The next best thing

Imagine an 11-foot wave, delivered with the push of a button and never ending…

Jarrett Nicholson slowly eases back, deeper and deeper into the swirling tube of water. The eight-foot wave rages around him like a monstrous anaconda about to squeeze the air from his lungs. But Jarrett is in control. He’s not clinging on for dear life; he’s enjoying the ride of his life.

Thanks to Black Pearl’s Wave Pool, Jarrett and a lot of others are experiencing the thrills of surfing right here in the Cayman Islands. The newly-opened recreational attraction is located in Grand Harbour shopping plaza on Grand Cayman and has drawn crowds immediately.

‘It’s great! I love it!’ declared Jared Harrison, 7, after an hour of boogie boarding Sunday.

‘The response has been very good,’ said Nicholson, the Black Pearl’s wave operator. ‘It takes people about an hour to get a feel for it. Probably the biggest difference between this and ocean surfing is that ocean waves are always different and always changing, where as this wave is just about the same every time. The boards are different too. The lack of a fin takes some getting used to. Some people tell me this is very similar to snow boarding. Skim boarders do very well.’

Nicholson says 99.9 percent of people can handle the wave. It has various power settings, from a relatively easy level one up to an intimidating 11-foot wave at level four. First-timers usually make significant progress in their first hour, he added.

‘Some people have better balance than others, of course, but most people can start to stand up within their first or second hour.’

At the higher levels, falls can be breathtaking-literally-as surfers are violently sucked under and squirted out a shallow channel. The rough exit only lasts only a few seconds but it resembles a ride in a washing machine.

‘I would describe it as safe but strenuous,’ said Nicholson. ‘Probably anyone from the age of six or seven up can do it. You really just have to be comfortable with being underwater when you fall. If you can handle that then you should be fine.’

OK, it’s a pretty wave with plenty of power and it is challenging at the higher levels, but it’s still not the real thing. Is this just a rip-off of one of nature’s purest forms of beauty? Is it sacralegious to surf above plastic and concrete? Can this be called surfing?

Nicholson, also an ocean surfer, warns against judging too harshly too fast. It may not be of the ocean but it’s the next best thing, he believes.

‘This has gotten a lot of attention and some guys tell me that surfing is a ‘soul thing’ and this is not quite right,’ he said. ‘They are skeptical at first. But you know what? After they give it a try, they are addicted.’

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