ways, and I believe it is critical to our success to change that and have a very holistic approach to our female audience.  Maybe it is because I have two daughters, but I think our surf parks are a tremendous opportunity for girls to get a fair shake in the water.  Level the playing field so they progress to a point that they can effectively compete and feel comfortable in a lagoon or the ocean..  

But again, that is table stakes to me.  I think the real opportunity lies in embracing our ladies from the get-go.  How should we talk to them on our website?  How are we addressing their concerns about safety, locker rooms, cleanliness, and other things that moms think about?  How do we merchandise for female customers from a retail and food perspective?  Females are a huge part of our customer base and moms make up the bulk of the buying decisions for their family.  And more importantly, it is just the right thing to do. And I’m of the school of thought that doing the right thing is also good business. 

The last thing I get really fired up about are the incredible opportunities to serve the underserved within our Peak Surf Park platform overall. I think that we could do some really, really killer stuff for communities that might be dealing with various challenges ranging from soldiers with PTSD, kids who are autistic, folks with physical disabilities, at risk youth, the list goes on and on. With Surf Lakes, I can carve out an entire wave to create awesome programming for these groups.  Surfing of course, but other sports, ocean education, internships and more.  We are only limited by our creativity here. I’m not sure we could create more positive vibes than bringing these types of experiences to our underserved communities and I can’t wait to see it come to life. 

Learn more about Peak Surf Park.

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