Everybody’s Gone (Indoor) Surfin’

The unexpected joy of riding waves at the mall.

Skudin Surf

Ryan Todd, 15, rides a wave at Skudin Surf at DreamWorks Water Park. Photo by Ryan Johnson

I never thought I would say this, but my family had a blast… at the mall.

We’re not really shopping folk. Our lifestyle revolves more around outdoor activities—hiking, crabbing, cycling, beach days, snowboarding. That’s why it seems strange to say that three generations of my family were grinning in a blissful chlorine haze after surfing the wave pool at Skudin Surf, a feature of the American Dream megamall’s DreamWorks Water Park in East Rutherford.

During regular 11 am-8 pm daily hours, the DreamWorks wave pool produces gentle ripples—right alongside the Kungfu Panda Temple of Awesomeness (with its dump cups and geysers) and the Thrillagascar slide. But early each morning and late into the night, when the rest of American Dream is closed, the pool becomes Skudin Surf—run by the noted Long Island surfer Will Skudin—and cranks out waves that can actually be surfed.

Surfing can be booked as a group or individually in two-hour blocks during one of the open public sessions, from 7-11 am or 8 pm-midnight. Since we were rolling 13 deep, we booked a Private Dream Session for a May weeknight. Arriving at our designated spot in the parking garage 45 minutes prior to our 8 pm session, we toted our boards through the mall into the water park. By 8, we were in the water riding the Classic, a short, wedgy, A-frame wave that breaks left and right. Within 15 minutes, we had ridden as many waves as a full day in the ocean.

While the speakers blared our custom playlist of Springsteen, the Bouncing Souls and Eminem, we took turns catching a variety of waves. Max, one of the resident surf coaches, instructed us on where to sit. Before each wave, a small pulse came out of the wall indicating a swell was coming. It was time to start paddling to gain momentum. Then a wave would rise, seemingly out of nowhere, picking us up for the ride. We would pop up, make the little drop, and angle down the line until it petered out. Paddling back out was relatively easy—and we never got cold.

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Yes, the waves are small and short, even by Jersey Shore standards. But they have a nice little shape and can be tailored, to a degree. Surfers are advised to ride wider, thicker boards than they would in the ocean. New Jersey’s semiprofessional surfers (yes, that’s a thing) have figured out how to completely shred Skudin Surf’s waves and launch amazing aerial maneuvers.

The beauty of the waves at Skudin Surf is that they come about every 30 seconds. Even with a big group, when you paddle back out, it’s your turn again almost immediately. What’s more, waves can be adjusted for all ages and abilities. For kids and beginners, each wave creates gentle whitewater for gliding on foam boards. 

The price: $250 per person, or $3,200 for a private group. Reservations are required; book at SkudinSurfAmericanDream.com. Coaching is also available.

We sampled a bunch of waves, with names like the Gotham and the Beer Belly. We switched boards, shared waves, and high-fived. By 10 pm, we were all well spent. As the next group started catching their waves, we returned to our cabana and the cooler of subs and bevvies we had carted in, exuding that familiar family feeling of stoke. 

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