In the ever-changing, nothing-is-sacred urban landscape that is the Valley, any spot that's been around as long as Big Surf deserves a special place in our hearts. Soon after it opened in 1969 as America's first artificial wave pool, it was pictured in National Geographic
for an article on Phoenix. We'll never forget the early days of burning our feet on the sand that would heat up on the hottest summer days to temperatures found only on the surface of the sun. Well, the sand's been replaced by water-filled, shallow canals that make for easy walking, and the 2-million-gallon wave pool is still there, as good as ever.
It's an impressive and relatively safe operation thanks to its purchase by Golfland Entertainment Centers Inc. a few years ago. Apart from the main attraction, there are 15 water slides and two low-key play pools for infants and toddlers, (where you can find out if those silly "swim diapers" really work as advertised). Workers do a good job managing the hordes of visitors, many of whom are unruly brats, and somehow prevent mass drownings in the wave pool, which is large and dangerous enough to deserve respect.
Big Surf can still be something of an adventure. If you don't get there early, you might not secure that crucial shady spot on the "beach." Although it claims to open at 10 a.m., the workers made us wait twice last summer in the heat for another 30 to 45 minutes before we could get in the water not a fun thing to do with little kids. And the crack teenage staff at the door searched our bag thoroughly for food and drinks. That way, park visitors can't avoid the overpriced food counters. We had to smuggle some juice boxes in our pants pocket. Cowabunga!