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Entrepreneur’s vision: Surfin’ RVA

David Larter April 18, 2013 34
A conceptual drawing of the planned Point Break Surf Park. (Courtesy of Walter Bennett)

A conceptual drawing of the planned Point Break Surf Park. (Courtesy of Walter Bennett)

After two years and dozens of investor meetings, a local entrepreneur is close to starting his dream of bringing an endless summer to Hanover County.

Walter Bennett, who wants to put a year-round surfing facility called Point Break Surf Park in Hanover, said he is finalizing a contract to purchase 12 acres next to Bass Pro Shops and plans to begin construction on the first $2.5-million phase as soon as he gets approval from the county.

But the first phase of the park, a 240-foot-long pool that will create seven-foot waves, is massively scaled back from the theme park Bennett initially had in mind.

“I think the biggest mistake I made right off the bat was I wanted to build the whole park at one time,” Bennett said. “I had this elaborate $26 million plan, but we were in a bad economy with an unproven idea and unproven technology.”

Bennett, 43, originally envisioned two enormous pools, a restaurant, a conference center, a boardwalk with kiosks, white sand beaches and an enclosure to keep it open year-round.

“I realized quickly that we were going to have to do it in phases,” he said. “You know, I thought we would just go to the bank and they’d want to do it. That’s not how it worked out.”

Instead Bennett, a Rehoboth Beach, Del., native who began surfing at age 6, looked to the world of private equity and private investors to keep his dream alive. He worked up the business plan with a Canadian company called Select Contracts, a firm that works on leisure and entertainment projects such as Point Break, and the former pharmaceutical sales rep and his team hit the capital-raising circuit.

It wasn’t always easy.

“Some days you get up and you say ‘I don’t think I can do this,’” he said. “You have to reach so deep inside of yourself to get out there and give it your all, because it’s more likely the door is going to get slammed in your face than remain open. That’s just the reality.”

He eventually targeted resort and casino developers as his best bet for investment. Bennett said he’s found his investor in a developer who is an avid surfer but wants to remain in the background.

If he closes on the land, which sits off Lakeridge Parkway, Bennett said the first phase of construction would include the smaller of the two planned surf pools (the other is planned to be 540 feet long and put out 12-foot waves) and a surface parking lot. A domed structure will cover the facility.

“These things add up quickly,” he said. “Just paving the parking lot is going to cost $350,000 to $400,000. And the enclosure to keep it open in the winter will be another couple hundred thousand or so. It’s not cheap.”

The surf pool is going to charge $50 per hour for 10 waves. He’s acquired the licensing rights to a wave-making machine through a company called Point Break Wave Co.

“We’ve done a fair amount of research on this, and the average surfer spends about $75 each time they go, between food and gas, driving around trying to find waves,” he said. “So we think $50 per hour with the ability to surf all year round is fair, and you’ll get 10 perfect waves.”

There will also be seasonal passes at $175 or annual passes for $700. The facility will offer surfboard rentals.

Bennett expects the land acquisition to be finalized in the coming weeks. Depending on the permitting process, he hopes to open Point Break in the fall.

Edwin Gaskin, head of economic development for Hanover County, said that he is excited about the prospect of Point Break but that he hasn’t been working with Bennett.

“We love the concept,” Gaskin said. “I think it adds another attraction to a growing commerce destination, so we welcome them.”

The surf park, assuming it comes to fruition, would be the latest in several large deals at the Lewistown Road exit off Interstate 95 in Hanover.

BizSense reported this year that the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and an outlet mall developer had closed on parcels near the exit.

And in February, developer Rob Chesson purchased the Bass Pro Shops property for $9.8 million.

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34 Comments »

  1. Will April 18, 2013 at 7:27 am - Reply

    OK Richmond, let’s give Mr. Bennet some market feedback from the people that will actually be his market. I think we all want businesses to be successful.

    Would you pay $50 an hour to ride waves in a pool? We are 90 minutes from VA beach, where we can ride waves all day for free. Based on theme park and ski lift ticket prices, I think there’s a good chance people would pay $50 a day to ride, but not an hour. I certainly am not going to take my young kids there and teach them to surf. There will need to be more smaller water attractions there to attract the family crowd. Bear in mind there are already 3 other family water parks within an hour of Richmond.

    Maybe the target market isn’t familes and is actually single men or dads. Are there enough of them around with time to support this place?

