Luke Collins is in love.
You can see it in his eyes, behind sopping lashes. His voice is raised and manic. He calls it a rush. It's "like, so crazy," he says. It's "just so sweet."
When Luke's sixth-grade school day winds up, and if his mother bends to his begging, he'll be back where it began: International Plaza.
There, inside the sliding doors, past glitzy shops he doesn't notice, boy meets water.
The South Tampa 11-year-old was the first customer to try the FlowRider surf simulator in the mall's new extreme sports store, Adrenalina. The store opened earlier this month. And, so far, Luke, like dozens of others in the Tampa Bay area, just can't get enough.
The store is one of three nationwide - all in Florida. The first opened in October 2006 in Orlando's Florida Mall; another opened in Miami soon after, according to Adrenalina's Web site. The store's FlowRider machine was seen mostly at water parks and on cruise ships - never in a retail store - until Adrenalina installed it.
A standard 30-minute session taking turns on the giant wave costs $20. A private hour between 10 a.m. to noon or 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. is $300. It costs $400 to reserve a private hour any other time.
In real surfing, water is propelled from behind, toward the shore. In the FlowRider, jets shoot water from the opposite direction, pushing the surfer up the wave rather than down. And there's a cushy blue mat to catch your fall.
Luke has already mastered jumping into the jet-propelled wave with his knees firm on a boogie board, and he has gotten good at riding up the water on a small red surfboard. Earlier this week, he practiced a seated barrel-roll as his mother, Mary Alice Collins, watched.
"It's boy heaven," Collins said as Luke's board slid out from under him, throwing him down with a splash.
In a couple of weekends, Luke and eight of his friends will have the FlowRider to themselves for an hour to celebrate Luke's 12th birthday. Luke says excitement is already buzzing around school.
Adrenalina employee Nate Kurant, 23, said the FlowRider attracts more customers than the store's merchandise, which includes skateboards, surfboards, BMX bikes and flip-flops. The store also serves frozen yogurt and juice.
Kurant has only tried it once, and he said the inevitable slips and falls left him aching the next day, like he'd had a tough workout.
"I was in there for a half hour, but I was standing up for about three minutes," he said. "We should put a massage place next door."
Other mall employees and shoppers often stop by just to watch - maybe hoping to garner a little courage to someday face the wave themselves, maybe just for the wipeouts.
Charles Robinson, a 25-year-old Footlocker employee, cited the latter as a girl inside the glass belly-flopped.
"I'm no surfer," Robinson said with a laugh. "But it does look like fun, I'll give you that."
Katy Yeager, a 21-year-old hairdresser who was at the mall shopping, said she's determined to try it. But she's not quite ready yet.
"It just looks awesome," Yeager said, a few mall bags in hand. "I hope it stays in business."
Tom Warren, 21, another shopper-turned-spectator, has been surfing for about 10 years in Cocoa Beach and Miami. He said it seems pretty different than the real thing, but it's probably good training.
Luke is no novice to real surfing either. The Collins family has taken several vacations to California over the years, and Luke has had his share of practice.
"It's not really the same, but I still like the feeling," Luke said. "You just jump in from the top, and it's like crazy moving water."
Back in his school uniform outside the store's changing area, with hair still dripping and holding his bathing suit, Luke looked toward his mom. "Can I go again?"
Kim Wilmath can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3386.