Learning to Surf – Indoors!
Short article about my experience as a novice on a Flow Rider indoor surfing machine.
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Fancy surfing but don’t live anywhere near a beach with suitable waves? Then the alternative indoor offshoot called flowboarding might be the place to start.
We were complete novices to any water sports, but my wife spotted this on the web and booked us a session because it looked fun. And it was! Within half an hour of starting I was standing up, albeit gingerly, and riding a sheet of fast moving water for at least fifteen seconds before falling off!
What is flowboarding? Imagine a moderately steep slope made of taut plastic sheet, a bit like a trampoline surface but with slightly less give. Then shoot a sheet of water just two or three inches thick up it at 20 to 30 miles per hour. This gives you enough of a surface to surf on, as if you are surfing down the face of a perpetual wave. And if you fall off the plastic sheet absorbs your impact and you are simply washed up to the top of the ride where you can get off and walk back down to try again.
The technology was developed by Wave Loch Inc of California, USA, who call it the Flow Rider. The one we visited, on an old airfield just north of Bedford, UK, is called FlowHouse and is operated by BodyFlight, a company who also offer “skydiving” in a vertical wind tunnel. It was the first Flow Rider in Britain, though there is now one in Cornwall too.
Our session started with a short techniques and safety video then we were fitted out with wetsuits. Once at the Flow Rider, the instructor showed us how to lie on – or more properly almost behind – a body board. We had a couple of goes using the body board to get us used to the speed and force of the water before moving up to a proper flowboard and standing up.
First the instructor got me to practice my stance on the boards in the calm water at the edge of the flow, then holding my hands he kicked the board slowly into the flow.
And over I went!
A couple more goes and I was standing up reasonably well, though wobbling a bit, still holding onto his hands. Then he let go and it was time for me to balance on my own.
Over I went, again.
Another few attempts and I could stay upright for a few tens of seconds and even move about on the flow. Pressing down one’s upslope foot brings the toe of the board up, letting more water catch it and forcing you up the slope. Pressing the downslope foot down has the opposite effect. Toes down move you across slope in the direction you are facing and heels down moves you backwards.
Of course it’s possible to twist the board in the flow, and recovering from that is a bit trickier, as I discovered over the course of a few more falls!
Now it was time to learn to get into the flow myself. Stand on the board at the edge of the flow, bend over forwards with splayed fingers touching the taut plastic and hop the board backwards. Whisk your upslope hand to act as a rudder and stabilise you, then gingerly ease yourself into an upright position. And if all goes well, you’re surfing like a pro.
(Well more like a slightly plump and bumbling amateur, but you get the idea!)
There was just time for a few more goes to practice all these techniques before our hour was almost up. To finish off the session, the instructor gave a demo of how it should be done, whizzing about the flow with confidence, spinning the board round in circles and generally making us realise how far we still had to go!
It wasn’t cheap, at £49 each for the hour, but as a special experience it was well worth it. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Website for BodyFlight FlowHouse:
Note: the author has no connection with BodyFlight, and is writing simply as a member of the public who enjoyed a session at their flowboarding