Disney World’s Failed Surf Machine

Disney World’s Failed Surf Machine

In the summer of 1971, just months before
it’s opening day, Disney installed a wave machine that would allow guests to surf in
the Seven Seas Lagoon. By opening day it was already shut down. Meet Dick Nunis. This man lived out the quintessential Disney
career, starting off in 1955 at Disneyland, training cast members and retiring 44 years
later as chairman of Walt Disney Attractions. He played a crucial role in the development
of Walt Disney World back in the 1970s when it was being built. You see at the time there was no theme park
scene in Florida. It was Walt Disney World that would eventually
draw all of the competition to them in the region after its financial and critical success. So when the resort was being built, the only
real local competition Disney would face would be Florida’s many beautiful beaches. This is where Nunis comes in. He was fixed on this idea of putting a wave
machine in the manmade Seven Seas Lagoon so that among all of the other recreational activities
Disney offered, surfing would also be on that list. By putting it on the south side of Beachcomber
Island and pointing it towards the Polynesian resort, it would not only compete with other
options for surfing in Florida, but it would be the best option. The waves would be dependable since they were
man made, and they’d be set against the beautiful and idyllic Polynesian resort. Nunis managed to secure the $400,000 that
it would take to make the dream a reality, and before the man-made lagoon was filled
with water, a wave machine comprised of 8 hydraulically activated paddles was installed
on the island. It faced a man-made beach to the left of the
Polynesian which was named Beachcomber Beach, though Nunis had hopes of it eventually being
renamed to “Surfrider Beach” Much in the same way the golf courses at Disney
World would eventually host PGA tournaments, Nunis envisioned a day in which Surfrider
Beach would be the home of famous surfing competitions. So with the machinery installed and the lagoon
filled Disney began testing in the summer of 1971, just months prior to the grand opening
of the resort and… it worked! So why was it shut down by the time Walt Disney
World opened that October, and then shut down permanently the very next year? Well it apparently worked too well. You see, waves are erosive and churning around
that much water on a regular basis meant that the waves begin to erode the beaches in the
surrounding area, including the island the machines were installed off of. It was also reported that the machinery was
sometimes unreliable and required maintenance that was ultimately expensive, since it required
engineers to work under-water. Adding to all of that, there’s the argument
that all of those waves made the waters somewhat unsafe for the boats in the lagoon being used
for transportation. So they turned them off before the grand opening. Now, they would see some occasional use during
the first year during specific times, but by the summer of 1972 they were were just
turned off for good. It was said that in 1985 they were tested
one last time before deciding whether or not to remove the machinery from the lagoon, the
thought being that maybe after nearly 15 years the lagoon would have settled enough to counter
the erosive effects. It proved unsuccessful however and Disney
eventually removed the machine. It was ultimately nearly half a million dollars
spent on an idea that both managed to come to fruition yet barely got used at all before
being shut down. That didn’t get Nunis down however and he
ultimately found vindication for his idea. He continued to be adamant that Walt Disney
World needed a beach-like experience in their resort to compete with the local options. Thanks to that drive we now have Typhoon Lagoon,
which features it’s own working wave pool that, yes, you can even surf in.

Antonio Breitenberg

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27 thoughts on “Disney World’s Failed Surf Machine

  1. Disney Mousey says:

    Even if it did work, I wouldn't even try it with gators in that water.

  2. SEJ 101 says:

    Nice video Rob! Great fan of your work as always!

  3. Flyswatter Network says:

    Thanks rob! I never knew that!

  4. SEJ 101 says:

    Approximately how much would it cost to rent out one of the theme parks and how much of the park would you get? I hear about people renting out parks sometimes but can't find a definitive answer online.

  5. Daffy Stardust says:

    Any plans to compile your historical videos into a single longer offering?

  6. Brice Bokesch says:

    Great video!!

  7. Chase Harman says:

    Thats one explanation, but I think the more reasonable thing is it was creating to much seismic energy and disturbing the trolls that live underneath the park and steal lost items like sunglasses.

  8. Liam Witte says:

    We need to start a petition to name the Typhoon Lagoon wave machine Nunis!

  9. aamuboi10 says:

    Just curious, what video camera do you use to shoot your videos?

  10. Hazardous XD says:

    Why is there a Polynesian Resort trash can on your shelf?!

  11. Kodachrome40 says:

    I believe in The Art of Walt Disney book there's a picture of Nunez working the multi-plane animation camera at the studio.

  12. Fifthrider says:

    Great video. I've read a lot of books by Disney people from Walt's area and met many in person. I have yet to find one who has a good opinion of Dick Nunez. Sklar held back the most and really tried to be nice but you could tell he knew Nunez was a blowhard that just made little problems worse. Every time I see an old video of him talking I think about these things and how Jack Lindquist had to constantly contend with him. I think the word "shortsighted" is the thing I hear the most.

  13. silentnoyze says:

    I just discovered your channel. I love anything and everything Disney theme parks especially when it comes to their history and behind the scenes! Keep it up Rob!

  14. Samie Hartley says:

    So interesting! Have you considered doing a video on the now-abandoned River Country?

  15. Wills says:

    A cast member told me about this once! I thought it was so interesting that they tried as hard as they did.

  16. Jarid Gaming says:

    there are gators in that water…

  17. Element of Kindness says:

    There has to be footage of the wave machine in operation buried somewhere. THAT is something I would like to see desperately!

  18. KaliBoyinPDX says:

    Rob you're so darn cute!

  19. Sam K says:

    How do you get all the info for your videos? =O

  20. unlimitedfunlol says:

    Aww! I read this as surf MERCHANDISE! Dang it! That's alright. Still a good video

  21. Hailey Shannon says:

    What about stuff like Pirates World and Cypress Gardens?

  22. Jennie Townsend says:

    Videos like this are great love it!! Great job!! It also help people who can follow the dots that when this these beaches were made alligators were endangered species. They were not worried about them. After 20 years they came back to normal numbers. It's said because those beaches can't be enjoyed the way they were intended. I hear people say things about that family who's child died in the water there but if your not from there or didn't research……. it was a sad mistake. I don't know what they could do with that area to change it but something should be done different. What's the point of having a beach with sand but no swimming. Sorry for essay I love Disney and it stinks the water is unsafe I've seen old pics of family's in tubes there looked fun.

  23. borderlinblue says:

    I wonder if with modern and different design a sort of synthetic beach could be made.

  24. JustAPerson says:

    You're hot!!

  25. SecondSein says:

    I'm surprised they didn't consider/researched the effect of the waves beforehand. Then again, maybe they they did but still did it because they want it badly.

  26. JetblackThemeTime says:

    What surf rock song did you put for the background music?

  27. Kyle Chang says:

    0:36 There was Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven which opened in 1936.

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