"I cannot wait to get this thing cranked up and catch wave, after wave, after wave."
Designing Double-Ups, Preventing Amoebas And A Thorough Update On Melbourne’s Wave Pool
Stab’s exclusive interview with URBNSURF Founder and Executive Director, Andrew Ross, the man who’ll ride Tullamarine’s first tube (very soon!).
Attention pool enthusiasts, it's time to redirect your gaze to Melbourne, Victoria – this will be the site of the world's next artificial drainer.
Last time we spoke with URBNSURF's main man, Andrew Ross, he told us they'd be wet commissioning their 28mil park sometime in December 2018. With that date slipping by, and the great misfire of Yeppoon, we got anxious for an update.
We know that after a tune up and (literal) refresh, BSR will be switching back on in April; that Kalani Robb and Cheyne Magnusson are planning to put something in the ground in Palm Springs in 2020; and that a mysto double-ended Lemoore-like device has been pushing water in China. Aussies need something to hope for outside of a productive cyclone season, and as it turns out, the Tullamarine wave might be the thing to hold off the dreaded wave pool apathy.
For a refresher, here's what URBNSURF are peddling at their first venue:
-A footy field sized pool, five times the size of the Basque Country prototype.
-Up to 1000 waves per hour (which apparently overwhelmed the guinea pigs during testing).
-A peak offering 18 second rides in either direction.
-A completely customisable wave, that can range from shin-skimming to two metres, from rippable burger to square.
-Crystal clear water, none of the browns and murky greens we've seen so far.
Coming soon, the world's most symmetrical aframe.
Now, what's the greatest challenge facing the manmade market these days? Air sections.
So far, The Cove prototype hasn't excited like Waco has in the ramp department. However, during our chat with Andrew, he revealed that they'd been working on new wave designs. One particular algorithm allegedly fires a few pulses in various directions, much like BSR, that could perhaps provide a kicker of Stab High potential.
Late last year Stab was passed a batch of images featuring a field of dirt, tractors, diggers and hi vis. Our first concrete evidence that things were underway. Now, it appears that structures have been erected, the pool's been dug and the swell forecast is looking a little brighter for inland Victoria.
Here's words with the man at the apex of Tullamarine's pecking order.
Stab: Andrew, good to get you on the line! How are you doing?
Andrew Ross: Oh yeah, pretty frantic, trying to get everything sorted out.
So where’s it all at down there?
Still on track. When we last announced that construction was taking place, in February last year, we said that we were hoping to get first waves by April this year, we’re still on track for that.
What we’ve decided to do is to push back the opening of the park to the public to spring to give us a bit more time to dial in the wave and operation of the wave to make sure everything’s humming by the time we open.
So, we’ll give ourselves that winter period to brew up some alchemy and get some more waves dialled in, and open it up in spring time.
Right now, physically, land-wise, construction-wise, how is everything looking at the site?
It’s looking pretty sick, to be honest. I’ve been on site a lot since last year, so you don’t realise the progress you’ve made.
I had a couple of weeks break back in Perth around Christmas, then came back and the guys had finished off a bunch of stuff on site, and you look around and go ‘holy shit, this thing’s massive!’
All the civil construction is finished, that’s all the walls, all of the footings, the lagoon bathymetry, the bottom profile of the lagoon’s been carved out. We’ve got the wave generators in place. All of the wave generating equipment has been installed, it’s all being commissioned right now.
Today they’re testing the earth grid, so tomorrow they’re going to switch on the power for the main substation.
We should be doing some dry commissioning of the wave generator, I think next week. That’ll be moving the pistons backwards and forwards slowly to make sure there’s no clashes.
"Me, I'm a tube pig kinda guy."
The water treatment plant has been landed into position, all the services around the lagoon, like the hydraulics, all of the electrical, sewer, stormwater, gas and everything else have been installed.
So the last big work that has to be finished off is the commissioning of the wave generator, which will be completed February through March. We’ve got to finish off the lagoon floor. We just let it cure a little bit, then start filling the thing up.
It takes about four and a half days to fill and once it’s full we can start that wet commissioning process with the Wavegarden guys and gradually start ramping the thing up until we get it operating at one hundred percent.
Oh, sounds like you’re getting there.
Yeah, we’re really close. The fun thing we get to do as part of the commissioning process is there’ll be a period of seven days where we have to operate the wave generator 24 hours a day for 7 days at 1000 waves an hour. Through the night and everything.
We’ve already got a long list of people putting their hands up to come and test pilot it during that period [laughs].
We’ll have two metre barrelling waves just pumping through day and night with no one on them.
You’d have to take advantage of that – it’d be rude not to!
It’s a hard one actually, we are a construction site, so we’re bound by a lot of construction rules, so we’ve gotta tackle that one carefully.
So the floor of your pool, what can you tell me about it?
We’ve developed our own proprietary lagoon floor system, it’s basically a flexible, waterproof concrete pavement with a membrane on top. That’s taken us a long time to get sorted out, but we think it’s going to be a really efficient solution for what we’re doing here.
It’s slip resistant, UV resistant, chemical resistant and even if it gets bumps from surfboard fins and stuff, it’s more easily repaired.
Have you faced any hurdles along the way?
It’s always really difficult when you’re building the first of anything, there’s going to be challenges that pop up that you haven’t anticipated, but the team's been working really well together with our consultants to resolve things as they happen.
The program’s been slightly extended from where we thought we might have been, but we haven’t really suffered any major issues.
