The term “perfect wave” has always been relative. Historically, surfers claim to have had perfect surf sessions after positioning themselves at the perfect surf break at the perfect time. Yet there has never been a standard when it comes to surfing. Perfection to one man could be totally different to another. However, today these long-standing surfing ideals are being challenged. Perfection is now sporting a shiny, price tag for the highest bidder, while wave-seeking travellers grimace at the sight of their changing sport. In an unexpected and unwanted chain of events, surfing is moving inland. These changes in surfing technology are dividing surfers globally and unveiling aspects of the sport that no one had ever foreseen.
According to SurferToday.com, in December of 2015, Kelly Slater unveiled what has been called “the perfect wave.” Mystery shrouded Slater’s wave compound, yet one thing remained clear: surfing would never be the same. Kelly kept the location a secret, allowed only his personal friends to surf the wave, and even created a couple of golden tickets for some very lucky guests.
In full on Willy Wonka fashion, Slater announced that after ten years of testing, he and his team at Kelly Slater Wave Company had birthed a wave factory that cranks out one unarguably perfect wave after another.
The Cold War of surfing had begun. Surfers scrambled to understand the technology behind Slater’s wave as it blew the minds of surfers worldwide. To a surfer, a wave pool is just like a flying car would be to the common man. We’ve seen the Jetsons fly around the sky on television, but never thought it could become reality. However, technology has now caught up with our wildest imaginations and as is usual with technology, it can be copied and replicated.
According to Wavegarden.com, on October 7th, 2016 NLand Surf Park opened its doors to the public with a, “14-acre Wavegarden lagoon… [set] only ten minutes east of Austin’s [TX] airport.” Yup, you guessed it, more perfect waves.
The wave pool era seems to have come just in time. This past summer the International Olympic Committee added surfing to the list of sports for the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Japan. Surfing may have finally found the level playing field that a “sport” must have in order for competition.
Jeff Walden, long-time surf coach and owner of Ocean Outfitters Surf Shop, has seen surfing come a long way throughout his lifetime. “Surfing is a sport involving incredible athleticism and there is no question that in order to raise the level and to find the best surfers, the level of the playing field should be welcomed by the industry,” said Walden.
It is no secret that surfing is being pushed toward its limits. Professionals in the field are doing things on surfboards that seem almost inhuman, making it hard to wonder what surfing will become as wave pool technology advances. Walden stated that, “[Kelly’s wave] shows the same promise as the Wave Garden but offers a much higher performance wave. This will offer excellent training grounds for surfers at intermediate to expert levels.”
With athleticism and Olympic fame comes money. If surfing’s capitalistic nature takes hold, will the Kelly Slaters of the world gain more athletic skill, while surfers forced out of the pool and into the oceans suffer? Wave pools could offer higher heights for professional surfers and for the those with access to these high performance wave pools.
In contrast with these alleged outcomes, it is possible for wave pools to have a negative effect on surfers who begin to use them often. Wave pools could cause surfers to become deficient when learning to find and seek out a wave on their own since wave pools make this much easier than Mother Ocean does.
In addition, surfers may not be able to develop strong paddling or riding skills when surfing in a calm, systematic wave pool. The ocean has always taught surfers that they must adapt to a wave as it fluctuates in size, shape and pitch. Jeff Walden continues this idea as he states, “I believe that wave pools may cause those surfers that only learn and surf in wave pools to develop a false sense of confidence. This could become dangerous for them when surfing a real ocean wave.”
However you slice it, the sport of surfing is advancing and it is hard to know what will be in store for the next decade. Surfing has always held a mysterious allure specifically due to the idea that you could stumble upon the best wave of your life after putting hours into research and travel. The production of a “perfect” wave has always been up to Mother Nature. Sometimes, despite efforts toward planning and positioning, the ocean just does not produce.
Wave pools challenge the idea of “the wave search” and instead offer surfers perfection with a concession stand next door. Yet, can something man-made ever remain perfect? Jeff Walden states that, “Showing up at a surf break or a wave pool may never change the possibility of catching no waves or getting ‘skunked’. Even the wave pools have their issues as machines and computers become damaged and need repair. I know Kelly’s pool has already cancelled two times.”
So maybe some things about surfing will never change and hell, I think I like that about the lifestyle we surfers have chosen. Mr. Walden finishes stating that; “There is a beauty to the unpredictability of nature’s waves and a beauty to the predictability of the man-made wave. Having both will be a perfect mix for any surfer but I don’t think anything will ever replace the salt on your skin, scent of the reef and the surrounding sea life during a [surf] session.”
It is all true. To me, surfing will always take place in the ocean. However, if I ever received one of Slater’s golden tickets, you’d have to kill me to take it away. I hope that someday we do find a complete balance between surfing in salt versus in chlorine. We are entering an exciting time in surfing history and we cannot forget that.
At the same time, we mustn’t forget the basic aspects about surfing that made us happy before wave pools ever existed. Put down your phone and live in the moment. Surfing offers an environment for self-reflection and can teach you things about life and our environment that no classroom could. More than anything else, it is the most fun you will ever have and leaves us always and forever stoked. Thank you, surfing!