Into the Flow: Sponge at the Flow Rider

Web space generously provided by John Pescador at Cyber Wave Inc..

Posing at the Schlitterbahn

In late 1993, I was assigned to attend a training class in San Antonio, Texas, sometime in the May 1994 timeframe. Little did I realize that this trip would become one of my most memorable surf sessions ever.

Just north of "San Antone" is the town of New Braunfels, where the first Flow Rider wavepool was created at the Schlitterbahn waterpark. I was really looking forward to giving it a try. Amazingly, I found out that the 3rd Annual Flow Rider World Bodyboarding Championship was going to be held right when I was scheduled to be there. Awesome!

The image that most people have of the place is of the nice barrel created when the pumps are running full blast. However, they don't run it at that level for everyday park users--it's just too dangerous. This contest would be a possible opportunity for me to try it at maximum speed. I just needed to get in with the contestants somehow.

My ace in the hole came from my friend Patti Seranno, owner of BIM magazine. I had been a "photojournalist" for her for several years, and she had major connections. Patti was invited as a guest to the park and was planning to do a story about the contest in her mag. Although not competing, Patti was given a spot in the practice session roster. So, guess who she graciously gave it to? I was so stoked!

Contestants had four days to practice before the actual contest, with two two-hour sessions running per day. Of course, I had to go to class during the days, but I had enough time to do the evening sessions with the crew. And boy, what a crew was there.

Some of the best riders from California, Hawaii and Australia were there, including Eppo, Press, Maligs, Caldwell, etc. I was in some pretty tall company, but I was fortunate that most were friends or acquaintances of mine.

Before trying it out, I had to pen a six-page waiver, pretty much signing my life away. Once I started riding, I found out why--the place is brutal on your body. Unlike the ocean, when you wipeout, you always land hard on the ever-so slightly padded concrete. Just about everyone got major sprains and bruises. A couple of years before in Norway, Brian Press broke his collarbone on a tumble off the Flow Rider out there. The wave is not to be taken lightly.

The first thing that got my attention was the noise. The sound of the rushing water and pumps was just a continuous roar that became mind-numbing after a while. The other was how fast the water actually flows. They estimate the speed to be about 30 mph at full force--believe me, the water was flying.

I tried my regular bodyboard out when the pumps were working half-time, but I just couldn't work it in the 4" deep rapids. The back corners of the board would always scrape bottom on a turn. I ended up borrowing my friend Robbie Gall's boards, which were specifically designed for the Flow Rider with rounded corners. I truly believe that this need for a radically different shape of board was the turning point for the innovations in bodyboard tail design that we enjoy today.

Initially, I had a really hard time getting used to the wave. It is a pseudo-wave, and not a real one, so the forces run in the opposite direction--it pulls instead of pushes. However, it's a great facsimile of a ocean tube and wall.

After many lame attempts at a graceful entry, Harry Antipala, an old friend from Kauai, gave me some supportive advice that got me on my way. The first moment I got into the barrel, my instincts immediately made me panicky, as I tried to race for the shoulder. It took a while before I realized that I didn't have to stress about it.

Eventually, I ended up just enjoying the view in the tube, then did some pumping on the wall, and even a few decent cutbacks. However, I never got to the point where I could do rollos or even spinners like most of the other guys. I did do some fun running launches off the lip, but not nearly as good as Eppo, who did the first ever backflip and ARS in chlorinated water!

After every session, Tom Lochtefeld, creator of the Flow Rider, and the rest of the folks at the Schlitterbahn treated us to a poolside dinner. All the contestants stayed in the nearby housing for free, meal included. Talk about first class treatment!

Also, we were the first to try out their new water attraction, an uphill water slide known as the Dragon Blaster. We were like kids at a carnival, running to get on the ride, and laughing with glee.

One of the best riders there was Heath Purvis, a local Texan who has never surfed in the ocean before! Heath had the wave wired, doing some sweeping dropknee cutbacks, and literally taking it to pieces.

But the best guy in practice, and the one who eventually won the contest, was Kyle Maligro (another Kauai boy). He's just a freak! He could do airs and rollos prone, heavy snaps dropknee, then bunnyhop airs standing up, all on one ride. Definitely head and shoulders above the rest of the crew.

Despite four days of battering my body, I could never get enough of the ride. It was a surfer's dream come true--a perfect barrel that you could ride forever. The last maneuver I did before saying goodbye was a sweeping cutback that sent me right up into the gun barrel. After the tumble, I ended up sliding down into the moat with the floating alligators, sporting a grin from ear to ear.

About Texas: It really is a huge state, Tex-Mex is "ono", Lone Star beer sucks, gas and steak are cheap, don't speed in the cities, pasties are the law, there is no such thing as a jackalope, don't mess with Texas.

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