opinion

It’s Still Surfing

Why we should embrace the wavepool revolution

| posted on October 02, 2013
According to some, this isn't surfing. Just don't tell Dane Reynolds that. Photo: Maassen

According to some, this isn’t surfing. Just don’t tell Dane Reynolds that. Photo: Maassen

Manufacturing 120 waves an hour, over a distance of 200 meters, Wavegarden offers a glimpse into the future of surfing sans ocean. In the coming years, the Kelly Slater Wave Company also promises to deliver manmade perfection to the surf starved masses. But not all surfers are sold on this new technology. In fact, some say that this isn’t surfing at all. They think that wavepools will be a black mark on the sport, spawning a mutant generation of landlocked “surfers” with no knowledge of swells, winds, tides, or real surf culture. Curious, I contacted Felip Verger of Wavegarden to find out why he was so hell bent on creating this new breed of saltless, soulless, surfers.

“Sure, it’s way easier to take up surfing in a controlled environment such as Wavegarden than in the ocean,” says Verger. “And it’s true that people who will pick up surfing at a Wavegarden will need to learn about a lot of things the day they go surfing in the ocean. But that’s nothing new. If you live in Honolulu and learn to surf in Waikiki, you’re in for a shock the day you want to surf a beach break in Canada or Washington or Scotland. We all adapt to different waves don’t we? Well, Wavegarden will be just another wave.”

Is a person riding a manmade wave still considered a surfer? Well, are people skiing manmade snow still considered skiers? By the technical definition, riding a wave is surfing no matter where the wave comes from. Yet there are those that believe wavepools will eliminate the very essence of surfing by taking randomness out of the equation and making waves uniform. They presume that riding the same perfect, clean, barreling wave over and over would make surfing feeling stale. Really?

In terms of progression and innovation, could there be a better way to hone your skills than on a conveyor belt of aquatic congruency? While you may only get one or two opportunities to try a specific maneuver in the ocean, a wavepool would allow endless identical sections to practice. But if predictable waves aren’t your thing, Verger claims that technology is being developed to create a random element that will make each wave totally unpredictable from the previous one in size, power, and speed.

Another fear that critics have is that any surfer raised on wavepools will be oblivious to things like etiquette and hierarchy—that once these freshwater fiends make it to the ocean, chaos will ensue. But the odds are that these surfers will learn quickly—sometimes the hard way—when they encounter oceanic wave riders. On the flipside, if the rest of us ever get sick of the pecking order—of missing the best waves because we respect the hierarchy—wavepools might give us a shot at the kind of perfect set wave we’d otherwise be watching someone else ride.

Nothing beats an epic day of surf in the ocean. Even the people developing the next generation of wave pools will attest to that. But most of us don’t get to experience those memorable sessions on a regular basis. Location, work schedule, family obligations—the list of things that prevent you from scoring all the time is long. So what’s wrong with getting a similar (albeit not identical) release by ripping the bag out of an artificial wave? Let’s be honest, a good wave is a good wave, and whether or not it was pumped out of a machine does little to change how much fun you will have riding it.

We don’t have to like every change in direction our culture takes, but we should learn to pick our battles. Even if it’s manmade, it’s still a wave, it’s still addicting, and it’s still more fun than our day jobs. It’s still surfing.


Craig Anderson, enjoying an artificial lineup. Photo: Maassen

Craig Anderson, enjoying an artificial lineup. Photo: Maassen

Dane Reynolds, getting acclimated to freshwater on his frontside. Photo: Maassen

Dane Reynolds, getting acclimated to freshwater on his frontside. Photo: Maassen

  • David

    Video??

    • Mark Popkes

      There’s tons of videos for Wave Garden. Just go to YouTube.

      I think wave pools like the Wave Garden would progress the sport (and industry) and create a new element to what we all know and love. It would provide professional surfers a consistent training ground (see Sally Fitzgibbons tearing it up in Dubai learning how to do an air-reverse in her “Project Poolside” videos). And when it’s flat, all those surfers that don’t like it will wish they were surfing in artificial waves. :)

  • Innocence Lost

    Yuck…just, Yuck.

