Florida’s Gulf Coast is not known as a surfer’s paradise due to its small swells, but that could soon change when the Peak Surf Park breaks into Tampa Bay.
While the outdoor Peak Surf Park centers around catching some waves, the proposed development is expansive and would offer several activities and amenities to provide fun in the sun for people of all ages and interests. Founder Tony Miller hopes to create something enjoyable and affordable for the entire Tampa Bay community, and diving under the surface reveals the project is much more than just an innovative surf park.
Miller moved to Tampa in 1982 and has spent the majority of his life in the region. His background is in marketing, and he said an opportunistic Zoom meeting in 2020 led to a life-changing realization. An Australian colleague was on the networking call and introduced Miller to Surf Lakes, an Australia-based leader in surf pool technology.
“I looked them up on the website, being a long-time surfer myself, and what I saw on the websites just kind of blew my mind,” said Miller. “I started doing a lot of research into the surf park industry … and a month later, I was the Tampa Bay licensee for that technology to bring a surf park here to Tampa Bay.”
Miller said that as he dives deeper into the project, the more passionate he becomes for the opportunities that the platform provides for the region, beyond surfing. Miller plans for a large, circular lagoon spanning 11-12 acres. Miller said a half-mile stretch of beach would surround the lagoon for those who simply want a relaxing beach day.
Miller would like the park to encompass about 30 acres, allowing for several other action sports and amenities. He said the facility would house a skate park, rock climbing, performance trampolines and other activities he said are synergistic with a surf lagoon. Miller also plans to offer a quality food and beverage experience and envisions the park as a destination for social gatherings.
“People need a third place – they’ve got their work and their home, and they look for a third place to gather and hang out,” said Miller. “I think this very much fits that bill for people – it’s a full family experience.”
Miller realizes that when many people hear the term surf park, they immediately think of a place full of hardcore surfers. While he said those experienced surfers would definitely be a component, Miller likens the park to ski resorts that offer something for everyone.
“You’ve got beginners on the green slopes, while someone in the family might be on the black slopes,” explained Miller. “But part of the fun is just getting together and having lunch together.
“Surfing is just the catalyst for a lot of other things that are happening – it’s a full-day experience for people.”
That full-day experience is still in the earliest stages of development. Miller is currently scouting locations in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties and said he is looking at potential sites in both areas. He said talks with property owners are in various stages, and he hopes to announce a location in the coming months.
Miller said he expects construction costs between $60-$70 million, although that is largely dependent on the price of the location. There are also engineering factors, although he said that in the last five years, surf park technology has become commercially viable. Miller used a simplistic analogy of throwing a rock in a pond to describe Surf Lake’s technology.
Just as the rock creates ripples in all directions, Peak Surf Park’s waves will spread out over a full 360 degrees. Miller said there is only one other similarly modeled public surf park in the U.S., located in Waco, Texas. He said six or seven exist internationally, in places like England, Australia, Japan and South Korea. Miller said that in 10 years, he expects to see a surf park in every city, similar to Top Golf franchises.
“People think in today’s terms, there are not that many surfers,” said Miller. “Well, there weren’t too many skiers before they put in the first ski lift.
“Once they put in the first ski lift, all of a sudden everybody who had never done it before decided to give it a try.”
Miller said he could control the size of the waves through the device in the center of the lagoon. He said most of the park’s visitors would be in the beginner to intermediate range, with intermediate waves reaching about waist-high. Operators also control the steepness of the waves, making them easier to catch and ride than those for advanced or expert surfers.
Miller said the public can expect competitions and imagines a traveling circuit amongst different surf parks. Keeping with his theme of creating a community asset, Miller also envisions area high schools creating surf teams and a youth program with local YMCAs.
Miller said he is creating Peak Surf Park as a model of sustainability, and education on the importance of preserving the area’s waterways is another key aspect. He projects the park will create 130 jobs over several departments, and believes it will spur the region’s high school student’s career interests. He also hopes to create “really cool programming” for underserved populations, such as low-income families, people with disabilities and veterans with PTSD.
“When I talk about this as a platform for the community, people are going to focus on the surf and how big it is and things like that – which is cool,” said Miller. “But underneath the surface, there are so many cool elements of this for the community.”