Flowriding – Tampa, FL

The Flowrider and I first made eye contact a few weeks ago when I was down in Tampa. It was more or less just one of those brief, lusty stares -nothing serious – but we both knew what was up.

When I returned in late October, nature ran its course.

Flowrider’s are a perfect, never-ending wave which is available at the flip of a switch. There are a few dozen of them globally, located anywhere from amusement parks to cruise ships, but our ride of choice is at the Tampa International Mall in a store called Adrenalina. A marketing technique? Absolutely, and I give it a huge nod over in-store climbing walls.

It’s 20 bucks for a half-hour session on the ‘rider, and you can be splitting your time with up to 7 other hydrophilic folks. If sharing’s not your style you can get private sessions starting at $100/hour, or better yet, if you have an extra 800 square feet and 75 G’s lying around, you can look at getting the kids a very nice christmas present.

Once you buy in, it’s a pretty quick process. You change, walk by a sign that discusses “skill requirements” and some legal fluff, walk through a cold shower and next thing you know you’re laying on a bodyboard and sliding back into the wave. You start out laying on a bodyboard, but it’s a quick progression from there to kneeling, and finally standing on one of the specialized flowrider boards.

By the end of my second session I was trying a few drop-ins from the top, which were tough standing up, but some 10 year old kids who were in there with me were having no problem doing it on the body boards.

Once I was comfortable going up and down on the Flowrider I figured “great, now I totally know how to surf”, but the pro’s say that the difference in sports is pretty significant. Flowriding is based on surfing – a solid, high-pressure, stream of water is shot over a foam-wave structure and you ride it on a board – but it also combines elements of wakeboarding and skateboarding.

It really is its own thing, and you can get really good at it. Like me and my friend, you probably won’t get great at it in an hour or two, but the pros can show you jumps, spins, wall kicks and drop-in’s. There’s even some sport specific manoeuvres; we saw one pro kick the board towards the jet, barrel roll in the water and then hop back on the board as it came flying back to him.

As a beginner you need to be accepting of the fact that you will fall a lot. In fact, sometimes you’ll do it intentionally. My friend made the comment to me, while trying to justify his numerous crashes on video, that it doesn’t take too long to be able to smoothly move up and down the wave with ease. However, once you learn to do that you have this craving to try some of the wilder moves, and for a beginner that’s usually going to lead to a wipe out. Totally.

Which brings me to my two favourite things about Flowriding.

1) The young blonde female keeping us safe the first day. If you come across this, you should contact me. Canada’s a wonderful place for a break from that unrelenting Florida sun.

2) It can make you look clumsy, but it also makes you look tough. In flowriding you wipe out big and you wipe out often. People do gather to watch the riders, and to these innumerous fans it looks like we riders are sacrificing our bodies and heading to an early grave. What they’d never suspect is the foam – the soft, gentle foam underneath the water, cushioning our every tumble like a Serta mattress cradling a bowling ball on late night TV.

The flowrider definitely drew a young crowd, at 25 I felt fairly arthritic inside its glass walls. As I was filming my buddy during his ride, a family came up with two young boys waiting for their half-hour session to start. The father figure with them seemed a little upset with the boys about something, calling them names I’d like to think I’d never use around my offspring. The wife started to challenge the husband about why he wasn’t going in with the boys and finally resorted to the verbal equivalent of a Mike Tyson haymaker – “What are you, chicken?”. But he stood his ground and feebly fought back. First he didn’t have a bathing suit, so the wife offered to buy one with her own money. Then, “no towel” he cried, with his defenses clearly running thin. But he pulled out a huge Happy-on-the-18th-hole style upset victory with an unexpected line: “ahh, this thing’s just for kids”. The wife stopped in her tracks.

The plan was to wrap up this edition of the Gymineer with another all-ages declaration – my version of the happy ending. I was thinking something aqua-ey, like “Come on in, the water’s great!” or “Opposite of a shark! Everybody in, even you oldtimer!” But because of this grumpy, stubborn, albeit convincing old man, the flowrider must officially go down as my first sport which is – gulp- “just for kids” (and non-grumpy adults).

Flowriding: like Trix, but with more babes.