ASME-Landmark:Big Surf Waterpark


Big Surf Waterpark opened in 1969 as a 20 acre complex in Tempe, 10 miles east of downtown Phoenix. The Waterpark's Waikiki Beach uses a mechanical wave machine that creates a single transverse wave of sufficient height and duration to permit surfing.

In the mid-1960s—long before the notion of a waterpark—construction engineer Phil Dexter stayed busy trying to develop what he then referred to as a "surf center." In his backyard, he developed a hydraulic-propelled model that he later expanded inside an abandoned billiards hall. His final design uses 15 gates that empty water into a 2.5 acre lagoon with contours that replicate a natural beach. Waves are produced by pumping water to a pre-selected height and released through underwater gates. The water released breaks over a baffle (similar to a natural reef), forming one wave per cycle. Water is recirculated to the lagoon through pumps.

Dexter showed off the wave machine at Big Surf’s first press conference in September 1969. At the grand opening of Big Surf, the machine generated waves five feet tall every minute. The waves generated by the wave maker are considered perfect spilling waves that are ideal for surfing, in particular for beginner to intermediate surfers. The facility is still in operation, using all the original components for surfing, body surfing, boogie boarding and rafting, with one minor change—the pool was reduced in size in the 1990s, reducing the wave height to 3 feet. See ASME website for more information