(Barely) Breaking: Did Kelly Slater Make His Wavepool Worse?
Less like Kirra, more like Chicama.
Back in November of 2017, the world's elite surf journalists (and Stab) were invited to surf Kelly Slater's wavepool for the very first time. It was a momentous occasion and you can read all about it here but that is not the point of this piece.
The point of this piece is that, as we were informed by WSL executives on that lovely November day, the wavepool would be completely drained after our visit so that the engineers could tear up the bottom and reshape the wave. We were not given any specific details, but rumors of three-wave sets and a proper air section floated around the facility.
Then, just yesterday, Stab learned that Kelly was on his way to surf the pool for the first time since its remodel. After months of more or less ignoring the tub's existence, we were instantly ignited by this news and curious about what Wavepool 3.0 would bring to the table.
I remember saying, in a half-joking manner, "What if he made it worse? Like... 'Surprise, it's Bells!'"
We all had a good chuckle and then went back to posing more realistic alterations, like a size increase or wild air section on the inside.
Well, just minutes ago, Robert Kelly Slater released the first video from the new version of his pool and let's all watch it together, shall we?
Deep breaths, Michael.
Let's be very objective about this. The wind is onshore, clearly. Onshore wind is the bane of, or at least used to be the bane of, every surfer's existence. It turns pristine walls into indistinguishable slop. Spitting tubes into flimsy lips. Kirra into a closeout.
So we can't really judge this thing until we see it in doldrums.
But the wave is mushy. Like really really mushy. It literally never stops crumbling over itself, as if a very mean jet ski pilot was riding on top of the lip for the entirety of Kelly's ride. I realize that, in terms of holding a professional competition, a 15-second barrel doesn't really make sense. We want to see the world's best surfers performing, not squatting for a "little vision". However, this wave's overly-crumbling lip isn't conducive to much more than float-climbs, hence Slater's 16-turn 3-pointer. If this is what we have to look forward to at the Founder's Cup, yeesh....
Also, the wave breaks significantly closer to the wall now. Why?
It's possible that this just a setting. When we surfed the pool, they let us try two different versions of the wave -- CT1, which I believe was the shallower, more hollow wave and CT2 which was slopier and didn't barrel quite as hard. Looking back at the clips, it appears my CT1 wave was breaking further from the wall so that it could hit the shallower part of the floor, while CT2 moved closer to wall so that it could break over deeper water. This is a very logical design and not unlike traditional surfing, where "wide" sets often go fat because they miss the reef.
If this is the case, and I really hope it is, Kelly must be riding CT69 in the above clip. He is so damn close to that wall, and the wave is so damn mushy, I can't imagine how their developers could have spent the past four months working up to this.
And despite Kelly's attempt at a Gorkin Flip, the wave doesn't appear to have anything resembling a proper air section, which is genuinely frustrating. Wavepools have been heralded as surfing's Progression Barrier breaker, as they will afford us the same opportunity as skaters or snowboarders, who hit a forever-there ramp 8,000 times in order to land a new trick. Yet all we've seen thus far from the pool is a tube and tap-tap lip.
There are also no signs of a three-wave set.
Now, while I hold onto the belief that combination of bad wind and "beginner" settings have concealed 3.0's true potential (It would be a very Kelly move to post a sub-par clip and then come back later with a "Ha, gotcha! reveal later on.), I must say that this video has left me wildly disappointed.
The wave is just worse.