How wave pool technology is revolutionizing surfing

Last updated on: March 4, 2022
wave pool technology in surfing

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Wave pool manufacturers

To say that wave pools have improved in leaps and bounds would be the understatement of the year. The rate of technological improvements, the rate of new builds, the forecast of what waves are to come – there is so much happening out there it’s just unbelievable. 

The 4 wave pools that have entered the market and have proven themselves thus far are Kelly Slater Surf Ranch, the Wavegarden, Surf Lakes, and The American Wave Machine model. 

The Kelly Slater Wave Ranch

When this wave was launched in December 2015, it blew minds. It blew so many minds that Adrian De Souza’s crowning as the world champion the day before was somewhat obscured, as the world reeled in shock from this man-made perfection. 

Even though the water was brown, and it was obviously freezing, that wave became the Gold Standard of artificial waves and the wave that all surfers yearned for. 

There were a few flaws, however, but these were soon ironed out. The water was filtered and became a beautiful turquoise. A few events were run with the best surfers in the world, strutting their stuff. The public started slowly filtering in to surf the greatest man-made wave ever.  

The basic premise behind the Kelly Slater pool is a large metal hydrofoil attached to a train that gets pulled along a track. The hydrofoil sits partially submerged in the water. By getting dragged with speeds up to 30kph, it makes the wave. 

The pool is 700m long and 150m wide, big enough for a perfect wave. The only downside is that with such a perfect wave and so much water displacing along the entire 700m track, it takes up to 3 minutes for the water to subside. This is necessary to run another wave.  

Wavegarden

First to the party, when the world first got glimpses of what was happening in Basque Country back in 2010, it was both awesome and terrifying. Artificial waves that actually looked perfect. It was a quandary for so many people. These purists didn’t want to deviate from God’s creations in the ocean but were tempted by man-made perfection.

Their first attempts were actually made by a tractor pulling a hydrofoil alongside their pool. This was perfected over the years to where it is now.

Wavegarden technology then branched out into two different, but similar directions, with their output revealed as the Wavegarden Lagoon wave and the Wavegarden Cove wave. 

One of the most significant advantages, or points of difference, is that the Wavegarden Cove can generate up to 1,000 waves per hour. It has so many different settings for everyone to get a chance at surfing. The waves also allow for beginner and learn-to-surf classes alongside the high-performance surfing arena.  

The Wavegarden Cove is fast becoming the worldwide standard due to its variety, capacity and lack of machine noise. Currently finishing off the 5th pool in Switzerland, the Wavegarden Cove model has several more builds in the pipeline. Over the next few years, there will be more of these pools popping up worldwide. 

wavegarden surf pool technology

Surf Lakes

Visually, the Surf Lakes or the 5 Waves model is by far the most striking. Idyllic, picturesque and punk, the Surf Lakes scenario takes a little getting used to, but when the first set of waves hit, the distractions are soon gone. 

The concept is basically a vast, steam-powered plunger being depressed into the water. The subsequent water displacement sends concentric waves in various directions. These waves then reach multiple parts of the pool, with different bottom constructions. There is a radical and hollow reef-like section favoured by the top surfers. There are various other perfect, peeling waves for all surfers, from beginners to those top surfers. Even longboarders are catered for, as well as learn-to-surf frothers. 

The Surf Lakes options are also popular because of the variety of waves and frequency. The Surf Lakes concept also includes a day-out idea, with a beach, restaurants, beginners classes and other aspects to make it a fun day for all. 

The Surf Lakes wave pool is also looking at several pools being built, and thee should start pumping waves out over the next few months and years. 

Endorsed by Mark Occhilupo and Barton Lynch, the Australia-based company, has the most variety and looks to be an excellent alternative to all the various wave pool mechanisms. 

American Wave Machine/Perfectswell

The wave pool in Waco, Texas, is an American Wave Machine using Perfectswell Technology. It is the wave pool that the air boys and girls all love. 

The big difference between Perfectswell technology and most of the other wave pools out there is that Perfectswell actually has some irregularities, making it attractive.

The Kelly Slater Surf Ranch is absolutely perfect, while the Surf Lakes system delivers five different versions of perfect waves. The Wavegarden Cove model pumps out up to 1,000 similarly looking perfect waves. The Perfectswell system, however, throws in a big wedge into the mix. Not a wedge take-off, which is easy enough to get to grips with, but an approaching wedge while you’re surfing that leads to one thing – the urge to fly. 

The wave has plenty of power and push, and it catapults you into the wedge, which inadvertently flings you into the sky. If you’re an air surfer, this is a ramp made in heaven. It has power, force, size and just a little bit of quirk to make the waves different from each other. Unlike the repetitive nature of Slater’s wave, this version has a little bit of randomness that actually captures the ocean’s movement that little bit more than the others. 

