Whistler is actually a pretty big surf town if you include surfers from around the world, and particularly those from Australia, that winter here, plus all the skiers and snowboarders that travel to surf destinations in the off-season, and the popularity of board sports of all descriptions — wakeboarding, kiteboarding, snowboarding, skateboarding, longboarding, etc.
That's the kind of enthusiasm that Beric Pocklington, the business development manager of the Whistler Surf Centre, is counting on.
The indoor surf centre concept has been in development for several years now, since Pocklington first visited WaveHouse at Mission Beach. Not long after that, Kelowna opened the first "sheetwave" installation in Canada in Kelowna, an artificial wave simulator that is a huge attraction at the H2O Adventure and Fitness Centre.
"What amazed me about (H2O) is that they spent so much on this building, and the surfing machine only accounted for one per cent of what they spent on the whole thing — and yet three quarters of the people in there seem to hover around the surfing attraction," he said.
The Whistler Surf Centre has gone through a few steps already. Pocklington has talked to other locals to determine the level of interest. He's completed a feasibility study on the centre and has made contact with at least three landowners near the village that would be interested in the project.
Pocklington is now looking at financing with his investors, and plans to bring Wave Loch, the company that will build the facility, to town to look at sites. If the numbers add up he hopes to be able to bring the application to the municipality in the next few months. He'd like to start construction as soon as possible to open in 2013.
Although the centre would be designed for tourists, he said the business model counts on a lot of local interest as well.
"We just don't have the millions of people living here full time, it's still a small town and as much as I'd like to think it could be supported by locals that's not the reality of it," said Pocklington.
"What we're expecting is about a 50-50 split between locals and tourists, which is why it's really important to pay a higher price to get a site that's close to the village and walking distance to the hotels."
There are over 130 sheet wave centres around the world, including the facilities in Kelowna and Montreal. They were originally created as a way for surfers to practice off-season or during low surf periods, but it's since evolved into its own sport.
You can stand on a short foam surfboard that resembles a wakeboard to simulate surfing or wakeboarding, or lie down on a boogie board. Some models — only four so far, but two more are in development, according to Pocklington — can simulate a barrel wave similar to the famous Pipeline in Hawaii.
The surface is flexible and designed to cushion falls, and when you fall the wave sweep you into a padded area where you can walk out and try again.
"The water is only four inches deep so it's not exactly like surfing, but when you practice in the standing position you get a really good feel of the balance for when you do real surfing," said Pocklington.
The centre would include one sheet wave to start with, as well beach volleyball courts, a food and drink area for spectators and possibly another water feature as well, said Pocklington. Spectators are key to the centre making money, he added.
The size of the facility will be similar to the Air Dome at Lot 8.
For more information, Pocklington has a Facebook page at Whistler Surf Centre, and will keep people updated on the process.