  • MR_CPTN

    I want one! I’ll toss some Bass in it, build a BBQ on the side, crack cold tin and have post surf Bass tourneys in my backyard! yeeew!

  • george

    Surfers have a hopelessly arrogant world view with their overly-inflated sense of pride resulting from our supposed immersion in nature. If you think a pool skater or half pipe snowboarder ultimately feels less than we do you have a sadly narrow world view. There is no communion with nature … only fulfillment of pleasure centers in brain. A beachcomber searching for shells in serene silence likely hears more of what nature has to say than we ever could. At best, as Leary put it, we are artists. Whats more is that the materials from which our equipment is fashioned creates a situation that is so contrary to the idea of pastoral purity that it is laughable. This creates a dangerous state where we boldly defend what are ultimately uninformed opinions. I don’t think that there are many beaches out there that would be sorry to see us go, if we ever cared to listen to them instead of just walk across them.

    • Jonny Fox

      I couldn’t agree more. You just read my mind.

    • Luis

      If you don’t like it just giiiiiit outttt!

    • goodnightmoons

      As a former skateboarder and “half pipe snowboarder” I have to disagree. One of the main reasons I have shifted my focus to surfing was exactly that immersion in natural environments while requiring the minimum of man made artificiality. Snowboarding and skating are super fun but as I got older spending all my enthusiasm in a man made park riding giant elaborate energy intensive machines up mountains with fake stairs and hand rails mimicking a non existent city just didnt really add up anymore or feel very authentic as an experience. I really do enjoy the simplicity and rawness of the ocean. There is a big difference between these sports in that regard. However, I would definitely shred the crap out of a man made wave when it was flat from time to time if it was affordable.

      • Matt Kiczyinski

        Not to mention that the said artificiality can take a toll on your joints!!!!!!

      • NosefaceKillah

        The only thing that really compares to surfing is snowboarding powder.

    • therealdmt

      Disagree. I really like being out there and in/part of nature. The birds, the early stars that come out, the changing cloud shapes, the clams my wife and I sometimes pick up with our toes, the ever-changing surface of the water, the occasional large animal, the occasional fear, a group of fish jumping, a turtle popping its head up, the angles of sunlight, the heat, the chill — and of course the event changing waves. These things are good.

      As are the shoreline, the hills and houses, the other people, places to eat — it’s all a lot more of nature than a day at the office or a weekend spent online or watching football at home.

      Then there’s the muscles straining, the lungs pumping, your heart beating — but all this cud be true of, say, sea kayaking. Finally there’s the act itself, of gliding on a wave of energy traveling through the water; concentrating on the area just ahead of where it is destroying itself as it approaches the land. It’s really something. I think it’s gonna catch on…

      • Bmorrisphoto

        Truth in the vibration finds its way to the soul thru the use of all the senses! Some people fight it way to much and you can hear it in the way they write and deny the experience and its reality. You words express it well. It’s not about standing still to hear it … It’s about complete awareness of it thru committed embrace!

      • NosefaceKillah

        I believe surfing in the ocean is clearly superior to surfing on a man made wave, but being from connecticut, where the closest surf is an hour and a half away and you’re lucky if you get a 2 foot wave, I would have KILLED to have a wavepool like this near my house. And now I live in Colorado. My favorite part of surfing is feeling connected with the ocean and the natural world. It’s incredible. As good as sex sometimes. Riding on a wave generated a thousand miles away, the natural motion, harnessing that energy, it’s fantastic and is the reason I love surfing so much. That being said if there was a wavepool of this quality near where I live in colorado (which honestly is probably one of the first places one would go considering the active community around here) I would be there right now, with tears in my eyes because I would be so happy I was surfing again. My point is it’s better in the ocean, as you very eloquently pointed out, and I 100% agree with everything you said, BUT I’d love to be able to surf in the great state of Colorado and I know a bunch of other people would be. Shit I always say Colorado would be the greatest place on earth if only it had an ocean.

