Make Sure It’s Still Surfing

Are new technologies compromising the integrity of the ride?

| posted on July 03, 2013

Is it still surfing if the water's chlorinated? Hard to argue with a peak like this. Photo: Tupat

Throughout history, technological advancements have redefined cultures across the globe. And the surf world is no exception. Wetsuit advancements, altered fin setups, new shapes, and superior surfboard materials changed the how, where, and when we could surf. Most would agree that these innovations have been beneficial, but is there a line to how far these advancements can go before the natural integrity of surfing is jeopardized? Until it no longer becomes surfing? With technological shortcuts like jet-propelled surfboards, artificial wave pools on the horizon, how far are we from losing traditional surfing as we know it?

Let’s start in the competitive realm. According to the 2013 ASP rulebook, there are currently no restrictions on self-propelled surfboards assisting surfers into waves. Sure, jet-propelled boards aren’t currently on the cutting edge of high-performance, but who knows, someone could figure out how to streamline the construction and make a functional, high-performance shortboard—with an added paddle advantage. 20 years from now, will surfers look back at the non-propelled surfboards of today in the same way we recall our phones once being tethered to a wall? Either way, the longstanding relationship between surfers and the environment will change if these self-propelled rides gain traction.

Then there is the question of what we ride. Recently, the newest Wave Garden opened up in Basque County, Spain, and is capable of producing 120 perfect, 200 meter rides every hour. This allows surfers to ride perfect waist- to chest-high waves all day, every day, never waiting for swell, in a completely landlocked area. Although this may seem like any surfer’s dream, does the act of manually paddling out, choosing unique waves, and tracking storms add to the natural integrity of surfing? Perhaps a new schism may surface between traditional surfers who primarily ride ocean waves, and an emerging group of surfers who only surf artificial waves. Our landlocked brethren—raised on inland, manmade waves—may develop a culture all their own. Surfing only perfect, identical waves would generate the flashiest era of high-performance surfing yet—as if we don’t see enough air-reverses already. At its most extreme, it would create a culture of cookie-cutter surfers who can only perform in ideal conditions.

I think the majority of surfers would agree with me when I say there’s something to be said for riding real waves, in the ocean, with no mechanical assistance. Sure, it’s fun to dabble in the latest craze, but as we grow and adapt, let’s make sure to stay rooted in tradition. And when you brag to your buddies about your recent no-paddle take-off, air-reverse, or stand-up barrel, just make sure you include all the details of the session.

  • http://www.yannickwolff.com Yannick Wolff

    Awesome! Looks great. Heard that they are planing to build such a wave garden in berlin/germany as well ?

  • Kooks McGee

    To make a comparison to one of surfing’s children, it ill be the difference between surfing Back country powder and surfing apark with man made snow. use one to perfect technique and tricks, the other is what everyone should want.

    • jt

      Totally Agree. As a landlocked surfer who needs to drive 3 hours every weekend to catch waves, I would really appreciate having a park where I could pop in for a couple hours after work or when I can’t make it to the coast. Riding ocean waves will always be > than riding park waves, but it’s hard to argue the value for landlocked surfers. At the same time though, I dread having big headed pool surfers showing up at my home break

  • Kyle Banashek

    It’s cool to hone your skills on, but you have 0% bragging rights IMO.

  • Ronnie Roberts

    All valid points above. However, all you have to do is revert back to your opening statement as the answer to your hypothesis. Skateboarding and snowboarding have gone through similar, albeit rapid transformations the last 15 years with the invent of perfectly groomed parks. The level of these disciplines has skyrocketed, most notably with the younger generation. When you see groms performing at the highest level, it really puts things in perspective. I’ve been surfing for over 20 years and have witnessed the short sightedness of the culture. It really wasn’t that long ago when you would be made fun of for riding anything other than the standard short board. Hell even the surf companies were terrified of running an ad that didn’t depict the highest level of surfing. If Dane Reynolds existed in the 90’s as the same exact person he is right now, he would be irrelevant. I believe there will always be a healthy contingency of surfers who will maintain a pure connection with the ocean, myself included. However, I would be lying if said that surfing perfectly groomed waves somewhere in the middle of the Basque country didn’t sound like one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. On the other hand, jet propelled surfboards sound like the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. All opinions are valid.

