It’s time to make surfing great again, and take back control (of pushing the button that sends the set to the 3.45pm intermediate group in purple rashies). Whether you’re for surfing being for the many not for the few, or worry that the sea is increasingly melted snowflakes, it’s time to pick a side… It’s wavepools versus the sea.
When did all this start?
Surface waters began accumulating on the planet around 3800 million years ago, with the earth’s atmosphere, storms and therefore swells coming around the same period.
Early man made wave generation is attributed to King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who electrified lakes in the mid-19th century to make waves. The first surfing wave pool Big Surf, in Tempe Arizona opened in 1969.
So what’s new?
While the ASP held a tour event in a wavepool in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1985, Rick Kane got his ticket to the North Shore from winning in 80’s chlorine and well-known pools Japan, Florida and Malaysia were around the 90’s, it wasn’t until the early 21st century that the new generation of wave pools came about. 2005 saw Wave Garden’s v1 in the Basque Country launch the paradigm shift, with the relatively new medium of viral internet clips – in part thanks to Janet Jackson’s boob – to spread the word. In 2015 Slater unveiled Surf Ranch and subsequently sold it to the World Surf League.
“People, have we not turned our unicorn into a donkey?”
– Matt Warshaw
As of late 2020, wave pools are under construction on every continent except Antartica. WaveGarden currently have 38 projects in various stages of development globally, while others key players like Kelly Slater Wave Co, American Wave Machines, Surf Lakes, Surf Lochs and Swell Manufacturing are all in the process of developing new facilities.
Former pro surfers, mainly, are lining up to part-own wave pool developments and technology, mainly out of a strong altruistic urge to give back (ok, maybe make a little coin, too). Kelly Slater, Barton Lynch, Occy, Kalani Robb, Cheyne Magnusson and Shane Beschen are all involved to varying degrees.
But it’s not just rippers with fingers in the pie that are keen to publicly gush the wave pool virtues.
“The wave is better than any natural wave in the world” said Mark Richards of Kelly’s Surf Ranch, while Shaun Tomson opined, “People say, ‘artificial wave.’ I don’t think it’s artificial, I think it is man-made, like art.”
Aside from the wave itself, some wave pool fans are all about the lack of lineup hassles. Kyuss King’s dad, Justin, a long-time Burleigh Heads local said after a session after UrbnSurf in Mlbrn, “I haven’t seen the vibe this good since the 70’s.”
These days, there’s even a Wavepool Magazine (but no Surfer/Surfing, obvs), believe it or not. In it, Bryan Dickerson writes,”I can’t look at a baseball diamond outline without thinking about a Wavegarden Cove. When I see a sign for donuts I see the Surf Lakes plunger…”
Hence the popular expression, “It’s the kind of 200 acre development with world class food and beverage offerings, #sustainable accommodation and retail experiences, that you draw in your school books.”
“The wave is better than any natural wave in the world”
– Mark Richards
EoS’ Matt Warshaw told Wavelength in April, “It wouldn’t be a bad thing if every wave pool project around the world craters (as a result of Covid)”. In a more poetic lament on BeachGrit, Warshaw asked, “People, have we not turned our unicorn into a donkey?”
Back in 2012, someone wrote in Surf Europe magazine, “No marine life, no marine death. No cliff, no dune, no guano covered jump off rock. No horizon, no weather, no… nature. Wavepools are the shopping mall off the ring road, the instant cappuccino powder of the surfing experience… the utilitarian perversion of everything that ever appealed about going for a surf, a plastic replica of one of nature’s great spectacles.”
Actually, that may have been me.
Surfrider Foundation Europe recently announced its official anti-wavepool policy, in part based on the French government’s ‘anti land artificialization’ measures, as well as water and energy consumption concerns.
Meanwhile, after much initial enthusiasm, fans of the WSL’s live competition broadcasts seem to have fallen almost entirely out of love with Surf Ranch events, and even many of the Tour surfers themselves appear to greet the prospect of competing in it with the same relish that the zoo polar bear has for going for a swim in the little white concrete pond.
Is the Wave Pool Protest Movement really a thing?
Mais oui. It seems global HQ for the wavepool resistance movement is France, where plans for a WaveGarden-powered pool at St Jean de Luz, home of Boardriders HQ in the French Basque Country met opposition in the form of a 20,000 signature petition this summer. A proposal for a wave pool in Castets, a few clicks inland from Hossegor also divided the local community when tabled a couple of years ago. Last year, a proposed wave park in Saint Pere-en-Retz near Nantes in the Loire Valley met a coordinated opposition from a group called Zap La Vague, which might well be the French-est sounding thing, ever.
“Tour surfers appear to greet the prospect of competing (at the Surf Ranch) with the same relish that the zoo polar bear has for going for a swim in the little white concrete pond”
It can’t all be predatory capitalist Babylon… What about the case for the defence?
Wave pools make strong arguments for access for para surfers and special needs athletes, and have an exemplary safety record in terms of shark attack, while localism appears to be largely taken out of the surfing equation.
In terms of branding the developments as a place for folk to learn about #sustainability and the natural world, well, you’ve got to admire the neck on them.
If there really were a for/against wave pool war, for has already won, and with opposition lining up at opposite ends of a spectrum from staunch NIMBY-ism to general apathy, the developers are more than smart (and rich) enough to navigate between.
In the grand scheme of the planet burning, the loss of ecosystems, biodiversity, and the collapse of life support systems, the proliferation of artificial surfing lagoons is highly unlikely to be declared a main driver of our demise by research made by alien life forms sifting through Earth’s wreckage in 2120.
Sure, it might ridiculous to be excavating the earth’s surface, pouring concrete and using electricity to generate waves in the hole, but then again, more ridiculous than golf?
For all the alleged egalitarianism about inland surfing, it’s telling that it’s always the pros used to sell us the experience. And if 2020 has shown us one thing, it’s that we need pros, and wave pools, in roughly equal measure.
One such, Owen Wright, said of Urbn Surf, “Finally, we have a training centre just like every other sport.” Owen Wright, is of course, right.
I mean, who wants surfing to be unique, anyway?