        Is it the same? No. Is it the next best thing? I think so.

    • Mike Curtis

      Peace be with you George.
      I hope you have an experience that dispels your rather bombastic views.
      Until then, best of luck, perhaps the surfer that stole your lunch money as a child will have an equally transforming experience.

    • Eddie

      Totally disagree, I find such serenity and peace in the water. I commune w/ nature and the spirits of friends lost. The most spiritual place on earth to me is in the ocean

      • Shack em up, boys.

        Amen to that, brother. Only a surfer understands.

    • Cole

      You just said this to get attention. Thanks for wasting my time!

    • Saumon

      Oh thank you so much George to make us remember to always focus on the negative. On any articles, there is always someone to make us feel guilty about what we love ( ” what ? do you feel happy ?? Quit this immediatly !!! And focus on misfortune !! “).
      Of course, the impact of mankind on nature is rarely positive but what is the point of creating self-flagellation ?

      Does it improve nature protection ? Does it help the situation ? And especially, Does it bring fresh ideas ??? Surely not.

      Does it get you a lot of thumbs up ? Yes it does. Well, I guess it makes your day. Congrats.

  • james

    if i wanted to watch surfing on glassy 1 foot slop i could just watch endless repeats of the recent Trestles contest

  • matt hale

    nothing beats an epic day in the ocean. the rest is faux-intellectual horse shit.

    • Dan

      First of all, Eric, you need to do some research. Wavegarden’s founders are surfers and engineers, not surf industry pimps. They spent nearly 10 years researching and developing the most realistic surfing experience…and they’re doing it in the most sustainable way possible. They saw an opportunity to share their passion with the world’s kids and stoked surfers…in any location. I know this only because I am the translator of their original website and business plan and I’m a huge fan of their ethical and responsible model.
      Nick has it spot on, which is probably why they agreed to work with him: use this fantastically positive environment to effect social change, physical/emotional healing, and also allow for ocean surfers to become educated on the increasingly complex social nature of surfing, so that when they enter a line up they’ll know how to rip and most importantly, do it with respect and reverance for the ocean.
      Also, Wavegarden is quite different than any previous man-made wave technology. It can be implemented in any liquid environment that has a maximum of about 4 inches of tidal fluctuation, which basically means lakes, reservoirs, ponds, or I guess if you’re desperate and have a ton of money…a pool.
      Imagine surfing a perfect 2-6 foot, barrelling wave that can be morphed to have changing sections, while looking out at tree-covered hills in the Basque countryside. Are you frothing yet? Maybe you will be when you see Wavegarden in person.
      Nick, please contact me if you want to chat about your plans. I may be able to help you out in a number of ways (I speak Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Indonesian…for starters).
      Cheers guys!
      Dan

      • Whipple

        Dan, how do I drop you a line?
        Will Whipple

  • Eric

    Here are two reasons why we should NOT embrace this, and the ‘Surf Industry’ needs to back away from itself: The first is the heart and soul of the sport. If you play guitar well, you are cool, but if your life revolves around going to the mall arcade to play Guitar Hero, you are a dork. The same holds true for surfing. The Industry is simply looking for another vehicle to peddle T-shirts, and accessories, outside of the failed business model that is…well, real surfing. Quicksilver and Billabong have balance sheets that make any investor blush if they are holding any of that junk in their portfolios. They are simply looking for another way to expand dying brands, and prostitute an activity for corporate gain.

    The second, and most important, is that it will never work to expand surfing, at least not now. Maybe when you can get unlimited rides, and they can make 6ft waves. At best it is the ocean equivalent of batting cage tokens, and that will not even come close to translating to real AB’s on a baseball diamond. You cannot capture the essence of surfing, by selling 2 ft chlorinated samples, in a bottle. Novelty at best.