  • Doug McIntyre

    Personally, I think wearing a leash tethering the surfer to the surfboard is much more damaging to the integrity of surfing than riding man made waves!! I learned to surf before the surfboard leash was invented. Those who learned to surf before leashes were available know where I am coming from. Those who know nothing else will probably never understand. Sure a leash is handy but it is not the organic way to ride a surfboard.

  • David Hoad

    Interesting read! There’s always going to be progression. Even now WCT surfers don’t paddle back out to the line up like they did in yesteryear. It’s call for the jet ski and out you go. Allowing competitors to catch more waves per heat. This, to me, has taken some stamina out of the game, but also potentially reduced the time between waves for the average watcher of these contests. Good thing for weak paddlers, not that any are at that level, and us stuck behind a computer thousands of miles away wanting to see our favorite surfers. Jet skis also allowed surfers to pioneer bigger, more insane waves than thought ridable without the cumbersome paddle and jump to standing. There we now see a change back to the traditional with people paddling into waves far bigger than ever before. Would a jet propelled performance board be of benefit to the WCT crew? Well that’s going to be one for them to decide. To date very few Tuff Lite’s are seen in that forum, and that was considered an advance. Meanwhile PU boards are still the weapon of choice, which could be considered old school tech. by now. Yes, we’re seeing some carbon fiber and different stringers turning up in the PU’s, but I remember Kelly Slater surfing with carbon strands in his board back in the early 90’s so it could be argued that such advancements are not new, but new thoughts behind existing technology. Wetsuit advancements are yearly, but are they that much warmer, or better fitting than last years? Good question! I personally don’t know as I’m lucky enough to get to surf tropical warmth everyday of the year. Therefore I can speak on baggie advancements with a little more confidence. I’ve seen many changes in my 23 years to these items. I’ve seen different cuts, materials, and lengths over the years. Now with stretching fabrics, ideal for over the knee lengths, we’ve shortened baggies to have a more retro feel. Like the shorts worn by Tom Carrol back in his hay-day. That to me was a bit of a fail on behalf of fashion. It’s almost pointless having the stretch fabric used to construct baggies above the knee as that’s one big bone that has no joints and will only snag if broken. But it is what it is and I can’t find many companies selling baggies with cuts below or at knee level, and I drop my shorts to my butt. So wave pools are here. They’ll never take away from standing on Mother Oceans face and gliding across her imperfections. They may become more prevalent in competitions though, as every surfer competing will have the exact same wave to perform on… and that is the fairest way to prove ability. No competitor will be able to claim “no waves in that heat for me”, or “they got the better waves therefore…” Time will tell if there will be a difference between the land locked and the ocean riding surf cultures. The most important lessons we will ever learn are in the past. Don’t spend time pondering the future to deeply, and let us enjoy the moment for what it is… the Present.

  • chris wilson

    Once we destroy the Ocean, this will be all we have left. 🙁

  • bRETT

    This sounds just like the argument that mountain bikers had when they started opening up lift-accessed riding at ski resorts, and I’m sure that Skiers had the same gripes when it came to those same lifts in the first place. In both cases the creativity and skill in the sports exploded to a level that would have been unimaginable before these ‘synthetic’ environments were introduced. There’s also a rich and deep culture in the sports of people who stay away from man-made terrain and go uphill under their own steam for those who are into that.

    Just sit back, enjoy the progression, and revel in the less crowded waves.

    • Matt Kiczyinski

      Brett, your makiing an interresting comparison but there is a vast difference between cross country,enduro and down hill MTN biking. If you were into DH MTN biking, you wouldn’t have written this response. The equipment/geometry/suspensions are specific for DH as opposed to climbing. IF you are someone who only skins up MTNs for back country powder stashes, then you can avoid the costs of lift tickets. Comment on fields your familiar with.

  • Mark Greer

    Bring it! As a relocated Southern California surfer now residing in Utah, I would love to have synthetic surf in my backyard.