    What do you think? What do you see as a viable business model?

    • Shelly April 18, 2013 at 8:07 am - Reply

      I agree with everything you said Will. $50 a day makes much more sense. I wouldnt pay that much per hour either. Perhaps there would be other cheaper attractions that may interest families, like a Cobblestone (overhill lake) type of thing. I gathered this from looking at the picture. I think this place will be expensive though, just based off the cost of it by the owners. It has to be expensive for them to profit or it MUST attract lots and lots of people.Richmonders love the idea of something new, but once they see the prices, they may go just once and wont be a repeat customer. By the way, what is the 3rd water park you speak of….I just thought of Water Country and Great Wolf Lodge.

      • scottb April 18, 2013 at 8:36 am - Reply

        Shelly,
        Kings Dominion’s WaterWorks Water Park is nearby. It includes the Big Wave Bay pool (4 foot waves).

        • Shelly April 18, 2013 at 9:17 am - Reply

          yep, you’re right. I forgot about KD.

    • Ed April 18, 2013 at 9:00 pm - Reply

      $50 for an hour of surfing is a bit steep. While he states that people spend up to $75 to go surfing (includes gas money to search for waves), these are several hour expeditions and not one hour. So this may be problematic.

      I don’t think having VA Beach 90 minutes away will hinder this venture – the only time VA Beach gets 7 foot waves is during a nor’easter or a hurricane and they are not clean waves. Most days of the year, you only get knee to waist high waves down at Lake Atlantic.

      I agree with other posters that he is going to need something else there besides a surfing pool to attract the family. Also, I wonder how many concurrent surfers he plans on supporting – we don’t want these surf rats fighting each other over waves brah!

  2. Dave April 18, 2013 at 8:09 am - Reply

    @Will,

    I love the idea of the business, and I hope it does well here. I do agree on the pricing structure though. $50 an hour for any form of entertainment is pretty expensive. As an avid visitor of snow resorts, even the $50-$90 they are charging for the entire day has gotten pretty out of hand. I can’t imagine anyone that lives more than 45 minutes away wants to drive 45 minutes to pay $50 for an hours worth of fun then drive home. Then if you have a wife or kid that wants to try you’re going to spend a couple hundred dollars in an hour. Or if you go alone you’ll spend an arm and a leg if you want to ride for a few hours. I know learning to surf takes a lot more than 10 waves. I would be frustrated if I’ve never surfed before and was trying to learn here. $5 bucks for every time you paddle in and don’t even stand up. And as far as “cost” involved in finding waves, now days you just look at your local wave cam and reports. You go where you know there are waves and can surf all day if you want to. For the cost of a day here I can go down to OBX for a night or two and surf to my hearts content.

  3. Bob April 18, 2013 at 8:43 am - Reply

    Ten perfect waves? Are we talking Indo perfection and seven foot barrels? Doubtful. I have yet to see a wave park that can actually create rideable barrels.
    And also wondering if wave direction can be changed to go left or right.
    I do like the idea, though. Anyone who surfs VA Beach or even the Outer Banks knows that good waves are few and far between and that you have to drop what you are doing in order to catch a good swell. I’d be willing to give the park a try in order to get my surf “fix.”

    • taylor April 18, 2013 at 9:41 am - Reply

      Totally agree with you Bob. and would like to echo everyone else’s thought on the $50 an hour. Surfing Virginia Beach is pointless, but unless I win the lottery…..

  4. Steve April 18, 2013 at 8:46 am - Reply

    I agree with everyone else. No way would I pay $50 for 10 waves or one hour. I would suggest $50 for a half a day. I do understand you can only have but so many people in the wave pool at once riding waves, but at $50 for one hour, you’ll lose your shirt.