    • Nick Hounsfield

      Really excellent points but you are looking at this through a narrow lens. I agree, your painted scenario could and might happen in some cases, however there are other of us out there who are like minded to you and would despise this kind of approach to wavepools. They can be better than that and as wavepool developers we hope you will look at what we are creating and see the benefits created. We will not sell out to big surf brands, we are interested in using surfing as a tool for social positive changes. (And the water isn’t chlorinated)

  • jozo

    “with no knowledge of … real surf culture”
    Like localism? Thanks god, we dont want any real knowledge about it!

    • Stuffs1

      haha well any wave pool surfer going to the ocean will learn about localism real quik if the go to certain spots

  • Geoff BestCoast

    Disagree with the wavepool ideas. There’s something about waiting, sitting, getting close to the ocean and saltwater then finally grabbing that great wave, a wavepool can’t duplicate that.

    • Nick Hounsfield

      Fine if you live near a beach…having surfed Wavegarden…it’s pretty exciting waiting for a barrelling wave to appear out of a lake surrounded by beautiful woodlands and river….very exciting.

    • Stuffs1

      but its not trying to duplicate it. Its trying to create a ride able wave consistently.

    • Oslo

      Then don’t visit one. I have an 8 hour drive to the nearest decent break and I welcome this stuff. I don’t care that it’s not going to be exactly the way it was when I lived close to a break, it’s still going to be fun. I want one in my city. Now.

    • ryan

      not everyone has waves everyday. I agree id much rather surf one of my local beaches but when your landlocked you don’t really have that option

  • Roberto

    Surfing is fun. Surfing is cool. The ocean is natural. The ocean cannot build more surf spots. Coastlines are overpopulated with people surfing. At what point do you quit surfing because your local break has 30+ surfers trying to get the same waves? Hundreds of breaks up and down the coast are overpopulated. Waveparks could relieve that burden on many breaks. The population of surfers has multiplied far greater than the amount of new surf breaks being created. More waveparks please…..whats the alternative? More people at Lowers? More people at Rincon? More people at Blacks? Cities could incorporate public waveparks into the master plan much like they do with public skate parks, tennis courts, basketball courts, swimming pools, golf courses, and sports fields.

    • Bob

      Do you really think that inland wavepools would lead to fewer surfers in the ocean and less crowded lineups? Seems to me that inland wavepools would encourage more people to learn to surf, and many would end up in the ocean, making the lineups more crowded. Good for the industry and the companies who will make money off these new surfers, but not good for crowd levels in the ocean.

  • canadeh

    well I live in vancouver, bc, and to get to the nearest swell (tofino) its a 5 hour trip with a ferry ride. I would love to have one of these in my city to be able to surf more often. If you live right on a nice break, I don’t see a reason, but for people like myself, this idea would allow me to surf way more frequently

    • http://passionschool.net/ Lorra

      fuck ya me too!! victoria here/former vancouver – i did live in tofino for a while, it was lovely. move there :)

  • Love

    It’s still surfing. Haha yeh right. There is no substitute for the ocean. Everything else is but a distraction.

  • Andie

    I’d rather surf a good real wave but the sad fact is most of those wave pools have better surf then the typical day here in Virginia Beach, VA

  • gary

    Bring it on, day and night just bring it to San Diego!

  • Rod

    But think of all the advertisement revenue this could generate!! It just had to be cool

  • Jamii Hamlin

    the essence of surfing is mastering the wave, once achieved you move on to greater challenges. yet the attraction of a wave remains in the allure of conquering of the waves offering and the suitable conditions needed to allow for higher reward. a wave farm will merely allow for a mechanical consistency that will satisfy the quantity of surfable waves, but will never replace the uniqueness of nature providing us the thrill of seeking ‘the wave of the day’.

  • therealdmt

    I agree that wave pools aren’t “real surfing”.

