Cowabunga! Surf's Up in a Pennsylvania Steel Town

updated 07/15/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/15/1985 01:00AM

If everybody had an ocean, across the U.S.A., then everybody'd be sunfin', like Ca-li-for-ni-a.

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And if everybody had a wave pool, then everybody'd be surfin', like Allen-town, Pa. To inaugurate its surf-generating amusement-park attraction, the Pennsylvania town hosted the world's first inland surfing championship. Lured by a top prize of $25,000, 76 surfers flew in from as far away as Australia, Brazil, Hawaii and Japan. "When I showed up at the airport, people looked at my board and asked if it was a canoe," laughs Australian Tom Carroll, 23, world champion and eventual winner of the event. "There isn't the same full-on adrenaline rush you get from surfing 15-foot waves in Hawaii, but it's great when you realize you're surfing in Pennsylvania. And you don't get full of sand. You come out of the water smelling of chlorine."

The pool at Dorney Park's Wildwater Kingdom uses computer-driven hydraulic rams and paddles to create three-to five-foot waves. "When I said I was going to put surfing in Allentown, people were waiting for the men in the white coats to take me away," says owner Bob Plarr, 34, who hopes a local surfing cult develops. "The Amish were really freaked out. But it's the fanaticism of surfers that makes me think this thing can work. Surfers are crazy, and I like that."

The waves may be short, but surfers found Allentown long on hospitality. "At the beach a lot of people treat us like bums," said Hawaii's Hans Hedeman. "Here we're heroes." Plarr dreams of the day when champion surfers come out of Allentown—certainly a radical notion. Muses Ian Cairns, president of the Association of Surfing Professionals: "We could have a world surfing champ who's never been near the ocean."

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