Catch a Wave at Big Surf in Tempe, Arizona

Big Surf in Tempe, Arizona

Judy Hedding 

Big Surf is a water park in Tempe, Arizona that originally opened in 1969. It is the oldest of the water parks in the Phoenix area. In recent years it was operated by Golfland Entertainment, Inc., along with WaterWorld in west Phoenix and Mesa Golfland SunSplash in Mesa. WaterWorld was sold after the 2008 season and is now Wet 'n' Wild. After the 2009 season, Golfland Entertainment Inc. gave up the lease and announced the park's closure after 40 years of operation. Inland Oceans Inc., who owns the property, decided to reopen and manage it in 2010.

In 2012 Big Surf Waterpark received the designation of Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The society approved the Big Surf nomination as the very first inland surfing facility in North America. Big Surf Waterpark is the first ever amusement or water park to receive this designation from ASME.

Season passes are good at Big Surf only and are not accepted at the other waterparks in the Valley of the Sun. All three waterparks in the Phoenix area are independently operated.

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Waikiki Beach Wave Pool

Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe, AZ
Judy Hedding

Waikiki Beach is one of the big attractions at Big Surf. It's big -- over 2 million gallons of water! Long before there were water slides, the wave pool was the place to be in the summer. Big Surf claims that it had the first wave pool in America. The waves are, of course, what makes it fun. They get to about 5 feet high. Big Surf provided the following historical information about the wave pool:

Phil Dexter invented the wave generation process used at Big Surf, having conceived the idea of a manmade wave pool in 1965 on a trip along the Californian coast. Dexter set out to recreate ocean waves, and a year later he had developed a tabletop prototype that he submitted for a patent on 'Apparatus and Method for Producing Waves' on December 7, 1966 (Ser. No. 599,758). This first model was a functional prototype built using plywood and held together using bailing wire and discarded socks. By the end of the summer of 1967, in a bankrupt billiards hall in Phoenix, Dexter had made another prototype that automatically created waves every 20 seconds in a miniature lagoon, 40 feet by 30 feet, and held 1,000 gallons of water. This prototype was a miniature, working replica of the final wave pool at Big Surf Waterpark, and it was featured in a 1969 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine.

There used to be a sandy beach a Waikiki Beach, but no more. Too many burned little feet, I suppose.

Bring your own surfboard (must have a leash) or rent one in the rental shop. Every day from 5 to 6 p.m. there are surfing only sessions in the wave pool. Surf sessions are only permitted for those with a daily surf admission or Surf Season Pass Holders. Regular Season Pass Holders are not included in surfing sessions.
Bring your own boogie board or rent one in the rental shop. Boogie Boarders only sessions are Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2:30 to 3 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 to 3 p.m. People without boogie boards will be asked to leave the wave pool during those sessions.

Scroll down to see a few historical photos of Big Surf.

Rafts are available to rent, but no outside rafts or tubes or water toys are allowed at Big Surf. Every pool area at Big Surf has lifeguards on duty all the time.

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Bora Bora Bay and Tahitian Twisters

Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe, AZ
Judy Hedding

Bora Bora Bay is designed for younger kids, who must be accompanied by someone who is over 16 years old. There is plenty of room for parents to relax in nice, cool water while they watch the kids enjoy themselves at Bora Bora Bay. The Otter Slides are fun!

The Tahitian Twisters are great water slides for the younger, smaller kids that aren't quite ready for the Hurricane Falls, or other wilder water slides. You can race down these body slides if you are 36 inches or taller.

No food, except water in sealed bottles, is allowed to be brought in to Big Surf. All food and refreshments must be purchased on the grounds.

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Waterslides and Rides at Arizona's Big Surf

Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe, AZ
Judy Hedding

There are more than 15 water slides at Arizona's Big Surf, sure to please all levels of daredevils. Some of the more thrilling ones require that you be at least 48" tall to slide.

The Mauna Kea Zip Line was added in 2014. Mauna Kea is a volcano in Hawaii. At almost 14,000 feet, it is the highest point in the state of Hawaii. This zip line has an extra charge. It takes you over the wave pool. To ride the zip line you must be at least 40 inches tall and you must weigh between 45 and 250 pounds. The zip line runs from noon to 5 p.m. daily and until 8 p.m. on Fridays in June and July.

Some water slides are enclosed, and you just slide down the way you are, and some are open and you use a tube. Tubes are free with admission. Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest days at Big Surf. If you don't get there early, you might have to wait from 10 to 20 minutes in line at the more popular water slides.