    [However, I want my own wave pool ;) ]

  • Nick Hounsfield

    I’m one of the guys developing a surf lake in the UK using Wavegarden tech. You all make very interesting observations. We are passionate surfers and love it for all the excitement it brings but more so…we love being in water, seeing big horizons and getting away from the hectic lives we seemed to have signed up for.

    In our eyes, artificial wave pools can be used for surfing….but also so much more.

    Having surfed the Wavegarden in Spain several times, it is truly amazing. It is not the same as surfing in the ocean and all the richness of being in the natural world, but it is absolutely the closest thing to the real thing. The skills you learn on Wavegarden waves are 100% transferrable. At the age of 40, my surfing has improved ten fold by spending several days at Wavegarden.

    More than that: this is an opportunity to take surfing to people who have never been to the beach, not just through laziness, but because they are land locked and can’t afford to get there. There are kids who live near us who have not been out of the city, do not have a garden, are on drugs, drinking, sniffing solvents and frying their naive brains with anything to give them a ” high”. We feel that bringing an affordable inland surfing destination can replace the stuff that kills their brains with a much more healthy high. Surfing, being in water, surrounded by nature, socialising, being part of a healthier culture.

    The opportunities for people with disabilities is limitless, we can now get them in the water safely and use surfing as a tool for development and rehabilitation. We all know how good blue and green space is for our souls….we can now share that with people who did not know, or do not have access.

    Educating people about surf etiquette is a huge opportunity. No longer will we have weekend warriors charging to the beach and dropping in on people. They would be educated and guided about how to use their new found water skills in a safe way at the beach. This can be a big issue in the UK as there are limited numbers of beaches and too many water users unaware of the etiquette.

    We are not going to sell out to big surf brands…..it is still possible to make a destination soulful and non-commercial. I’m sure some of the surf brands will build one and run them as event/academy facilities. That is fine also. But a sustainably built facility with it’s own autonomy is possible and will make the sport of surfing better for everyone and share it’s positive impacts with those who are hard to reach out to.

    Done in the right way, wavepools could be amazing.

    Done in the right way.

  • Brian

    I am surprised by some of the comments here and on some of the other wavepool articles I have read. There are a lot of people alluding to the wavepool experience as a replacement for being in the ocean and how that sucks, but I would be very surprised if anyone involved in any of these projects for a moment thought that they would be competing with the ocean for a surfer’s attention and/or is trying to duplicate the experience one gets by being in the ocean. Clearly this is a just a fun alternative to the “real thing” and for inland surfers a way to get a few waves. Of course it’s gonna be expensive, of course you gonna queue, but you always have a choice to go or not to go, like you would choose to go to the amusement park or the movies.
    To me it just looks fun, nothing more or less.

  • craig

    It’s not surfing? Try telling that to the bunch of smiling, fully
    stoked groms that ride the Wavegraden … we (surfers) all need to get over ourselves and let’s enjoy.

  • James

    This definitely seems like a great idea to me, just like how we have driving ranges for golf, batting cages for baseball, skateparks for skateboarding, terrain parks for snowboarding, basketball hoops in driveways, it always help to have a place for beginners and people who just want to goof off…

  • true

    go to the wave pools. please…

  • ScoobyDude

    future WCT stop ;) you can’t make the playing field any more even

  • Brent S

    Its all just boys playing with their toys: and girls too. If we want the surf industry to remain stable and or grow, it will have to embrace technology. Last I checked the ocean was still free to be enjoyed by all, not just local experienced surfers. As a skateboarder of 24 years I will still occasionally allow some deviation from the ” hierarchy” rule, if a young grom or newb feels on fire, Ill allow them to snake within reason. Im not a pushover, just a lover not a hater. Living in Ohio my whole life I cant wait for these wave pools. George is right: if we can deflate our head a bit we will see that nobody owns mamma!