The Perfectswell technology leads to more high-performance surfing as opposed to the barrels of the Surf Ranch, the tunnels of the Cove Beast Mode, and Surf Lakes’ slabs. 

Wave pools have a very bright future in the world of surfing, and it will be a matter of time before there is a wave pool surfing tour and more. Right now, the Surf Ranch is a venue for the Championship Tour. Still, the Wavegarden Cove is proving to be viable for surf events as well, with a few groms and junior events already taking place at Urbnsurf in Melbourne.

For now, however, wave pools are there to be surfed. Find your nearest one and hit it. 

Alaia Bay Wave Pool, Switzerland

The Future Of Surfing

It has become more apparent recently that today’s wave pools could be the future of competitive surfing. They could also be the future with certain other aspects of this surfing life, like learn-to-surf and corporate events, with surfing as the theme.

There are just so many benefits to wave pool surfing. The Wave Garden Cove technology is one of the most popular out of all the possible wave pool options for now. More technology is being introduced regularly, but for now, they do have a lion’s share of the future. However, the wave pool concept can only grow and be embraced as the advantages and benefits of surfing in pools becomes more apparent.  

Olympic Options

It first seemed like surfing became an accepted sport in the Olympic Games, that wave pools would be the ideal arena. The uniformity of wave pools would be able to level the playing field enough to be the most prominent platform for surfing in the Olympic Games

It was decided, however, to have the surfing event of the Games in real waves. This is not to say that a pool might be chosen for the venue in the future. It makes perfect sense to have the same waves for everyone, to make it the same for everyone.

The Olympic Training

Either way, the pool technology has still altered the Olympic Games mindset. Landlocked countries are now easily able to field a team of surfers and for that team to train, endlessly, in waves that are tailor-made for performance improvements. 

The Swiss team, who have for years struggled to find a location to train as a team, will now be able to work on their performances at Alaïa Bay, repeating their moves until perfected. They can get their basic turns like bottom turns and down-carves totally dialled, before moving onto the high scoring moves that win heats.

Alaïa Bay founder Adam Bonvin had this front-of-mind after spending so much time in his life travelling to France for a surf. On a wave pool program, the whole training paradigm becomes less frantic. Less of a mad dash to the coast to get a few hours. The waves are always going to be there, and they are consistent. There’s no rush against the onshore or the tide to get as many practice waves as possible.

Airs and Tubes

As mentioned, the wave pools give everyone a chance to eventually work on several moves, including the high-scoring turns that the judges love and reward.

In surfing competition structures, these moves are tube rides and airs. There is nowhere better to practice these two moves than at a Wavegarden Cove wave pool. The barrel section repeats itself wave after wave, and the air sections reveal themselves at the same point further down the line. The simple process of repetition will see surfers rapidly improving with these two moves. They will quickly get them perfected, smooth out their styles, fall off less, and finish off better, just what the judges love. 

Alaïa bay surfer

Practise Makes Perfect

The ideology that 10,000 hours of practising anything will make one an expert is not agreed to by everyone. The fact of the matter is that practice does make perfect, and a wave pool playing field is ideal for just that – practising moves and turns over and over again. The number of waves caught in a single 55 – minute session will rival and eclipse most ocean sessions. The waves’ consistency is definitely going to be a step-up in uniformity that the ocean can ever produce. Surf the same wave a thousand times, all the while working on improving your performance, and you will eventually surf it like an absolute champ. 

The Mix Of Pools and the Ocean

It is quite possible to become an exceptional surfer by perfecting your performance in a wave pool in theory. It could easily be how young surfers get their skills to such a level that they can become contest winners and successful competitive surfers. However, the best-case scenario is a mix of surfing in wave pools like The Cove and time spent in the ocean.

The pools will help in the perfecting of moves and of learning and repeating tricks and barrels. The successful surfer will need to blend this with ocean knowledge and tides and current and waves that shift. However, the wave pool concept is going to become a valuable tool in accelerated learning and enhanced performance skills.

The Way Forward

Alaïa Bay might be the first wave pool of its kind in continental Europe, but it’s not going to be the last. As the advantages of training in a wave pool become more apparent, so national teams, event sponsors, and professional surfers themselves will scrutinise the pools and figure out how to maximise them for the most significant advantage. 

Let’s not forget that at the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games, the Swiss team finished 23rd out of 54 nations. The result placed them just behind The Netherlands and ahead of Ecuador – two nations with great coastlines. Now that the Swiss team has Alaïa Bay at their disposal, that number – 23 – will start dropping, and who knows when it will stop. 

Alaïa Bay Switzerland wave pool
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