  5. David April 18, 2013 at 11:02 am - Reply

    Â On behalf of Point Break Surf Parks, LLC., we would like to take this opportunity to respond to a few of the comments posted. First, Point Break Surf Park offers the convenience of being right here in Richmond – you can spend $50 in gas just driving down to Virginia Beach each and every time you go. Second, the waves in Virginia Beach, at 6-7 feet, only break a hand full of times a year to that height, and they don’t have the shape that our waves will have (this is important to a surfer). At our park, you will have multiple breaks and multiple take off points in our surf pool. Please note:
    Our surf pool is not a wave pool.- this is a surf pool (There are not 3 other surf pools within 45 minutes of us). This is the only surfing pool in the United States with this technology and surfing capabilities. We offer season passes for $175 and annual memberships for $699 a year. We also have
    day passes ($7.50 for kids and $9.99 for adults) to enter the park for the day to sit on the white sand beaches and watch the surfing (this entry price does not include surfing). If you have a membership, season pass, or hourly surf session your entrance into the park is free.
    For comparison, the cost for a child to play travel soccer ranges from $900-$1500 a year. Our park is half that cost, and is at an attractive price if you’re looking to get your child into a new sport. Also, cost of a local community pool membership can range from $300-$1000 a summer season… annual memberships at our park guarantees that your kids can surf
    as much as they want, whenever they want, rain or shine.

    Give Point Break a try and learn a new sport, or for those who are already hooked, come to the park in order to get your surf fix”. And hey, don’t forget, WE DO NOT HAVE RIPTIDES or SHARKS!

    • Steve April 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm - Reply

      The $50 isn’t really the issue. It’s the $50 for only one hour or 10 rides. I think at a minimum you should give 20 rides or a half day for that. I can go a whole day at Busch Gardens for $60. Probably the same for Water Country all with a ton more variety

  6. Tom April 18, 2013 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    This idea has a SportsQuest feel to it. I’d image the $50 price point came about due to the size of the pool and the maximum number of surfers who could use the facility per hour. This limitation might explain why you don’t see this being done around the country.

  7. Johnny Utah April 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    I always commend entrepreneurship but sadly do not have much confidence in the outcome of this new venture. I wish you the best of luck.

  8. Karen Cozens April 18, 2013 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    Obviously the previous comments were made by non surfers. I am beyond excited about this. My kids love to surf. We frequent the Outer Banks but good surf is never guarenteed. This is a very different concecpt than the local water parks. We will definitely buy season passes.

  9. Tom April 18, 2013 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    How many people can be surfing at once? How many surfers can ride a wave per hour? I’m assuming that the 10 per hour means that other surfers are catching waves after you grab yours. I’d imagine that the capacity isn’t that high which is why it can’t be $50 for a half day or all day. There would be long lines and you probably can’t be in the wave area unless your turn is up – unlike the ocean. I think other people brought up waterparks because for a family activity that’s what you are competing against. Perhaps one person in the family might want to surf but what will other people do? This would be good for the hardcore surfer or someone looking to go pro but I’m not sure how many people in this area fit that category. Has this been done in other markets?

  10. Mary April 18, 2013 at 9:12 pm - Reply

    People pay $100 for the entire season at Kings Dominion, which is only 2 exits up I-95. That includes all the rides & the water park.

    Please tell me you’ve really researched the Richmond area and discovered a great surfing need here before you start building this. I’m all for jobs and fun things to do in Hanover county, but I see this going bust in 2 seasons. Then how do you sell something like this that is so specialized?

    Seems extremely expensive and I’m not sure Richmond is the smartest choice for a location. Maybe in Oklahoma where there isn’t a real ocean an hour away?

  11. Luke April 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    Life long surfer here. This is awesome. I’m in. I think it’s a great idea. Hopefully it’s not Sportsquest II.

    • Grant April 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm - Reply

      I think this is awesome! I know of dozens of surfers who will check this out in the richmond region. In addition, I’ve talked to surfers from the coast who said they would like to travel inland to check it out! This is like nothing else in the country. Hope they get the big 12 foot wave pool up sooner than later. I know that will be key in bringing in surfers from all around

  12. Tom April 19, 2013 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    I’m in Virginia Beach this weekend and brought up this subject. Most people think that a surf park would do much better here at the beach. You have a lot more surfers and as noted – you can’t get 7 ft waves.

  13. charles April 20, 2013 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    How fast are ya’ll driving to get to the VB oceanfront in 90 minutes?

  14. Spencer April 21, 2013 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    I’m paying my annual membership!!! I hope you’re open 24 hours so I can surf after all the teenage punks go to bed for school the next day!

  15. Mary Daughtrey April 21, 2013 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    I agree with the pricing issue. Also , I have always wanted to learn, but this seems to be a place for those who already know how. I would think they would offer beginner lessons, but the $50.00 an hour is way too much.

