Are Artificial Waves the Future of Surfing?

Companies vie to create the perfect wave and sell it to surfers

Paul Roget / Webber Wave Pools

By Ali ShrodeArtificial waves have received a lot of attention recently, and why shouldn’t they? Surfers travel the world searching for the perfect wave. What if that perfect swell could be replicated and controlled? What if that perfect swell was easily accessed and predictable?

Although nothing can beat the feeling of catching barrels in nature’s playground, companies like Kelly Slater Wave CompanyWebber Wave PoolsThe Wave Garden, and American Wave Machines have all made varying claims that their products will make it possible to experience rideable waves in a more controlled environment. Ideally, competitive surfers (and non-) can practice without having to wait for the right conditions. According to a press release by American Wave Machines, their PerfectSwell technology is able to produce ten large barreling waves a minute. Hypothetical coaches will even be able to control the waves from the shore depending upon skill level, they say. The icing on the cake? They say their technology can be installed anywhere from resorts to recreational facilities to cruise ships.

Another company, Webber Wave Pools, owned by renowned shaper Greg Webber, has also been working to generate endless waves that break continuously around a central island. They have plans for wave pools in both Australia and Europe and claim to have developed a low-energy design can accommodate numerous surfers at once while the intensity of the wave can be adjusted in seconds. Webber explains, “The future of wave pools will depend on how good the waves are, but even more importantly on how long you have to wait. If people have to queue for an hour then they just won’t come back. It’s insulting, and ruins the experience. It’s also about being able to just rock up for a quick session of half a dozen waves. If you can cater for back-to-back waves without any waiting time at all, then the morning and afternoon demand spikes can reach full potential. Imagine knowing that there is always room to park, there are more waves than surfers, and you can be in and out within 45 minutes. This is what I want to provide.”

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But what about accessibility to different skill levels? “The idea is to start the thing at about 1m (3 ft.) so that virtually any surfer can take off, then build the wave size and speed, as the gradient gets shallower and shallower,” said Webber. “This way you get your footing totally sorted with a couple of slow pumps to get in rhythm, then the tube starts as a bowly almond eye shape and then gradually gets thicker and faster as you go along. This way, surfers with only moderate ability are going to ride tubes that they would otherwise have great difficulty taking off on. The aim is to have every surfer come out at the end of the barrel pretty much blown away.”

There is a lot of potential in these companies, but don’t start fine tuning your quiver for mind blowing artificial barrels just yet. Even the notoriously tight-lipped Slater has mentioned in public that the The Kelly Slater Wave Company has the potential to revolutionize surfing, yet the venture still provides economic challenges when it comes to business models. So figure it out. Surely, we can think of a few surfers willing to open their wallets for perfect waves.

This story originally appeared on The Inertia.

(Photos: Paul Roget / Webber Wave Pools)


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