Dissecting The Waco, Texas Wavepool (Everything You Need To Know)
This pool will push surfing's progression in a way never before possible (and take the poll!)
While incredibly fun to ride, the current iteration of Kelly Slater’s wavepool is designed to improve only one facet of your surfing – barrel riding.
The wave is too fast to learn new carves or snaps, and its “air section” is really just a steepened portion of lip. The world’s best can use this bowl to throw alleyoops or the occasional reverse to the flats, but it doesn’t offer a legitimate ramp to learn unique or innovative maneuvers.
Plus, and this is a weird criticism to make, Kelly’s wave is so long and perfect that from a deep psychological standpoint, you never want to perform a move that might make you fall off, or worse, get stuck behind the whitewater while it runs off for another 200 yards.
So basically what I’m saying is, beyond tube riding, nobody leaves the Surf Ranch with a newly acquired skill.
A year and a half ago, AWM’s wavepool technology was delivered to the surfing world on a microscopic scale. Stab did an interview with AWM’s two surfing correspondents, Jamie O’Brien and Cheyne Magnussen, to talk a little about the project, which you can read here.
“We are going to get lefts that spit, rights that spit, ramps, and draining sections. We even made a wave that looked just like The Wedge,” Jamie told Stab.
Suuuuure, we thought. The ideas were great, the technology seemed legit, and the miniaturized version looked incredibly enticing, but with all the global chatter surrounding wavepools, we’ve found it best to employ the seeing is believing method rather than taking a digital or mouse-sized model as gospel.
Then came Saturday, May 5th – a date that had been marked in our calendars for months in advance, and not because of its implied tequila intake but rather for the historical event it encompassed.
You know, the WSL’s Founders’ Cup at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch.
And while we attended that event, covered it extensively, and had a wonderful time in the process, we couldn’t shake the feeling that a new, potentially superior wavepool experience was happening a few thousand miles east.
That’s because on Saturday, May 5th, while drinking bottomless margaritas to both mitigate the heat and make the “qualification round” somewhat enticing, Jamie O’Brien posted the following clip:
“Is it real?” we asked amongst ourselves. “Or some diabolical green-screen trickery?”
We settled on real.
“And even if it is real, how big is the wave? Head high? Waist? These angles are deceiving!”
We went to sleep, angry, intrigued and confused.
Founders’ Cup Day 2 provided gripping entertainment, from a surf-off to a penguin slide to Slater’s last hurrah, which kept Waco thoughts at bay. But then, while on the long road home from Lemoore, Tyler Warren’s Instagram story (now deleted) revealed a truth that we’d been actively avoiding – the Waco wave is real, it’s about head-high, and it has one of the best air sections we’ve ever seen.
What. The. Fuck.
Then yesterday morning, JOB released what we’ll call the first real clip from the pool, which showed the crew hucking airs, trading three-wave sets, and stuffing themselves in small but certainly enjoyable tubes.
I dialed Cheyne Magnussen, who after helping design the pool for American Wave Machines transitioned into the full-time role of channel manager at Barefoot Ski Ranch, a 500-acre cable park in Waco, Texas, where the first AWM wavepool resides.
“Man, sorry it took me a while to get back to you,” Cheyne explained. “My phone has been ringing non-stop since the weekend. My text message bubble is at 111 right now. I’m baffled [laughs].”
“That’s heavy!,” I replied. “But hey, it’s kinda what you wanted to happen with the rollout, right?”
“I guess so,” Cheyne said. “...Be careful what you wish for [laughs].”
For the next 10 minutes, we discussed the wave, who’s surfed it, how it works, etc.
Here is everything you need to know about the pool in Waco.
It’s about head-high.
The size of the wave varies depending on the setting/wave type, but generally speaking it’s about 5-6 feet in literal face height.
It’s not a long wave.
Most rides are between 5-12 seconds in duration. It’s fun beach break vs Kelly’s near-minute long glide.
No plow necessary.
Unlike Slater’s pool, which creates its wave by pulling a hydrofoil along the entire length of the pool, the AWM wave is generated using 24 ten-feet-wide air chambers, resulting in 240 feet of wave-generating area. According to Cheyne, they fire the air chambers in unique sequences to produce the different types of waves, of which there are … drum roll ... infinite!
They can create new waves, pretty much whenever.
Because of the air chamber tech, AWM pools can theoretically produce an infinite amount of wave-types. By pumping energy from different chambers at different times/speed/intensity/order/duration/etc., they can push water in all sorts of weird and wonderful directions, creating points, slabs, air sections and so forth.
Yes, it tubes.
In fact, certain sections are slabby enough to disrupt the world’s best. Just ask JOB, who got slammed so hard broken his board (see 8:50 below).
The air section is new.
You know the section Seth did his flip off of? “We made that air section just three days ago,” Cheyne explained. “We had that wedge already designed, but we wanted somewhere to use all that speed, so we thought let’s build an air section. After playing around with the settings for a couple hours, we ended up creating that Cobbles-style ramp. Having that same section to hit every time is incredible. I re-learned how to do a full rotation in like... eight waves. I was like ‘Whoa, I’m skating!’”
They can produce 180 waves per hour.
It varies around which wave-type they’re running, and for the sake of turbulence they typically run less, but three waves per minute is well within their range (and they come in short interval sets).
Cheyne wants you to know...
“We’re not trying to say we’re better than Kelly’s pool, or anything like that. We’re not trying to compete or anything. We’re just saying, ‘Hey, here’s what we offer,’ ya know?”
“I think people are trying to lead the conversation into Us vs. Them, and that’s not at all where we’re trying to go with it. In the ocean, you’ve got J-Bay, Teahupo’o, and Haleiwa, and they’re all different waves. We’re just another different wave. We’re also a huge fan of the KS Wave Company.”
Cheyne seems like a genuine fella, and while we’re sure he has no ill will toward Kelly, the fact remains that BSR published its first wavepool clips smack in the middle of the Founders’ Cup. That simply cannot be a coincidence. In fact, it’s Slater’s own tactic.
So, is there a better pool? Well, it’s bananas and kiwis.
Given its ability to produce different types of waves and run them at a constant rate, but specifically because of that gorgeously crafted air section, the American Wave Machines pool could do more for the progression of the sport than Kelly’s relatively static, groomed point ever will. They’ve essentially created surfing’s equivalent to a foam pit – a section you can hit over and over again with little consequence.
The lack of a consistent platform (or in this case, ramp) has held surfing back since its inception, from a maneuver progression standpoint, while both skaters and snowboarders have been able to conceive, obsessively attempt, and complete new maneuvers in a matter of hours.
And despite all the hyperbole we’ve heard around Lemoore, after three years of being stomped on by the world’s best surfers, nobody’s done anything close to Seth Moniz’s backflip on Day 1 at the Waco site.
Lemoore is surfing’s ultimate playground. Waco is the true progressive training facility. And, Surf Snowdonia and The Wavegarden's Cove are being left behind (although still look very fun).