Vintage Phoenix Business: Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe
The view from the roof of the Big Surf wavepool.
Photo by Andrew Pielage
Phoenix is a resort town in many ways, with one important exception: There's no beach.
That (more or less) changed in 1969, when the Big Surf wavepool opened at 1500 North McClintock Drive in Tempe, providing Phoenicians with the closest alternative to real sand and giant waves.
See also: The complete slideshow of Big Surf here.
The wavepool was the first in the United States and such an advanced feat in engineering that the same equipment from the park's opening still operates today. Each wave churned out is made up of 75,000 gallons of water and produced by two main pumps behind the structure (with a third that remains idle for backup). From real surfers to casual raft-floaters, the massive waves provide the closest thing to an ocean experience you'll find in the Valley of the Sun.
Over the years, Big Surf has added attractions, such as the many waterslides that transform it from wavepool to full waterpark. The mold of one of the park's first waterslides, now just a cement outline filled with a rock bed, is sandwiched between two still-operating slides.
But anyone around since the early days can attest that Big Surf serves as more than just a place to catch a wave or go down a slide. The wavepool works as an ideal concert amphitheatre and has hosted live acts as big as Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
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