What is FlowRider?

December 16, 2020 | Surfing
FlowRider: the stationary wave machine | Photo: FlowRider

The FlowRider is one of the most famous surf machines. Here's everything you should know about flowboarding.

There are many ways and places where you can ride a wave - in the ocean, in rivers, and more recently, in wave pools.

But the concept of surfable stationary wave occupies an alternative space in the wave riding universe.

Interestingly, the origins of the sheet wave - as it is also named - date back to the 19th-century when English scientist Michael Faraday observed its formation and behavior for the first time.

In 1991, precisely 160 years later, Tom Lochtefeld, founder of Wave Loch, debuted the first FlowRider at Texas' Schlitterbahn waterpark.

Flowboarders: the Flowboarding League of the World crowns its champions | Photo: FlowRider

How Does the FlowRider Work?

Flow Rider is a structure equipped with submersible propeller pumps that inject a three-inch sheet of water over a smooth, composite membrane riding surface.

As a result, it produces a stationary wave - or sheet wave - that allows riders to surf its continuously flowing face.

Unlike some might think, the FlowRider is not a wave pool, even though it also creates a man-made, artificial wave.

The majority of surf lagoons use plungers, paddles, or pressure systems to create a moving mass of water that peels across the pool.

FlowRider is constantly pumping thousands of gallons of water, creating a thin wave that allows the rider to surf it - in theory, endlessly.

The seven different FlowRider models range in size from 5.48 meters wide (18 feet) and 13.11-meter long (43 feet) to 12.8 meters wide (42 feet), 16.25 meters long (53 feet).

They produce between 120 and 720 rides per hour and display a tank capacity that goes from 60,500 liters (16,000 gallons) to 212,500 liters (56,000 gallons).

The FlowRider headquarters are located in San Diego, California, and its parent company - WhiteWater - also designs wave pools.

FlowRider: the sheet wave can be installed indoors at shopping malls, private properties, surf shops, waterparks, cruise ships, private islands, hotels | Photo: Flowboarders.com

A Versatile Surf Machine

The FlowRider is targeted at commercial facilities and businesses. It's not a toy that the average person can buy and install in the backyard.

How much does a FlowRider cost? Depending on the type of wave and structure, the price of a Flowrider goes from $450,000 to $5,000,000.

The installation time - from signing the contract to commissioning - is of approximately six months.

A FlowRider can be installed indoors at shopping malls, private properties, surf shops, waterparks, cruise ships, private islands, hotels, and stand-alone venues.

The water used in each system can be heated and should be treated on a regular basis by certified pool experts.

When it comes to power consumption, it varies across all models but often ranges from 90-180 kW per hour.

It uses a proprietary tensioned ride surface similar to a trampoline that cushions and absorbs the energy of impacts.

There's also a specially-designed recovery area that minimizes injuries when riders wipe out or fall of the board in runout zones.

Depending on the model, the Flowrider has an average capacity of between 160 and 320 rides per hour.

Some FlowRider models can be moved to a different location if necessary.

The world's first FlowRider was installed in 1991 at Schlitterbahn, Texas, and it is still up and running.

Flowriding: the sport uses a custome-shaped flowboard or a bodyboard | Photo: FlowRider

Flowboarding: A New Sport

The FlowRider revolution opened the way to a completely new discipline or subgenre within the sport of surfing.

Flowboarding, also known as flowriding, is the sport in which the rider uses a flowboard or bodyboard to perform acrobatic maneuvers, taking advantage of the sheet wave.

While the water goes upward, flowboarders move in a downward direction and unleash various turns and tricks.

Participants get all speed from the energy of the water flowing, even though they remain static in relation to the surroundings.

The surface of the FlowRider mimics the curvature of a "natural" wave.

The water is then pumped from the bottom toward the top of the structure at speeds ranging from 20-35 miles per hour (35-55 kilometers per hour).

In a FlowRider, the flow rate of the water is much larger than in an ocean wave.

Riding a FlowRider takes practice. You've got to find your balance and build your skills in order to become an accomplished flowboarder.

Despite having a gradual learning curve, it can be mastered by people of all ages.

You can use two types of boards on a FlowRider system: a custom-shaped flowboard explicitly designed for the equipment and bodyboards.

The Flowboarding League of the World (FLOW) is a multi-event international circuit that crowns the world's best flowboarders every year.

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