  • Don Mc

    The perception is based on opinion, ego and values. The reality here is waves in water and the opportunity to ride them. Depending on how one chooses to define surfing this is or isn’t surfing but it is no doubt fun and an outdoor water sport that has merit in those simple terms. I’d love to try some of these for sure! I can see how board time on waves like these would add to anyone’s muscle memory bank and be of value elsewhere. I would love to get in a man made, perfect barrel and welcome the chance for a repeat! As for the culture of surfing, I think it has suffered in general along with all cultures and due to overpopulation, slick marketing and the long list of other ills we all suffer from.

    “If you build it they will come.”

    “There are no bad waves, only a poor choice of equipment and a lousy attitude.” ~ Mickey Munoz

    If you make waves and people can ride them then go ahead and call it what you like.

  • Jabes

    I’m a rock climber as well and this debate rages in that community too inside climbing isn’t real climbing, you are generally looked down on a bit if you are a “gym rat” and never climb outside. But even the hardcore traditionalists agree it’s great for training and keeping up with fitness etc. Especially so when it’s winter and gets dark early, I think we need to look at it the same way sure it’s not the same but how awesome would it be going for a surf after dark if you are stuck at work all day. Or having a paddle around to stay fit during a flat spell.

    • Whipple

      True that!

  • jehan

    top notch….think about it….those of us lucky who live near/on a break could see, overtime, a stabilization or even decrease of people at the peak if a wavepool is around…..all beginners/scared people would be out of the ocean and in the pools to shake their fears or basically stay in the pools…..meaning better people at the peak in the ocean….less risk for the rest of us…..

    and then, yes, how fantastic to be on a business trip/assignement in a landlock destination and find you can still go and carve the hell out of a nice wall..even tiny…who of us would not like it?…seriously…..

    really think it only is a win/win situation…..

  • Noe

    Dudes! Who cares! I can’t believe they are debating against this, whoever is against this is not a real surfer! Period.

  • Mak97

    I think it is great, more fun to be had when the sea is flat. ;-)

  • hslice

    everyone that is saying that this man made wave doesnt get you in with nature is a fucking idiot, look at the surroundings. beside this smal little pool its in the mountains. the wilderness surrounds you. there is more nature in this little area than at most beaches with people blasting music out of their cars and shit.

  • fj

    New technology is always coming, old school versus new school. Embrace it, you only live once. enjoy what you do. I surf. when its flat I work out. Ride a carver skate board, If we had a wave garden here i’d ride it on flat days. Its a choice, We all have one.

  • Greg

    A wave is a wave

  • ryan

    “puts hater blockers on”
    “where did everyone go?”

  • Joseph Arsenault

    Its like microwavable, frozen food. It works, but its different. And that difference is big.

  • The Chuch

    Please build one in Denver

  • Shack em up, boys.

    Lame. Surfing is nature. So is getting shacked by a REAL wave. And tasting the salt water makes me happy. :)

  • Pingback: Making Sense of a Wave Pool in Guanacaste, Costa Rica | Welcome to Costa Rica

  • Mike

    I get such a deep, deep spiritual feeding by being on the ocean at sunrise, and an amazing sense of pride that I can read and understand the confluence of winds, tides, currents and weather to ride this unpredictable, shifting natural energy. But I have to admit that there isn’t much that would keep me from the opportunity to have so much fun riding 30 waves in three hours. I’ll get my nature/waterman rush whenever I can, but I’ll love the chance to surf whenever I want to, on my schedule, and have a blast doing it any day of the year on perfect waves of any size. Even though I’ll always gravitate toward the ocean, wave pools are just fine with me.

  • nalu

    To be honest id rather surf a wave pool then eat GMO fruit

  • Tyler Durden

    fuck wave pools, now everyone in the Midwest is going to fall in love with surfing cuz its the shit and the lineups in the ocean are already WAY TO CROWDED

  • Flowrider Broz

    Awesome! Check out our videos and pics of pro flowboarding from around the world at Youtube.com/thirteenareowes or 13roz.com!