  • Yoda

    100% agree with you, Ryan. I have a hard time calling what is going on in those man made wave pools “surfing”. More like “Wake Riding” or “Wave boarding”.

  • http://www.michaelyankaus.com Mik

    the downside will be a bunch of inland based surfers who are trained on perfect waves, and then show up at real ocean surf spots, adding to crowds…

    without having had to pay the dues of learning through all of the real, adverse conditions that ocean trained surfers had to go through.

    it will have an impact. and they may actually be very good surfers due to the accessibility of machine generated waves to repeat maneuvers on over and over again. and there will be some weirdness going on in th ereal ocean line-ups because of these factors.

    so inevitably, with wavejets, and wavepools, our beautiful lifestyle/sport/art is going to be fucked up by machines.

    in the long run, I think water shortages, and costs will limit the numbers… and I expect to hear that WaveJet is bankrupt any day now.

  • Mr. MBA

    Strictly from a financial perspective, the wave machine idea is dead in water. The economics of a wave pool for surfing are like that of a pay-to-ride skate park, but with way higher overhead (energy costs, water, upkeep etc…..never mind the insurance costs!). You’d be a fool to invest any real money into this idea. It’s destined for failure.

  • toomuchmuffininmemouth

    made me own wavepool in lake,works good n cost only 1 hiace engine n diesel to use it and it works.waist high waves all day.nice.and whatz cool,no more stupidos MY lineup.yeehaaaaaaaaaaman.

  • archie

    Wow what a place. I heard that there are lots of these springing up now. I think there is one being opened in Bristol soon.

  • Rodrigo Mendes

    Ryan, it’s the surf industries fault anyway. All the Surfing “Propaganda” through decades has brought crowded line ups through out the main Surfing breaks of the Traditional Surfing Nations of the World. The “Surf” industry decided to expand it’s Ideology and Culture to the rest of the World and now you see people from Russia, Greece, China and so on trying to to learn to surf and fit in to this Culture. There aren’t enough Waves in the World to satisfy everyone’s Surfing ego. It’s already crowded were we live so why not create Artificial Waves. Remember it’s all about the “Ride”. Sure it’s sounds better to surf with all the idealistic settings ; however if I do not have access or money to go to surf these idealistic places then I’ll take perfect Man made Pool or river waves to ride.
    Like now, I am siting here at home and the waves are 1-2 feet onshore. I would love to have a “WaveGarden” or a Wavepool close buy so I can get a couple of “Rides”.

  • Christian

    We live in a time where “saving energy” is the most crucial topic – and talk about setting up wave gardens. Surfing wants to save / preserve nature while at the same time it wants these pools?
    … i d think here is your “shism”.

  • ed

    I dunno, seems like the mags are full of tow assisted maneuvers that are not labeled as such. Towing isn’t “surfing” its towing. I think every tow-at should be labeled as that in every pic posted.
    Pool surfers, while they may be good in the pools would never be able to compete with “real” ocean surfers in the salt.
    Shet, they would not even be able to paddle out! Having spent their time taking off, riding and getting out and making the run around to get back in line at the take off. How would they deal copping a set on the head? two different animals, and while their paths will eventually cross, and they will, it will be clear who is and isn’t a “real” surfer. Mi dos centavos.

  • richard Smith

    If there going to make a wave pool please make the waves at least double over head, there are enough shitty 2 ft waves in the world.

  • bigmommaslabya

    any normal 9th grader with brains can do a wavepool ,that works n produce db;overhead barrels if you got ;space ,litlemoney n time+plenty beers to drink too n few friends to help you do all shittyboring jobs ,no sweat eh…

  • KYle

    so lame I hope they stop making this…. this will make it so that only rich kids that can afford to surf this all day will get really really good. ashamed that this is happening

  • Yea

    Make a Backdoor/Pipe wave pool!!!

  • Dez

    no sharks!

  • Havoc

    Nothing will ever replace the real thing. Those who surf manufactured waves will always be at a disadvantage in real surf and will surely take beatings when they try to paddle out through the foam, current and locals in real surf. As someone who was born in Nebraska and traveled the world surfing as a military brat and as a veteran, I think it is pretty cool that manufactured waves are evolving and would love to try it.

