Stab Magazine | A history of surf: wavepools

A history of surf: wavepools

By Jed Smith At its worst it brought the sport to its knees. At its best it gave us some of the most memorable vision we’ve ever seen. For 35 years now the wavepool concept has plagued and confused our imaginations; so many promises, so many prototypes, so few rippable peelers. From the inaugural Inland […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Jed Smith

At its worst it brought the sport to its knees. At its best it gave us some of the most memorable vision we’ve ever seen. For 35 years now the wavepool concept has plagued and confused our imaginations; so many promises, so many prototypes, so few rippable peelers. From the inaugural Inland World Surfing Championships in Allentown, Pennsylvania way back in 1985 to the recent Red Bull Unleashed event in Snowdonia, here is the complete history of wave pools (first, in song).

Wildwater Kingdom, Allentown, Pennsylvania

mc-dorney-park-surfing-2-jpg-20150623The original and the worst, the 1985 World Inland Surfing Championships held at Pennsylvania’s Wildwater Kingdom brought surfing to its knees. A fully rated World Tour event won by Tom Carroll (who defeated Michael Ho in the final), competitors were forced to grovel across 2.5-second-period chlorinated slop for points. All in front of a crowd of next to no one, the novelty of watching a misunderstood sport performed by largely anonymous men having quickly worn thin on the native ‘Allentonians.’ While the event was a complete flop, it would serve as inspiration for the 1987 Hollywood surf film, North Shore. Though it too would badly flop. Interestingly, the event featured a cameo by reigning Women’s world champ, Frieda Zamba, who was given wildcard into the event.

flowcurlThe Flowrider

First brought to mainstream attention by Californian Pat O’Connell in the seminal adventure-surf-film Endless Summer II, this futuristic invention has actually fulfilled expectations. A high-powered pump that sends water a few inches deep up and into a tubular rubber mould has created what still rates as one of the most realistic impressions of a wave in terms of power and pocket surfing. You wouldn’t call flowriding surfing per se but it’s damn entertaining with the great Californian skim boarder and 15 time world champion, Bill ‘Beaker’ Bryan setting the pace early before the sport really took off with a fully fledged competitive tour and an official magazine today.

pool1-heroSunway Lagooon, Malaysia

Stab‘s almost-failed venture to the lacklustre Sunway Lagoon in Malaysia was given a reprieve after Stab talked the pool’s management into letting us drop a jet ski into the enclosure. With Joel Parkinson behind the controls, Taj was whipped into this cover shot. Meanwhile, Stab raced the shoreline collecting the pool tiles blown off by the ski. With a wave breaking every three minutes, and only 20 waves ridden every hour due to the pumps overheating, the Sunway experiment shows us just how far artitificial wave technology has come.

Ocean Dome, Japan.

Arguably the best shot at nailing the wave pool experiment came back in 2007 courtesy of Japan’s Ocean Dome, which pumped out neat little right and left tubes to any surfer with a few grand to spare. It wasn’t cheap, but a fake flame-spitting volcano that erupted every hour, artificial sand, artificial palm trees and the world’s largest retractable roof doesn’t exactly spell bargain. The Ocean Dome was a distinctly Japanese invention in a number of ways, but mostly because it was built 300 meters from a real beach. It was shut down in 2007 officially for renovations (rumours of bankruptcy persist) and never re-opened. Not before Julian Wilson, Owen Wright and Matt Wilkinson got the chance to put it through its paces in this ASL trip.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 10.01.10 AMTyphoon Lagoon, Disney World, Florida

After three failed attempts to finish the 2009 Quiksilver King of the Groms event in Florida due to no waves, contest director Matt Kechele came up with the novel idea of moving the event to nearby Typhoon Lagoon at Disney World. Shoulder high peelers breaking 85 seconds apart offered some kind of playing field, with Evan Geiselman plying his flexi-backside attack to the mush for the win and a free trip to France.

Siam Park, Canary Islands

Kolohe-Segio1Six years after the Sunway experiment, Stab returned to the wavepool older, wiser and with a brand new concept to roll out. With a white scrim as a backdrop (balancing precariously from a crane next to the pool), and a team boasting Bruce Irons, Kolohe Andino, Evan Geiselman, Julian Wilson and Adam Melling, Stab used a PWC to whip our chargers into every grab in the book, literally – from your classic frontside grab to caricatured supermans. The idea being to clarify the various technical nuances of aerial grabs. While the result was definitely something, the pool itself wasn’t much chop unless you had a few hundred horsepower behind you. Relive the whole shoot here.

Wadi Wavepool, Abu Dhabi

What it lacked in punch, it made up for in every other way. Dion and Team Globe’s foray into an Abu Dhabi wavepool captured the imagination of surfing. Less for the wave quality as much as the aural and visual saturation of the clip. Ten Russian models, a Lamborghini and Dion throwing every rotation he could think of over water the colour of Kool Aid, with an arid mountainous backdrop, capped one of the most successful short films in surfing history. All of it pieced together by the master lensman, Joe G.

The Wavegarden

It’s hard to know what to make of the Wavegarden franchise. Following rave reviews for its early Basque prototype from the likes of Mick Fanning and Bobby Martinez, the Snowdonia experiment opened in Wales. One minute it’s hosting a high profile Red Bull surf contest featuring Albee Layer and Jack Freestone and the next it’s been shut down for six months due to mechanical problems and laid off 68 staff. Still later, Wavegarden releases a campaign boasting of another wavepool complex, this time in the spiritual home of inland surfing… Austin, Texas.

(And, some pending…)

Kelly Slater Wave Company

The rumour mill has been in overdrive regarding the release date of Kelly Slater’s wavepool (any day now, they’re saying). Believe the champ and we’re in for “the best wave anyone’s ever made,” which, let’s be real, isn’t much of a mountain to climb. According to Kelly his design will revolve around a “donut-shaped” pool that will create a wave “that will be steep, fully barrelling, that you can ride as long as you want.”

Webber Wavepools

With a completion date set for sometime in 2016, board shaper and eternal aquatic tinkerer Greg Webber is well in the race to produce the first comparable-to-real-life artificial wave. His design proposes to create a wave that will break continuously and without end. It will be able to accommodate multiple surfers at once. The wave height and shape can be altered within seconds in the oval water park. It will break into a normal depth of water, exactly like an ocean wave, though with a softer surface underneath, so if you do hit the bottom, it’ll be spongy. Greg believes that the gradient has been too gradual on wavepool attempts thus far, meaning development of perfect gradients for different wave stages has been a real area of focus within his project.

Watch this space, huh?


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