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.