  16. Josh April 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Wow. Like others, my first reaction to $50 an hour was that it was steep, but after thinking about it, I would gladly pay $50 an hour a couple times a month (or just buy the annual pass) if they can truly produce the waves they are describing. I’m skeptical because it seems like I’ve heard of quite a few of these projects over the past 10 years with none of them ever getting off of the ground. With that being said, if it works, sign me up. Yes, that is a steep price for someone who can’t already surf, but there are enough surfers in the tidewater area to take every spot if the technology can actually deliver. What they are describing (in the initial phase) is not meant to compete with regular waterparks.

  17. james April 23, 2013 at 10:42 am - Reply

    VA Beach is great but I have no interest in surfing in the dead of winter. Figure in the gas, food, etc…Your up to $50+ for sure. Plus the waves are small…He’s talking 7ft waves. $50 a day sounds better than $50 for 10 waves. That said the idea is fantastic…I kind of liken this to Peak Experiences in Chesterfield…It’s expensive but there are die hard climbers there all the time and pay the $$$$ and in good weather they all head to West VA for the Gorge…Same would happen here I believe.

  18. Lynn April 23, 2013 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    The article mentioned that the Hanover’s Head of Economic Development for Hanover hadn’t yet been consulted. I’m curious as to why a venture like this would jump ahead to land purchase without first getting the county’s approval for zoning? Or has the zoning already been achieved apart from Mr. Gaskin’s department? I’m wondering if the Surf Park is certain Hanover will go along with this.

  19. Lynn April 23, 2013 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    Sorry, I added a few extra words in the above comment. Should read, “the Head of Economic Development for Hanover.”

  20. Michael O'Neal April 26, 2013 at 7:27 pm - Reply

    If this thing pans out, and it actually makes the kinds of waves they’re talking about I’m definately getting a season pass. After reading what I could find on it, and here, it looks pretty sketchy.

  21. inedra April 26, 2013 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    Life long surfer here in Richmond. Costs more to go to Rica for real waves….so yearly pass…im in!!!!

  22. Ron May 4, 2013 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    $50 an hour does seem a bit expensive but if they can deliver on their promises of “perfect” waves it could be worth it. I guess most of the Richmond surfing community will be there early on. If it doesn’t work out maybe we’ll at least know each other better and we can carpool to the beach making that $50+ a day a little cheaper!

  23. Alex Smith June 6, 2013 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    I think this is a great idea. The price does seem a little steep but if you plan on visiting frequently then of course it is more economical to by passes. I think the 50 per hour should definitely be recalculated but just remember, this will be the first of its kind in all of the United States! So I am guessing that individuals will travel long distances to surf this wave. Especially east coasters. Living and being an avid surfer in Virginia beach I have learned that waves come rarely in lake Atlantic. Also many events could be held, especially contests! The possibilities are endless. I just hope it works out! ( I will be a freshman at VCU next year!)

  24. Travis June 7, 2013 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    I have read through many, not all, of the posts and as a local surfer/shaper/glasser etc (yes in Richmond), I am more than 100% behind the idea. There seems to be too much focus on the costs per hour, but I do not think folks see the other possibilities for the venue. I’d been in contact with Walter once the first new of the park was in Style Weekly. I never pick up this weekly reader, but for some reason did the week the initial news was released in March 2012. Let me say it gave me goose bumps. I have a marketing degree from VCU, and have been surfing in one form or another since I was a young child. Shaping and riding my own boards for 20 years, there are many avenues the project can take. The vision is sound, I have not seen a ground breaking yet, but I drive by the site about once a week to see if it’s started. Aloha to all and let’s get behind this project and you will see it more than worth the short drive. The location is top billing and in the mid-Atlantic will do very well.

  25. Fran June 12, 2013 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    Dave (Point Break Surf park)- This amazing, hopefully this will eventually happen. I have a few questions:

    1) what exactly does season pass for $175 mean? unlimited pass for 3 months?

    2) do you think the grand opening day will happen by Q3 this year?

    3) Will this be similar to the surf park in UAE and Siam Park? Will the wave be better and more hollow? hopefully we can get more turns in compared to those 2

  26. Mike June 14, 2013 at 1:50 am - Reply

    No way would I ever pay $50 an hour, but I’m definitely in for a season pass!

  27. Chris Miller February 18, 2014 at 11:34 am - Reply

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