Inventor of Big Surf wave pool dies at 87

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The inventor and builder of the world's first wave pool, located at Tempe's Big Surf Waterpark, has died.

Phil Dexter died in Columbia, Connecticut Friday with his family nearby. He was 87.

Last year, Dexter was inducted into the World Waterpark Association Hall of Fame for inventing, building and running the world's first wave pool. Waikiki Beach at Big Surf is the third largest wave pool in the world.

It has also received the designation of Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The society approved the Big Surf Waterpark nomination in 2012 as the very first inland surfing facility in North America.

Dexter was born in St. Clair, Michigan on Feb. 22, 1927. He grew up in Michigan and served in the United States Navy during World War II.

While on a construction assignment in San Diego in 1965, Dexter was exposed to surfing and began developing his idea for a wave pool.

He built models of his wave-making machine in the backyard of his Phoenix home in August 1966 and tested them extensively that fall and winter. The following spring, he built a larger, fully engineered model in an abandoned Phoenix pool hall.

He opened the wave pool in Tempe in October 1969.

He walked away from Big Surf a few years later, moving between Arizona and Southern California. He stayed busy by investing in a company called Mural Masters, sailing in San Diego, and working for the U.S. Forest Service and the paper mill in Snowflake, Arizona.

He moved to Pinetop, Arizona with his wife in the late 1980s and then to New Bern, North Carolina after she died.

Big Surf sits on 20 acres on the northern tip of Tempe, just south of Scottsdale. In addition to the wave pool, it has more than 3,000 feet of water slides.

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