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As a young grommet, I always dreamed of surfing perfect waves. For most of my friends and I, perfect waves meant forking over crazy amounts of money, traveling to a faraway destination, and crossing our fingers for a good swell. The Mentawai Islands usually came to mind - after all, that’s where the dreamy movie parts usually came from. As the years went on, whispers of Kelly Slater making a wave pool came and went until finally the first video was released…
A shock wave was sent through the entire surf world that day. Mixed emotions filled the comment sections of every surf media outlet on the internet. Everybody was talking about it in the lineup. This was our first step on the moon. If this was science, it was the equivalent of cloning a human. What had always been a very natural, nature-filled process was now being replicated on a level never seen before. Understandably, opinions we’re polarized - you either loved it or hated it. Honestly, I was not sure at first how to feel, but after the original invite contest and the WSL Founders Cup both at the Surf Ranch, and most recently the opening of the newest pool in Waco, Texas, I think wave pools are here to stay - but there’s a catch.
Let’s go over a few things first - surfing started as, and will always be a sport that revolves around tides, weather conditions, swell, and a number of other factors. That won’t ever change. What has changed is where people surf. Those in landlocked areas all around the world have been searching for ways to get that unmistakable feeling of riding a wave. From the Great Lakes, to the stationary waves in rivers, the pursuit is endless. A wave pool is simply an extension of this pursuit. You can say “it’s not the real thing” all you want, but the joy and euphoria that you experience when riding a wave doesn’t change, even if it’s in a pool. So many people are getting hung up on the fact that the wave is not in the ocean, but what if traveling to the ocean is not a possibility? Simply put, if someone is landlocked they shouldn’t be denied the feeling of riding a wave that so many of us are addicted to!
Another aspect that makes these wave pools so great is exactly what some people don’t like: the consistency factor. Yes, the wave is perfect, I get it. But from an equipment testing perspective, the biggest variable in surfing is now equalized. No two waves in the ocean are exactly the same, and for a lot of us, that is what keeps it so fun. That feeling of being on the chase for the perfect wave triggers something primitive inside us. Now for the first time, however, you can get reps in, similar to basketball or gymnastics. The playing field has turned into a constant, allowing for one’s focus to shift from reacting to mother nature to a more technical approach, feeling out the different equipment.
Lastly, the contest debate. Should there be professional surfing contests in these wave pools? From a spectator standpoint, people will probably never be closer to pros riding a perfect wave. Sure there are piers and jetties, but Huntington Beach isn’t exactly a perfect wave. Full transparency, the Founders Cup did feel a little repetitive. The predictability of the wave took some of the excitement out, but watching Medina do a rodeo flip after a leg burning 30-second ride was insane! The surfing was great, don’t get me wrong, but you knew after 2-3 turns on the right, the surfer was going to get drained. That’s why, in my opinion, the contest side of things for these wave pools might not be something that lasts too long (at least with the current technology). However, the waves at the new pool in Waco, Texas seem to provide much more variety than the Surf Ranch, and they come in 3 wave sets! Maybe that’s the future of wave pool contest surfing? Either way, watching the world’s best surfers on an amazing wave really never gets that boring...
It’s tough to tell what is “right” or “wrong” for the sport of professional surfing, but I think it’s safe to say that wave pools do have a place in the surfing world. Are they the future? To a degree, yes, but they will never replace the ocean. There will never be dolphins and other sea life around, and the mental escape we experience when paddling out after a long day at work just can’t be replicated.
What do you think? Was bringing a perfect wave to life in a pool a good idea? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments!
See you in the water,