Chlorine Dream

| posted on February 07, 2013

Kelly Slater conducting research in an Irvine wave pool in 1988. Clearly, there was plenty of room for improvement. Photo: Gilley

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

This past vacation, for the first time in a few years, our family went to the mountains to ski and snowboard. Well aware of holiday-associated attendance, we made sure we got to the slopes early in the day before the lift lines swelled to unreasonable proportions.

One morning we got to the resort so early that we had to wait in line for the gondola to open, and while I stood there in line in the freezing cold, I tried to take my thoughts to a warmer place. Fresh on my mind was something I had seen recently on, so for a brief moment I transported myself and drifted off.

Interestingly, the first thing I flashed on was the mock-up of the Kelly Slater Wave Company’s circular wave pool that had decorated the home page a few nights before. Perhaps in some subconscious way my mind had made the resort connection—the link between my current, real-life whereabouts, and the proposed wave pool vacation land.

The first things I remembered thinking when I saw the wave pool mock-up was how cool it was and how an endless, circular design seemed like such a simple and brilliant solution to the real-estate/energy requirement limitations of the past. More impressively, the drawing represented a super-shreddable, shark-less, head-high-plus wall that you could bash and float and fly over until your legs gave out.

It struck me that this wave pool would be the ultimate training device for aspiring professional surfers—I can’t even imagine what maneuvers John John or Gabriel or Julian would be able to invent, work-on, and perfect in such an environment.

In addition, it occurred to me what a potential boost these wave parks would be to the surf industry. The landlocked masses would now have access to their own local surf, and would of course want and crave and buy surf industry products.

But then—possibly due to my current locale—I started to think about it in a different way.

Just like at the slopes, all hopeful wave pool participants would need to pay a significant fee to get access to the resort, and then stand in line to wait for a chance to ride a wave. Compared to a normal surfing experience, this seemed foreign and structured and restrictive and expensive.

Then I thought of the homogenized, commercialized, Stepford wife sameness of such a place, and the loss of the magnificent, natural randomness of Mother Ocean.

And then I thought about more specific losses: the process of surf forecasting, the anticipation of a ‘swell in the mail’, the excited calls to friends, the early morning drive down the coast, the feel of natural sand between your toes, paddle-out strategizing, the Zen of just sitting in the lineup with friends, sharing the ocean with dolphins and pelicans, the satisfaction of chasing down a good peak, and the post-surf salt-caked bliss.

And then I realized that wave pools, no matter how good, just aren’t for me.

Unless I happened to be hopelessly landlocked and somebody else was paying.

Then it’s all good.

  • George

    Thing is – just because there’s a wave pool somewhere doesn’t detract from anything in the sea. Just because someone who maybe lives a few hours from the beach or lives in an area that rarely gets swell has the option of going to this structured resort (and I agree that’s what it is) that doesn’t change your surf trips at all.

    So I reckon live and let live, if there was one near me and it was howling onshore in December I’d probably give it a go.

  • Jack English

    Great shot of KS for the archive…!

  • G

    I”d have a pass and be hangin’ at the hotel during the times when there’s no one there. Believe me those vacant times do occur, just ask accounting at Mammoth or any other ski resort for that matter. Inland surf parks will become popular and too many will be built, pricing will go down and there will be times when there is not a soul in sight. The next phenomena will be pool locals… And they will rip!

    …they’ll have green hair

  • rw

    As long as they sell churros at the pool.

  • Kenny Badler

    Ocean waves, and artificial waves are apples and oranges. You dont have to choose one or the other, in fact why not choose both? I love the ocean, but would also love some augmentation to the wave supply.

  • Sundev

    I think the best parallel would be climbing gyms. Since they started popping up in the early 90s, the performance level has skyrocketed. Nowadays you don’t find many at the elite level who didn’t spend most of their childhood climbing on plastic. It will be interesting to see if the comp circuit starts to move exclusively to these fabricated waves as it has with climbing.

  • Jimmy the Saint

    I don’t see a negative to wave pools. The way I see it, and this is open to debate, they will lead to less crowding in the ocean, not more. If you are raised on a steady diet of perfect head high peelers in warm water with an endless supply of waves, why would you venture out into cold water, where you might get caught inside and get your ass handed to you, and then have to wait for sets and hope there are no lulls or snakes. Surfing in the ocean has many drawbacks, like getting skunked after a long drive, or an early rise, but the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks (otherwise we wouldn’t be surfers). But imagine if you didn’t have to deal with all the drawbacks, why would you ever leave your wavepool? The counter argument is that the waves will never be as good as they are in the ocean, and all the wavepooler’s flock to the crowded seas. What do you reckon?

