FlowRider - Sunway Lagoon’s latest attraction

Itching to go surfing but hampered by the unpredictable weather? Fret not. With Malaysia’s first surf simulator, the FlowRider, you don’t have to go to the beach to ride the waves.

THREE, two, one, go!” calls out our instructor John Oh Boon Chye as my colleague Joleen Lunjew throws the boogie board (also called a body board) into the torrent of water and jumps on it.

She succeeds in balancing herself on her belly and slides down smoothly to catch the wave before the water pushes her to the side. Within seconds, her attempt is over, and her face screams of victory.

“Not too bad for a first-timer,” comments Oh.

“Your turn next,” he says, beckoning me to position myself. Joleen made it look easy but my heart is pounding with excitement and trepidation for fear of slamming against the wall and injuring myself.

On the count of three, I clutch my body board, close my eyes and jump clumsily. Alas, instead of gliding down, I lose grip of the board and the wave pushes me in the opposite direction. I’m going the wrong way while my board is riding the wave!

The water pressure is so intense that it sweeps me up and I slam against the back wall. Thankfully, the surface of the wall is padded to absorb the impact of the hit, and I emerge unscathed.

“Try again,” coaxes Oh. “Aim for the centre. It’s easier. And whatever you do, keep your elbow on the board!”

I heed his advice, and this time, I manage to ride the wave and stay there for what seems like minutes (actually it’s only a few seconds). It’s a thrilling sensation. I make an effort to turn right but not knowing the proper technique, the wave shoves me to the side, into a “wipeout”. I climb out.

Nope, we’re not out at sea but in Sunway Lagoon, trying out Malaysia’s first surf simulator, the FlowRider. Introduced two months ago, flow-riding combines the skills of surfing, wakeboarding and skateboarding. It is the latest craze at the water park, and enthusiasts start standing in line way before the ride opens.

“I believe Malaysians are always looking for new adventures, and surfing fits that role perfectly. Now you don’t need to worry about rip currents, sharks or even whether you will catch a wave. With the FlowRider, the wave is constant, and the question is how long the rider can ride our waves,” says Andrew Thatcher, director of sales and marketing at Wave Loch Inc, the company which introduced the ride here.

Operated by high volume pumps, the FlowRider generates about 200,000 litres per minute of water over a composite membrane surface akin to a wrestling mat or tarpaulin. Riding the stationary “sheet wave” is like riding the wave in the ocean. Riders can slide down and ride up the wave surface, carve turns and do numerous stunts like the 360° flips demonstrated by two instructors.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an amateur or a professional, be prepared to lose balance, tumble and fall.

After a few attempts, I can balance on the boogie board without holding on while Joleen, having a lower centre of gravity, can stand on the flowboard, which really resembles a skateboard. We’re having loads of fun (with a few bruises picked up along the way) while getting a great workout.

Indeed, flow-riding can get addictive.

According to Sunway Lagoon’s chief executive officer, Aaron Soo, there are lots of similarities between flow-riding and surfing but a surfer would probably be more adept at mastering flow-riding techniques than the other way around.

“Die-hard surfers see this as a joke. Still, there are now over 200,000 flow-riding enthusiasts around the world and the number is growing. It’s an engineering feat,” Soo says.

During the 1980s, one Tom Lochtefeld was a partner in the development of water parks in the United States. There, he discovered his ambition to build a water park attraction that simulated the sensation of riding waves in the ocean.

After several years trying to model the perfect wave, he unveiled the first FlowRider in 1991 at the Schlitterbahn in Texas, followed by the first FlowBarrel at the Summerland Resort in Norway two years later. Throughout the 1990s, Lochtefeld worked with several skateboarders, surfers and snowboarders to develop the best boards and techniques to ride the sheet wave.

The flow-riding boards are much smaller than surfing boards. For beginners, the body board or boogie board is the best option.

“Beginners can lie down on it, kneel down or do the drop-knee position where one knee is down and one foot is resting on the board. When the experience and confidence level increases, you can try the flowboard — standing up on what is similar to a surfboard, but smaller, sort of like a skateboard. It’s almost like skateboarding on water,” says Soo, 50.

When Soo came on board Sunway Lagoon in 2005, his Christmas wish was to get a FlowRider but the prohibitive cost prevented Santa from giving him his present. Over the years, the cost has come down, and Soo got his belated Christmas gift this year.

The equipment and installation amounted to RM3mil. The wave pool at Sunway Lagoon is not exactly large but can fit three sedans and allows two persons to ride at the same time in a controlled environment. It comes equipped with a divider but if riders want to ride alone, the divider can be removed.

Each rider is only allowed five minutes before the whistle is blown for the next person to come in. To try the FlowRider, one has to be at least 12 years old.

“Typically, the FlowRider is a hit for those between the ages of 13 and 21 but you would be surprised at the number of older folks curious to try out this new sport,” Soo reveals.

“It is a tiring sport, and if you’re lucky, you can last for two minutes. Eventually, we are looking into holding a challenge for the public.”

o The FlowRider is open from 11am to 6pm on weekdays (except Tuesdays) and from 10am to 6pm on weekends. All you need is a swimsuit and the courage to try it out. Boogie boards and flowboards are provided. For more information, please call 03-5639 0000 or visit www.sunwaylagoon.com or www.facebook.com/sunwaylagoonMsia.