Ah surfing, that American pastime that inevitably brings to mind Keanu Reeves and/or the Beach Boys.
Not much of that happening on our sunny shores with their gentle, well-behaved waves. But for what nature cannot provide, science always has a solution. Enter sheet wave technology and flowboarding - the technological innovation which allows people to surf without the inconvenience of having to find actual waves.
Sheet wave technology is exactly what it sounds like: water is pumped out at high velocity to create a sheet of water 3 inches thick, with enough force to lift you and your board off the floor.
The fast- flowing water effectively becomes a stationary, never-ending wave as it mimics the motion of the ocean, so to speak. Thanks to this bit of water-bending, surfing in Singapore no longer exclusively refers to finding free entertainment on the internet - and visiting Stuff.tv, of course.
Well, not quite surfing
Riding a board on a sheet wave machine (called Flowriders) is called "Flowboarding". Although it is the closest thing we have to surfboarding, it's still not quite the same.
And that's a good thing.
First of all, the constant jet of water means that you don't have to paddle out to try and catch a wave. Once you're ready, just hop on the ride and go at it. When you wipe out (which you will), you get washed out to the exit zone, where you pick yourself up so you can get in line and wait for your next turn. It's basically surfing minus the prep, like getting to eat your cake without have to bake it.
Technique-wise, flowboarding is also its own animal. The shorter board means a greater level of dexterity, and the sheet wave comes at you at a set angle, so riding on it is like going down a never-ending slope. The best analogy for the experience of flowboarding is probably downhill surfing on a skateboard (sans wheels) on an endless wave.
Another version of the sheet wave machine is aptly named the Flowbarrel, as the shape of the surface curves upwards to force the water flow into a barrel shaped wave, allowing you to surf within the barrel - after some practice, obviously.
More after the break...
Getting the Hang of it
If you’ve had experience with any kind of board sports, you’ll definitely have an easy time getting used to flowboarding. Beginners can hold on to a rope as they are eased onto the water with their boards, so it’s easier to get used to moving the board around instead of spending most of the time learning how not to fall off.
Falling off the board is a mini water park ride in itself. You bounce off the padded surface underneath the sheet wave before getting carried away by the jet stream of water. Wardrobe malfunctions do occur occasionally due to the force of the water.
If stand-up flowboarding isn’t really your thing, consider bodyboarding. Bodyboards work really well on the flowriders, and being closer to the water gives you a lot more control; a great alternative for beginners who aren’t too good at balancing.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time for you to try some tricks! Simple stuff like carving on the water (pushing down onto the board at alternating angles) soon lead to 360 degree spins. If you’ve got a skateboarding pedigree - why not try an ollie or a shove-it? The great thing about trying tricks on the flowrider is that you have a nice padded surface to cushion your fall when you wipe out meaning less trips to the A & E department.
If that’s not exciting enough for you, you can always try riding the strapped boards on the Flowbarrel. With the flowboards strapped to your feet, use the upward rush of the water jets to soar into the air, and maybe even attempt flip if you’re mad enough.
Just remember, the bigger the trick, the harder the landing; even the cushioning of the water and the padding below aren’t enough to leave you unscathed if you land on your face.
Wave of excitement
If you're hungry for a surf and don't want to travel out of the country hunting for waves, head down to Wavehouse Sentosa and give flowboarding a go. It's not quite the same, but close enough, and better in some respects. Who knows, you might prefer it over actual surfing. Just maybe.