Surfing: Endless Tubers

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 1994

Surfing: Endless Tubers
By Ken McAlpine

Ordinary wave pools feature mushy, wave-like disturbances that are about as exciting as a choppy river. Tom Lochtefeld's Flow Rider machine is different. It forms an eight-foot-tall tube that the 41-year-old La Jolla, California, inventor justifiably calls "the only per-fect, ridable wave available at the flick of a switch." Introduced three years ago and now featured in water parks from Bø,Norway, to New Braunfels, Texas, the Flow Rider works by using two powerful pumps to thrust water against a foam-padded concrete wall that's curved like a natural breaker. The result is a thundering wave about 40 feet across, which can be ridden from side to side for several minutes. Main glitch: The wave is just three inches deep. Thus only bodyboarders can ride one, giving board surfers a bad case of envy.

Lochtefeld, an excitable type whose nose periodically leaks salt water, is now trying to rectify that. The solution: more water, much bigger pumps, and about $10 million, Lochtefeld's estimate for producing what he calls "a sucking, heaving 15-footer." He plans to open an improved Flow Rider in Los Angeles in 1997. If he pulls it off, will actual waves go out of style? No way, says bodyboarding pro Mike Stewart. "It'll never have the frontier feel of real surfing," he says. "But it's the closest you can get 200 miles from the ocean."

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