Sheets of water gush out of the huge sloped pool. The water is just ankle deep, but flowing at 32km to 48km per hour, it is strong enough to knock you off your feet if you aren’t careful.
The good news is that the surface is made of a soft and bouncy material so even if you do fall, you’d literally get a “soft landing”.
This is FlowRider, Malaysia’s first “flowboarding” facility located inside a shopping mall (1Utama Shopping Centre). Flowboarding is a fairly new hybrid boardsport that incorporates elements of several boardsports like wakeboarding, surfing and even snowboarding.
According to FlowRider manager Alfian Affandi, the activity appeals to people of all ages. “From six years old to 60 or 70-year-old folks – if they’re still active and healthy, they can flowboard,” he says.
So, how does one flowboard?
I step into the FlowRider, walking gingerly. Two instructors are showing me the ropes and they start me off on the bodyboard.
“Place the board in the water. Lie down on top of it with your stomach on the board,” Nor Zamirul Asyraf Mohd Zaki, one of the instructors, says.
The instructions are easy enough but doing it right takes time. “To go forward, press down on the front of the board, while to go backwards, press down with both elbows so that the front of the board would lift slightly,” he adds.
After a few minutes, I get the hang of things. However, the water current is so strong that I can feel it tugging at my fortunately too-tight-to-come-off board shorts!
The other instructor, Mohammad Syuqri Nor Hizam, then takes me to the top of the FlowRider, demonstrating how to jump into the water using the board to ride down to the base.
Daunted, I stand at the top. The 675 sq m FlowRider seems very high from up there. I pluck up my courage and take a “leap of faith” … and then again … and again.
After a few tries, I find it is actually fun, and eagerly climb back up for the next round.
Following Syuqri’s instructions, I then try to squat and stand up on a different board. My squatting stance is successful, but standing is a different thing altogether. As this is my first time trying out a boardsport, I find it rather difficult to balance for more than a minute before being swept by the waves. Oh, well.
According to Alfian, more Malaysians are getting into extreme sports. Together with his team of experienced instructors, he hopes to encourage the growth of flowboarding among locals, and to groom a generation of skilled flowboarders.
“We aim to create a flowriding lifestyle where people can come and ride, or just hang out. It keeps kids and teenagers off the streets and out of trouble, and encourages them to participate in healthy, wholesome activities,” he shares.
Alfian, 33, from Singapore, has competed in international flowboarding championships, and consistently ranks among the world’s top flowboarders. “I’m quite adventurous, and have been doing boardsports since young – surfboarding, skateboarding, and wakeboarding. So, I pick up (new editions of) boardsports quite quickly,” he says.
Most of FlowRider’s customers are children and teenagers, from age six to 17. Besides locals, some tourists also come by. “It’s a suitable activity for birthday parties or even corporate events, and it’s fun to watch,” Alfian notes.
He says that riding on the FlowRider is different from surfing at the beach. “One is in a controlled area, and the other is in the sea where there are a lot of unknown factors, so the risk is higher, and you need to fight against real waves and currents,” he explains.
How long does it take to learn to flowboard? “That depends on how far you want to go. If you want to get to expert level, it can take months or years. If you just want to ride for fun, perhaps in a few hours you’d be able to understand how to move from side to side, and up and down the FlowRider. If you have a background in boardsports, you’ll pick it up faster,” he says.