It's unusual to see a surfboard strapped atop a car in Arizona.

But if you're driving anywhere near Tempe's historic Big Surf Waterpark in the late afternoon this summer, don't be surprised to see a board or two.

For the first time in a decade, Big Surf, the state's oldest water park and one of the country's first, is bringing surfing back to its Waikiki Beach.

And for a brief little while, you can feel like you're at the real beach, sans the ocean breezes, of course.

Big Surf and Arizona's handful of water parks make summertime bearable.

The parks swung open their gates last weekend for the 2011 season, which runs through Labor Day in early September. Here's a guide to what they have to offer.

Note: Most of the parks allow you to bring in sealed bottled water, and most let you enter and exit the park with your wristband. That way you can leave a cooler of food in your vehicle to save money on concessions.

Breakers Water Park

8555 W. Tangerine Road, Marana. 682-2530;

• To get there: Take Interstate 10 to the Tangerine Road exit. Located about a half-mile east of the freeway on Tangerine.

• Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.

• Cost: $20.95 for age 12 and up; $14.95 for kids 4 to 11; 3 and younger free. $10.95 for seniors and spectators. After 3 p.m., $12.95.

• Slides and attractions: Breakers Bay pumps 1.3 million gallons of water in a wave pool that churns up tides that crest just high enough to slosh you leisurely from end to end. The Bonzai Pipeline features five superslides for thrill seekers, while Splash Canyon slows things down a bit for an all-ages crowd. Younger kids have their own Captain Kidd's Surfari with wading pools and tiny slides for the toddler set. For the truly adventurous, the Riptide takes you the highest and drops you the farthest. You can also brush up on your balancing act in the inflated Surfari Bubbles. Climb inside and walk on water in the gigantic beach balls.

• Amenities: Snack bar, ice cream shop, gift shop. Shade is hard to come by, so get there early to stake your claim under one of the handful of trees in the park.

Wet 'n' Wild Phoenix

4243 W. Pinnacle Peak Road, Glendale. 1-623-201-2000,

• To get there: Take Interstate 10 to Interstate 17. Take Exit 217 (Pinnacle Peak Road).

• Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through July 31.

• Cost: $34.99 for adults and for children more than 42 inches tall; $27.99 for children less than 42 inches tall and for seniors 65 and older; free for children younger than 2. Special twilight price of $19.99 after 5 p.m. Buy online to get a 10 percent discount.

• Slides and attractions: There's a wave pool and a dozen slides of varying degrees of twists, turns and drops, including the new Constrictor. Riders zip down the enclosed flume slide into a series of corkscrew turns that snake back and forth. You slither down a series of spirals on multiperson rafts until you shoot out into a drenching splashdown. There's also an island of slides and water fountains for toddlers and younger kids.

• Amenities: Snack bars and gift shop. Plenty of shaded areas, lounge and lawn chairs and artificial turf grassy areas to set up camp.

Big Surf Waterpark

1500 N. McClintock Drive at Hayden Road, Tempe.

1-480-994-2297, www.bigsurffun.com

• To get there: Take Interstate 10 to Phoenix, exiting at 153A to merge onto Arizona 143 North toward Sky Harbor Airport. Follow the signs for Arizona 202 Loop East to Tempe-Mesa. Exit the 202 at McClintock Drive and turn left onto North McClintock. The park is on the left.

• Hours: 10 am. to 6 p.m. daily.

• Cost: $19.50 for kids age 3 and older up to 48 inches tall; $26 for adults; $19.50 for seniors and active military or police and fire; $15 twilight admission from 3 to 6 p.m.

• Slides and attractions: Anchored by Waikiki Beach, one of America's original tide pools dating back to 1969, Arizona's original water park has Hurricane Slides and the Kilauea Cove Slides; Captain Cook's Landing and Bora Bora Bay children's areas; the twisty-turvy Tornado Twisters; and the Black Hole, which lives up to its name - a pitch-dark tube that sends you hurtling into the unknown.

• Amenities: Snack bars and gift shops and plenty of tropically accented shaded grass areas with umbrellas fashioned from palm fronds.

Golfland SunSplash

155 W. Hampton Ave., Mesa. 1-480-834-8319

• To get there: Take Interstate 10 to U.S. 60. Take U.S. 60 to Country Club Drive and go one block north to Hampton Avenue.

• Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.

• Cost: $26.99 for adults and kids more than 48 inches tall, $19.99 for seniors and children under 48 inches tall; $3 for toddlers; $19.99 after 4 p.m. $35.95 for unlimited golf and the water park. Additional costs for miniature golf, arcade games and laser tag.

• Slides and attractions: New this summer to the 15-acre park is the Storm Rider bowl slide that thrusts you and three raft-mates into a tunnel of darkness, twisting and turning and swirling around a gigantic bowl that drops you into a pool of water. Other slides include the Master Blaster, the seven-story-tall Thunder Falls, the half-pipe thrill of Sidewinder and the Thunder Bay Wave Pool. For the little ones, there's the Caribbean Water Works play area, Toddler Tadpole Pool and the Buccaneers Bend Activity Pool.

• Amenities: Snack bars and gift shop, pavilions, canopied islands and areas shaded by palm trees.