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Publication Date : 24-02-2013
There's no need to head to the sea to lie on the beach or rip the curl. Just jump on the Bangkok train and head downtown
An alternative sport that combines surfing with snowboarding and elements of skateboarding, flow riding has taken much of the world by storm with centres flourishing from the US and UK to Chile and Singapore and even a world championship sponsored by a well-known soft drinks company.
While probably not quite ready to compete at the world level, Thais are already enjoying riding the waves at Flow House Bangkok.
Opened six months ago by four veteran entrepreneurs all passionate about aquatic sports, the centre, a franchise of the San Diego-based Flow and Wave Houses, is bang in the centre of town on Sukhumvit Soi 26.
The sport was invented in the early 1990s by a group of professional boardsport athletes searching for an extreme indoor sport that didn't depend on the weather or wind direction and which could also be practised without risk of injury.
The Bangkok operation, which costs Bt90 million to set up, operates from a former 400-square-metre, two-storey sports club that's been transformed to resemble a miniature beach resort, complete with wooden tables, chairs and loungers and a large wave pool.
"In addition to Europe, where flow boarding is really big, Flow and Wave Houses have opened franchises in South Africa, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. Flow riding is rated as an extreme sport, but it's safer than skating on the street or snowboarding in the mountains. And you can do it at any time of year," says marketing manager Porawit Kittivuttivittaya. "We've created a beach in the centre of town. Now, if you want to ride the waves, you don't even need to drive to the sea."
Beginners are given lessons by a veteran instructor team and start by learning to balance on the wave generated by the very latest Double System - it costs Flow House Bangkok 30 million baht (US$1 million) - which travels at 50 kilometres per hour.
The 3.5-metre-high, slightly sloped surface is made from the same quality polyester that's normally found on a standard gymnastic floor. It's soft and flexible and riders feel free and safe even when they fall. There are two lanes and a maximum of 20 people can surf at one time.
I start my lesson by learning how to move and kneel on my board. In just one hour, says my supervisor instructor, Arnon Galson, I'll be able to balance and ride the wave smoothly. Personally, I have my doubts but my confidence grows as he patiently guides me through standing and moving in all directions. Twenty minutes in and I'm loving it.
"There are two kinds of boards for flow riding: body and flow boards. They can be made of wood, fibreglass and EVA foam. They are small, safe and lightweight. The flow rider is easy and the best choice for anyone skilled in board sports. It takes only a short time to adapt and learn how to ride the simulated wave," Arnon says. "Flow riders have tricks that are based on the basics of skateboarding like the ollie [jumping over water] and the pop shove it [jumping and turning in the air]. I'm a skateboarder, but I fell in love with flow riding. I find it very exciting and challenging."
Australian-Thai, Payu Vonbucren, 13, agrees. He comes here after school most days and on weekends and can't get enough of the wave. "I used to surf a little," he explains, "but at first I didn't find it easy to balance on a flow board." Now I love the flow rider, it's challenging," says Payu, a student at NIST international school.
Tanutchaya Tresirikasem, 10, used to play tennis with her siblings and also tried her hand at mountain climbing. Now she comes to Flow House. "I like the flow rider. It's fun. I come here two or three days a week," she says.
Company owner and kiteboarding enthusiast Chanthana Sirithanakorn has also become a regular. "I like here because I don't have to drive out of town. Flow riding doesn't rely on the weather either, meaning I can surf whenever I want," she says.
In between rides, you can munch on a burger or hog dog and enjoy a drink at Flow House's California-style restaurant and bar. A selection of sporting gear is available at the Rip Curl store and the little ones can work off excess energy in the small pool.
"We're planning to open an Italian restaurant once we finish renovating the restaurant and bar. Ideally, we'd like to become a hip hangout and introduce what Flow House has to offer to a wider range of people," says Porawit.
Flow House Bangkok is located in A Square community mall on Sukhumvit Soi 26. It's open weekdays from 10am to midnight and from 8am on weekends. Visit www.FlowHouseBangkok.com.