  • TimC

    This is NOT surfing.

    This is simply yet another way in which big business is trying to cash in on surfing, and is frankly missing the point by a country mile. Surfing is something that should remain natural, practiced by those who have the dedication to learn and progress at it. Manufactured waves and gimmicks such as gimmicks like slef-propelled boards are not there for any other reason than to introduce surfing to a wider, lazier audience, from whom money can be extracted from.

    Be it wave pools, or the dreaded self propelled surfboard, these are simply the lastest ways in which surfing is being exploited for profit. Many of the big surfcos got it wrong by selling out to the mainstream, almost going down the pan when the fickle fashion market decided that surfing was so last year and moved on. And now this. I am not sure who is backing these ventures, but I wouldn’t be suprised if money was being pumped in by the big labels. For it would appear that the industry has lost their direction, not to mention their soul to such a degree that they are willing to pursue these ridicluous concepts which bear no real resembelence to surfing in its truest, purest sense.

    Real surfers should see through the roose of this being for the good of surfing, it is not. Its sole objectice is to package surfing up as a consumer product. Personally I am sick and tired of corporate business wrecking my culture in the pursuit of profit. If this crap gets off the ground I am sure a quick buck will be made in the first instance, but then when a host of new companies spring up, making shitty, mass produced surfing equipment that is not fit for purpose (unless of course it is used in a pool, in which case it should be labelled as pool toys rather than surf gear) then surfing will truly have lost its way.

    Just look at what happened in skateboarding, PLEASE don’t let the same thing happen with surfing too.

    • joshyjayy

      progression dumbass there not talking about a self propelled surfboards there talking about surfing waves when theres no waves i doubt you would set on the side and watch consistent 4 to 5 footers roll in cause u dont think its natural lol your an idiot but you probably dont surf or u think you surf but in reality your not really a surfer cause any real surfer has dreamed of this since they where groms get real

  • TimC

    * While I do not aplogise for my opinions, I am sorry for the number of typos. Written in a hurry is all that I can say!

  • Edwardo de Amour

    “Real surfers” should also grow beards, shape their own boards, and never buy anything made by anyone else for profit.


    If I can reserve three hours at a wave pool with perfect left hand barrels, a controlled number of surfers and count on it to be firing the whole two hours, I’M IN. No-brainer.

    You aren’t obligated to surf a wave pool; You won’t have to shave your beards, and the government isn’t going to confiscate your Alaia. If you want to go on your soul surfing missions, that’s awesome. Go feral, score some surf, and don’t forget your Fedora.

  • Dan

    There are pros and cons.
    The answers to most of these questions have been answered in the rock climbing world. Look at the various cultures within climbing: bouldering, sport, trad. indoor artificial, outdoor real rock. etc.
    There is overlap, there is animosity, there is harmony. Every climber has a different view.
    Someone else enjoying the benefits of a wave pool shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of an epic, remote, solo surf mission.
    Nothing will ever take away from the skills and knowledge needed to navigate a line-up or surf in a storm.

  • http://allplanet.com Tommy G.

    Ur WAVE, bro…

  • Tyler Dirden

    I will Not Bury my Head in The SAND Though
    Because If we Do as a Tribe…Ignore the atrocities to Land~ Air~ Water~ and Humans
    eventually the only Surfing that will Happen will be Done in Wavepools…


  • ryan andersonaught

    its no wonder these are geting more popular as they trash the ocean more and more pretty soon it will be the only place to surf and if were all distracted by artificial waves we wont pay attention to protecting the ocean untill its to late the ocean was already trashed before fukishima melted down and it has now been leaking into the ocean for over 2 years

  • Jesse Frye

    I lived in San Diego, Honolulu and Orange County, surfed Baja and every place in between, WHEN I lived in California….After getting sick and tired of the expense and crowds of Socal, we moved to Utah and now live in the mountains of North Carolina. Real Waves are awesome, there is something special about sitting on your board waiting for the next set or feeling the power of the ocean with overhead waves….But for those surfers that have moved onto landlocked environments, this is a surfers new dream. Not everyone can live within an hour of the beach, so why not offer perfect waves inland.