We only started pushing dirt last May, and in a few months we’ll be pushing first waves, so it’s been a really rapid development process for what is a huge piece of infrastructure. It’s been a real credit to the team, they’ve been putting in so many hours trying to get the thing done.
What are your thoughts on Yeppoon? It's sounding like we’re not going to see another false start like that with URBNSURF.
Yeah, it was a real shame for the guys. It shows that when you’re operating in this space you really need to devote a lot of time to getting it right.
The Wavegarden guys have been developing their technology for 15 years now and they’ve got a team of 50 engineers working in Spain. Their technology was working well for something like 18 months, so having that maturity associated with the technology give us, a surf park developer, real confidence.
I think that the Surf Lakes guys will bounce back better than ever from that first prototype.
Can you explain URBNSURF’s approach to protect against death by amoeba?
It was so tragic with what happened with the BSR park. Their situation is quite different to ours, they obviously didn’t have a filtration system. Their water’s quite warm, and that particular bacteria has never been discovered in Victoria, the water doesn’t get warm enough for the Naegleria Fowleri bacteria.
For us, we’ve got a multi-million dollar treatment plant. It’s going to treat the water to near drinking quality.
What I do when I’m surfing in the one in Spain, is when I’m paddling back out, if you’re a bit stuffed and thirsty, I just dip my head into the lagoon and drink.
We’re hoping to get the quality to 5NTU (National Testing Units) tests the clarity of the water, so it’s the same as what you’d see in a swimming pool, or even drinking water.
It should be very crystalline, chlorinated, well-treated water. It’ll be sparkling blue, which will look pretty amazing in a Melbourne context, where you’ve got this tropical looking water out near Tullamarine.
Ain't no amoebas round here. Jack Freestone sampling the prototype. (Photo: Ed Sloane)
So water quality's similar to what we see at The Cove in Basque Country?
Yes, and everything you see in the videos hasn’t been colour corrected.
No one’s really completely realised the real vision of what surf parks could be yet and that’s the real challenge we’ve set for ourselves. One element of that is the clarity of the water.
People don’t want to surf in shitty brown water, and no one’s really delivered yet on that promise.
What did you think about the Lemoore-inspired Chinese pool that recently surfaced?
Whether or not it breaches Kelly’s patents would be an interesting thing to look at.
I see that it’s double sided and the propulsion system is a little different to Kelly’s. The shape of the foil or blade looks quite different, and if you look at the video, it seems that the wave is breaking ahead of the foil, which is quite different to Kelly’s as well. It also looks smaller than Kelly’s.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens there.
The Cove’s design seems to be a far more commercially friendly format in comparison.
One of the shortcomings of the foil technology is this whole issue around frequency, because of how the wave is generated, it rips a bunch of water up at one time and creates a big hole behind the wave, then all the water rushes in to fill it which creates low frequency turbulence. That turbulence takes a long time to dissipate.
That’s why Kelly and the old lagoon style technologies take so long to reset. Where as The Cove, the new tech we’re implementing, generates waves in a completely different fashion. It creates steady-state turbulence, which is why we can pump out many waves without them behind affected by the waves that have come before them.
The other thing is variability and providing options for surfers. Kelly’s wave is very set, very fixed in the way that it breaks, same with the old Wavegarden lagoon.
With the Cove, we can change waves within sets, we can vary things up, have bigger waves, smaller waves, barrelling waves, waves with air sections, waves with rampy shoulders and mix it all up. So that really delivers on the idea what surf parks can actually be.
Do you think you could compete with the Waco air section?
Yeah, maybe, that’s the challenge we’ve set for the Wavegarden guys.
I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say, but they’ve got a new wave they’ve dialled up called ‘The Beast’ and basically the end of the wave generator pushes some extra water at a different angle towards the breaking wave.
It’s basically a big double up. We’re really interested to see how that works at full scale.
Chris, who’s our facilities manager, he’s a hardcore surfer, with an electrical engineering background and he’s going to be the commissioner, the alchemist, brewing up all these crazy new waves for us.
Yes. And perhaps not for most of the Stab readership, but for a beginner’s perspective, you can have someone who’s never touched a surfboard before, they can have their first hour with us and be standing up and feeling good. They can have their second hour trimming along a green face and by the third hour they’d be confident paddling around the lagoon, getting into waves themselves.
In three hours, you can achieve what usually takes three months. It’s complete night and day between learning in a manmade environment and doing it in an ocean-based environment.
A bird's eye view of an exciting piece of dirt.
Before we wrap up, you personally, when are you booked to kick your new toy's tires?
[Laughs] Well, whenever first waves are on, then the first wave is mine!
I’ve challenged the boys and girls in the team to come up with heritage Australian boards to ride during their first session in the lagoon.
My mate organised me a Mark Richards 1980’s twin a few years ago, I’m going to grab that off the wall, it’s never been waxed. That’ll be the board that gets to ride the very first wave.
Big question. Are you going to go right or left?
[Laughs] I’m a goofy, so I’m definitely start on the left, then I’ll try for the right. I’ll probably swap my board for that, I usually ride a Chilli Fader, so maybe something along those lines.
I first surfed the test lagoon in Spain in September 2012, so by the time we get to this, it’ll have been something like six and a half years, so it’s been a long journey.
I’ll be absolutely stoked once we switch the thing on and start pumping some waves and getting wet. You’d think running a surf park business you’d get to surf a bit, but I’ve surfed less in the last year than I have in my entire life. I cannot wait to get this thing cranked up and catch wave, after wave, after wave.