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Head for the Shade at Big Surf

Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe, AZ
Judy Hedding

Big Surf has a Tahitian/Hawaiian theme to the park. There are plenty of areas where people can relax in between pool dips and rides down the water slides.

Guests under 48" must wear a life vest in the wave pool. They are provided free of charge.

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Captain Cook's Landing

Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe, AZ
Judy Hedding

There are several pools where younger children can have a good time at Big Surf. At Captain Cook's Landing, the little ones have their own place to play and slide.

Make sure everyone has a towel and plenty of waterproof sunscreens. You can rent a locker for the day.

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Special Events at Big Surf

Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe, AZ
Judy Hedding

There are several shaded areas where catered events take place. Big Surf is a popular venue for corporate parties and birthday parties.

There are two volleyball courts at Big Surf. Those are perfect for company competitions!

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Directions, Hours, and Prices at Big Surf

Big Surf Waterpark in Tempe, AZ
Judy Hedding


Opening day at Big Surf is Saturday, May 6, 2017, and it will be open Saturdays and Sundays only through May 21, 2017. The Waterpark is then open every single day from Saturday, May 27 through July 31. Then it returns to a Saturday and Sunday only schedule from August 5 through September 10, when the 2017 season concludes. The park will be open on Labor Day, Monday, September 4, 2017. It is closed during the rest of the year.

Regular Operating Hours:
Monday through Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Fridays in June and July: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.


Prices mentioned here do not include tax or online service charges.

General Admission tickets are available to purchase online. A service fee is charged, but you get to skip the lines at the ticket booths! Season Pass is available, allowing admission to Big Surf all year. Call to ask about surf session passes.

Several cabanas are available for daily rental. Located on the south side of the wave pool, each cabana comfortably holds six guests with four beach chairs and two chaise lounges. Cabana price does not include the price of admission.


Big Surf Address
1500 N. McClintock
Tempe, AZ 85281


Big Surf is just north of Loop 202 (Red Mountain Freeway) and just west of Loop 101 Pima Freeway).

From Scottsdale on Loop 101: Take Loop 101 Price or Pima Freeway to the McKellips exit. Go west on McKellips to McClintock. Turn left.

From East Valley on Loop 101: Take Loop 101 Price Freeway to the Rio Salado exit. Go west on Rio Salado to McClintock. Turn right.

From Loop 202, Red Mountain Freeway: Take the Loop 202 toward Tempe and transition to the Loop 101 North to the McKellips exit. Go west on McKellips to McClintock. Turn left.

Where to Stay Nearby

  • Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West
    Check guest reviews and prices for Sheraton Mesa on TripAdvisor.
  • Tempe Mission Palms​
    Check guest reviews and prices for Tempe Mission Palms on TripAdvisor.

On a tight budget? Try these!

  • Red Lion Inn
    Check guest reviews and prices for Red Lion Inn on TripAdvisor.
  • Hampton Inn & Suites
    Check guest reviews and prices for Hampton Inn on TripAdvisor. 
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Historical Image: Big Surf Waterpark, Opening Day 1969

Big Surf Waterpark
Courtesy Big Surf Waterpark, used with permission.

Big Surf Waterpark opened in 1969 on a 20-acre complex in Tempe, AZ. More than $2 million was invested in the development of Big Surf, and at present day the facility is still intact and uses all of the original components for generating waves in the wave pool.

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Historical Image: How Big Surf Used to Look

Big Surf Waterpark
Courtesy Big Surf Waterpark, used with permission

Historical Photo of Big Surf in Tempe, Arizona. Big Surf opened in 1969 and remains at its original location in Tempe, Arizona. It is known for having America's first wave pool.

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Historical Image: Bumper Boats

Big Surf Waterpark
Courtesy Big Surf Waterpark, used with permission

 There used to be bumper boats at Big Surf, but no more.

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Historical Image: Sandy Beach

Big Surf Waterpark
Courtesy Big Surf Waterpark, used with permission

A couple on the sandy beach at Big Surf in Tempe. The sand got too hot during our triple-digit summer days, so it was eventually replaced with a surface that was safer for our feet, including meandering streams of water. 

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Aerial View of Big Surf

Courtesy Big Surf Waterpark, used with permission.

The sand is gone, but the wave pool elements still remain at Big Surf. More than 100,000 visitors go to Big Surf each year to enjoy the various waterslides and to surf, body surf and raft in the Waikiki Beach Wave Pool.

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