  • Mik

    The downside?

    Well, it’s greedy on my part, but allot of these kids from wherever will also start showing up at the Ocean to surf here too… which means adding a steady stream of inland trained bodies to an already crowded environment… which means adding people who didn’t have the go through the growing pains that ocean surfers do, to learn. instead the perfect wave is spoon fed to them.

    So no. I don’t like the idea.

    It may make Kelly money, and therefore Quiksilver money, but it is biting the back of the Oceanic sport family that made them who they are.

    For me, I hope it fails. I love Kelly and his surfing, but that doesn’t mean I have to love this.

    It looks all sparky and cool, but it isn’t. It’s a nightmare in the making.

  • Rick

    Interesting article. This pic is proof that the technology has been there since the 80’s but it just isn’t economical based on the amount it will cost to run the place, the legal injury liability, and the fact that only 1 person can go at a time. I could definitely see a surf company building one as a training ground for their team though. You can go a while between getting the right section for a certain maneuver, especially airs, but with these you could dial anything down pat.

  • Sparky

    L.A. Gear…

  • salty dog

    ha! WILL NEVER HAPPEN!! since the 60’s or early 70’s i’ve read (right here in surfer mag) all about how bitchin’ waves pools are right around the corner… complete with little scaled down models, perfect wave pics, mock-ups… the whole deal! + cheap energy and less regulations/legal crap to deal with back then. good luck to any suckers thinking they can pull it off now-a-days. better off just buying a dredge.

  • Smithers

    who dropped the baby ruth?

  • Crow

    I’m all for it. I agree that it will keep the beginners out of the ocean – why risk it in the ocean when you can practice in a safe environment? Safer for them and safer for actual surfers. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve lent a hand to a beginner after they’re leash snapped and they’re thinking they’re gonna drown. I also think, or more appropriately hope, that wave pools in the landlocked areas (i.e. Midwest) will help in educating the youth on the importance of keeping our rivers and oceans clean of human waste. The problem isn’t only on the coasts. The rivers that empty into our oceans are awful. We need a national action to combat this issue and wave parks could be the carrot and the stick to the problem. Surfrider Foundation at every park passing flyers and teaching our future gens the importance of a clean planet. We aren’t doing enough. The ocean needs our help. We have destroyed it. Fisheries have been depleted. Salmon, tuna, and other species are at all time lows forcing fisherman to quit. Global warming is real and we are to blame. Maybe wave parks aren’t the end all answer, but at least it could be a start to the final answer. I say, go for it Slater. Just do it for the right reasons with the right type of future in mind.

  • Kilgy

    Someone like Kelly Slater is doing it for all the right reason’s because he is content and wealthy. I personally think that a wave pool would do way better near towns that have no surf part of the year. If you open a wave pool in the middle of the country who would surf it?

  • Johnymack

    The next in step sheep liberal idiot who whines about global warming is gona get slapped. I mean it rains,”global warming”, its hot in summer “global warming”,it snows 3 feet,”global warming”,.shut the F@&$ UP!! And if you really think humans are to blame, then lets start killing all the worlds idiots&worthless immigrants.

  • Jmack

    After reading comments,, hahaaa., surfers are such dorks.

  • Brian

    Personally I think it could help alleviate some of the crowds in current line ups. Obviously most would prefer the ocean, I am no different. Growing up on the east coast though I have to say when I was going through month or longer flat spells I would stop one to catch a few waves.

  • Cameron

    Work during day light hours…

    Sun goes down in winter at 5pm.

    Work finishes at 7pm.

    Kids in bed at 8pm.

    Free time starts then…

    That’s life for many surfers. So, what could be bad about a wavepool for these people. It’s got nothing to do with being a purist.

    It’s not even a debate yet. 20 years from now, maybe, the pools might be that good, but look at Ski Dubai. It is not even worth wasting your breath on any debate about the ‘impact’ of Ski Dubai. It’s a real ski slope but you’re not booking a week stay there…

  • Concerned Citizen

    Not long after these pools start popping up, you’re going to get masses of rippers from Bakersfield and Lodi or wherever who show up somewhere like OBSF having never set foot in the ocean. The Coasties are gonna be busy round the clock with that. Forget the ripping heaving beach breaks, what about when these people start flooding already crowded points and reefs with no prior etiquette or ass beating experiences? What a scene